One in ten of Britain’s species endangered - report
The investigation – the largest survey ever undertaken of the health of the UK’s wildlife – is warning that, despite notable conservation successes in recent years, the threat to birds, plants and marine and animal life is continuing unabated.
Scotland is now the last sanctuary for many of our rarest species – the “jewels in the crown” of British nature.
But Sir David Attenborough, Britain’s foremost naturalist, has warned: “Scotland today is in need of our help more than ever.”
He delivered his stark warning while preparing to join the leaders of 25 key wildlife organisations and institutes across Britain at the official launch of the groundbreaking State of Nature report.
The report reveals that far more species are declining than increasing in the UK, including many of our most treasured. And, alarmingly, a large number of them are threatened with extinction.
It states: “Of more than 6,000 species that have been assessed using modern ‘Red List’ criteria, more than one in ten is thought to be under threat of extinction in the UK. A further 885 species are listed as threatened using older Red List criteria or alternative methods to classify threat.”
Across Britain, naturalists have only been able to make quantitative assessments of the population or distribution trends of 3,148 species. But of those, 60 per cent have declined in numbers over the last 50 years while 31 per cent have shown strong population falls.
The report also reveals: “In Scotland, the picture is far from complete – one of the key findings of the report is how little we know about the health of our wildlife and natural resources.”
According to the report, Britain as a whole has lost in the region of 44 million breeding birds since the late 1960s. And in Scotland, five out of 12 seabird species are seriously in decline. Climate change is having a dramatic impact on marine ecosystems as rising sea temperatures begin to affect the phytoplankton and zooplankton that are the basis of the food chain.
Evidence also shows that flowering wild plant species in Scotland have fallen by 54 per cent. And rare species such as the Irish lady’s tresses orchid, found on wet machair areas of the Western Isles, are under threat from changing agricultural practices, loss of floral diversity and habitat fragmentation.
A tenth of Scotland’s internationally important blanket bog is now covered by non-native plantation forest, which dries the land and fundamentally changes the habitat and wildlife that live there. Recent research has also shown that Scottish wildcats might be “effectively extinct” east of the Great Glen and may number fewer than 100 individuals.
Sir David, writing in the foreword to the report, said: “Scotland contains some of the finest landscapes and wildlife spectacles found in the British Isles – but today it is in need of our help more than ever. From the wonders of the Cairngorms, to the Hebridean beaches and flower-filled machair meadows, we must invest and take care in how we steward these stunning places if they are to survive.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish organisations involved in the study said: “Scotland occupies a privileged position. Yet despite still offering safe havens for many birds and wildlife, some of our internationally important populations, such as seabirds, breeding waders and flowering plants, are declining rapidly or are under threat due to changing land use, climate change or the impact of non-native species, such as mink or American signal crayfish.
“Without urgent help, we run the risk of seeing our familiar wildlife disappear from our shores altogether.”
Stuart Housden, the director of RSPB Scotland , said: “We are fortunate that our woodlands, uplands, farmlands and seas support internally important wildlife populations. We urge the Scottish Government and the people of Scotland to put energy and resources towards conserving our precious natural environment for generations to come.”
Dr Maggie Keegan, head of policy and planning for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “While there are winners such as the pine marten and comma butterfly, there are also many losers such as the red squirrel, wildcat and mountain hare.
“The Scottish Wildlife Trust is committed to preserving Scotland’s wildlife for future generations.
“This report shows to do so we all need to step up our efforts, be more co-ordinated and deliver more – most likely with less – by ensuring we deliver multiple benefits for all.”
Great yellow bumblebee
The great yellow bumblebee is one of the most striking species of bees. It has suffered a very dramatic decline in Britain, highlighting the plight of bumblebees and making it a flagship species for bumblebee conservation.
It is now restricted to just the very northern edge of the country. It is also declining in northern Europe, but is still recorded widely in northern Asia, where it is found as far east as Attu Island in the Pacific. Queens and workers are distinguished by their, extensively yellow hair, and black band between the wing bases.
THE Scottish wildcat is Britain’s rarest mammal. The wildcat once roamed throughout the British Isles but has been confined to strongholds in the Scottish highlands since Victorian times. One report has suggested that as few as 35 remain and it is feared it could become extinct this year. Known as the Highland tiger, persecution by gamekeepers and interbreeding with domestic cats has led to the wildcat’s downfall and a national action plan by government agencies, charities, gamekeepers and national park authorities is under way to save the species.
THE aspen hoverfly is known to occur in only 12 locations in Scotland. It is found in large mature aspen woods and requires sufficient dead timber to house and feed larvae and sufficient ground vegetation to provide nectar for adults. Aspen woods are crucial for the fly’s survival. Existing woods have been damaged in the past by road building and conifer planting, while removal of dead timber for firewood deprives the fly of an essential habitat.
Freshwater pearl mussels
FRESHWATER pearl mussels are protected under national and international legislation and environmental regulators have a duty to ensure that the populations are conserved. The freshwater pearl mussel now appears alongside the giant panda on the Species on the Edge of Survival list put together by the International Union for Conservation. Freshwater pearl mussels already face threats from poachers and illegal pearl fishing. A 2012 survey revealed that 75 per cent of the UK’s internationally important freshwater pearl mussel sites have been damaged by criminals.
THE natterjack toad is extremely rare in the UK. It has a very distinctive yellow dorsal stripe that helps to distinguish it from the common toad, and comparatively shorter legs. The natterjack tends to run as opposed to walking or hopping. It is covered in obvious warts, many of which are bright yellow or red.
This toad is classified as an endangered species and reintroduction programmes are being implemented to help halt its decline. Its favoured habitat is always open and unshaded where foraging is easy. In Cumbria and Scotland, populations are also thriving on upper saltmarshes and moorland.