- World-leading study, State of Nature, finds no let-up in the decline of our wildlife, with one in six species at risk of being lost from Great Britain1.
- State of Nature, the most comprehensive report on UK wildlife, also shows that the species studied have, on average, declined by 19% in the UK since monitoring began in 1970.
- Most of the important habitats for the UK’s nature are in poor condition, but restoration projects can and do have clear benefits for nature and people, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The UK’s wildlife is continuing to decline according to a new landmark study published today. Already classified as one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries, nearly one in six of the more than ten thousand species assessed (16%) are at risk of being lost from Great Britain .
However, this figure is much higher for some groups such as birds (43%), amphibians and reptiles (31%), fungi and lichen (28%) and terrestrial mammals (26%). Much loved species such as Turtle Dove, Hazel Dormouse, Lady’s Slipper Orchid and European Eel now face an uncertain future. There have also been declines in the distributions of more than half (54%) of our flowering plant species, with species such as Heather and Harebell being enjoyed by far fewer people.
State of Nature is the most comprehensive nature report covering the UK, its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. Working with leading professionals from over 60 research and conservation organisations, the report – following previous editions in 2013, 2016 and 2019 – uses the latest and best data from monitoring schemes and biological recording centres, collated by the incredible work of thousands of skilled volunteers, to provide a benchmark for the status of our wildlife.
Since 1970, the abundance of species studied has declined on average by 19%. However, we also know that before widespread monitoring began, the UK’s biodiversity had already been highly depleted by centuries of habitat loss, unsustainable farming practices, development, and persecution.
As a result, due to human activity the UK now has less than half of its biodiversity remaining. The evidence from the last 50 years, presented in the State of Nature report, shows that the intensive way in which we manage our land for farming and the continuing effects of climate change, are the two biggest drivers of nature loss. At sea, unsustainable fishing and climate change are the major contributing factors.
Beccy Speight, the RSPB’s Chief Executive said “The UK’s wildlife is better studied than in any other country in the world and what the data tell us should make us sit up and listen. What is clear, is that progress to protect our species and habitats has not been sufficient and yet we know we urgently need to restore nature to tackle the climate crisis and build resilience. We know that conservation works and how to restore ecosystems and save species. We need to move far faster as a society towards nature-friendly land and sea use, otherwise the UK’s nature and wider environment will continue to decline and degrade, with huge implications for our own way of life. It’s only through working together that we can help nature recover.”
Many groups studied show worrying declines. More than half of plant species have decreased in their distribution (54%) as have 59% of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). The distribution of invertebrates in the UK has also decreased on average by 13% since 1970, however there are much bigger declines in groups which provide important services such as pollination and crop pest control. The distributions of pollinator species, including bees, hoverflies and moths, have decreased by 18% on average, whilst those species providing pest control, such as the 2-spot Ladybird have declined by more than a third (34%).
The State of Nature report also found that out of the assessed habitats which are important for wildlife, only one in seven (14%) were found to be in a good condition and only one in fourteen (7%) woodlands and a quarter (25%) of peatlands were assessed to be in a good ecological state. Due to habitat damage from fishing gear, none of the seafloor around the UK was found in good condition. However, restoration projects, such as for peatland and seagrass beds, are now underway to stem declines. Not only will restoring these habitats have clear benefits for nature and people, but they can also help us mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Despite recent moves towards more nature-friendly land and sea use, as yet only a fifth of farmland is now in agri-environment schemes with only some of that helping nature, just 44% of woodland is certified as sustainably managed and only half of fish stocks are sustainably harvested. While all three measures have improved markedly over the past 20 years, there is still a very long way to go. The best available information suggests that nature-friendly farming needs to be implemented at a much wider scale to halt the decline in farmland wildlife and must be considered alongside the triple challenge of responding to the climate and nature crises whilst still meeting people’s needs for food, energy, and fuel.
Optimistically, the report also highlights where concerted wildlife conservation action has made a key difference to many species and habitats. For example, large-scale restoration projects, such as Cairngorms Connect – which covers 60,000 ha – benefits a suite of woodland dependent species. In Lyme Bay Marine Protected Area the number of species increased markedly since trawling was banned in 2008. The RSPB’s Hope Farm has demonstrated that food production can function alongside measures to benefit wildlife as breeding bird populations increased by 177% over a 12-year period.
Nature conservation works but the scale and ambition need to be rapidly ramped up to tackle, stop and reverse the declines demonstrated by State of Nature.
Action for Conservation
Hendrikus van Hensbergen, Founder and CEO, Action for Conservation said: “We work closely with young people across the nation and see their determination and drive to tackle issues like sewage pollution and biodiversity decline. They know these issues will affect their future and, when given the opportunity, they are taking action to reverse these worrying declines and inspire others to action. The State of Nature report shows the extent to which our elected leaders are failing future generations. Young people’s message is clear. We must do more to restore ecosystems to tackle the climate crisis. We must do it now.”
Khadijah Haq, Young Trustee, Action for Conservation said: “Young people want to see our Government taking environmental issues seriously, we expect them to put proper legislation in place to protect habitats, species and people. Young people are passionate about fighting for equality and working alongside nature to create a better future for everyone, it’s time the adults in power step up and join us.”
Amphibian and Reptile Conservation
Jim Foster, Conservation Director at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation said: “The state of the UK’s nature should be of vital importance to all of us. Animals such as frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards are a fundamental part of our natural and cultural heritage, but like many of the other species and habitats covered in this report, they are increasingly under pressure from factors such as land-use and climate change. This report shows that it is possible for conservation projects to recover species populations, and how important it is that we scale up our efforts to reverse nature declines.”
Bat Conservation Trust
Kit Stoner, CEO at Bat Conservation Trusts said: “The UK’s 18 bat species make up a quarter of British mammals and are part of our natural heritage. Bats have suffered massive historical declines and while we are seeing several species slowly starting to recover thanks to their legal protection and positive conservation action, we still have four bat species that are at risk of extinction, with two more near threatened.
“Each bat species is unique and requires landscape scale interventions to help them recover. Critically, bats are indicators of ecosystem health, so, if bats are in trouble, many other species are too, but also if we act for bats, we help whole ecosystems. To do the right thing for these important species, we need well-implemented evidence-based legal protections.”
Dr Dan Hoare, Director of Conservation at Butterfly Conservation, said: “80% of butterflies in the UK have declined since the 1970s, with those species requiring specific habitats the most affected. Butterflies are a vital part of our ecosystem and are also indicator species, which means they help us to understand the health of our wider environment. The science is clear; urgent action must be taken now to halt these declines and restore our natural environment for future generations. We have the answers. We know what conservation measures work, but it needs to happen at a much more urgent pace and on a much larger scale.”
Friends of the Earth
Miriam Turner, Friends of the Earth’s Co-Executive Director, said: “The UK increasingly appears to be a hostile environment for nature, and it’s not a great look. Pollution and harmful farming and development pursued by successive governments mean the UK now has less than half of its biodiversity left.
“Every constituency is depleted, and every MP should add this to the list of things they spend most of their time on. Restoring the nation’s nature ticks so many boxes – for people’s heath, for better businesses and for resilience – and it’s time to get on with it.”
John Muir Trust
Mike Daniels, Head of Policy with the John Muir Trust said: “This report makes sobering reading. We cannot afford to prevaricate anymore as we watch biodiversity decline and species slip towards the brink of extinction. Our wildlife and wild places deserve better, as do future generations. Governments across the nations of the UK need to back warm words with tough and decisive action. Being in government carries a responsibility beyond party politics or doing what is popular in the short term’.”
Matt Larsen-Daw, CEO, Mammal Society said: “Due to the long history of declining UK nature, no one alive today has ever actually seen our landscapes as they could be – fulfilling their potential as havens for nature as well as people. Much of our cultural ties to the landscape are linked to the very practices that have contributed to denuding it of wildlife – even those as seemingly harmless as the image of the manicured and pleasant English Country Garden. We need a mind shift to normalise gardens, roads, parks and ground in our landscapes that are frayed around the edges. When people see long grass, scrubland and bulging hedgerows as signs of nature being allowed a place in the landscape, rather than as evidence of neglect and wasted space, we move a step closer to a society that will see the missed opportunities when nature is suppressed or excluded, and demand better.”
Dani Connor, Mammal Society Ambassador, Wildlife Photographer and Film-maker said: “We need leadership from government to turn things around, but we are not helpless. Wherever you live you are the best placed person to monitor and protect your local ecosystem. Whether your strength lies in habitat improvement, wildlife surveying, campaigning for better practices from your local and national leaders, or just helping others to notice and value their local wildlife, you can be part of the fight back for UK nature.”
Derek Crawley, Mammal Society Council and Chief Mammal Verifier for iRecord said: “Whilst the State of Nature 2023 report sets out large-scale targets to resolve the issues we face, it is up to us all to make small changes where we can, whether it be increasing your recording effort or joining in with local groups to survey a particular area or species. Take part in campaigns such as No Mow May on your lawn and influence others by questioning if they need to mow that bit of grassland so often. Seeing wildflowers and bees and butterflies is better than seeing just short grass, but sometimes old habits need to be challenged before people will realise there is an alternative.”
Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust said: “Today’s report is yet another urgent warning that we need to accelerate efforts to tackle the nature and climate crisis.
“Nature needs us, and we need nature. We’ve all seen how important access to nature is for our health and quality of life which makes stopping its decline even more important.
“We know it can be done – we’ve witnessed how it’s done – and seen nature move back in once peatlands are restored to act as sponges, when rivers are reconnected to floodplains creating important wetland habitats, and how new hedgerows can hum with wildlife as nature’s super-highways.
“With report after report documenting the critical state of UK nature we can no longer fiddle around the edges in the hope that will be enough to make everything ok.
“We need a supercharged response for the big changes needed including more partnership working, investment in our farming industry to ensure our farmers can produce sustainably good food and focused investment both in time and budgets to reach net zero.
“It’s not too late to act. But we need to do it now.”
Dr Rachel Warmington, Head of Science, Plantlife, said: “This landmark report shows devastating declines in the state of nature and wild plants and fungi are on the frontline. The decline in distribution of 54% of flowering plant species and 59% of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) in the UK since just 1970 is staggering and brings into sharp focus the need to act, and act fast, to arrest the loss and create more space for nature. Healthy plant communities must be better safeguarded as they are the bedrock of functioning ecosystems and their wellbeing is crucial to the fate of other wildlife. That over a quarter (28%) of fungi and lichen is at risk of extinction is sobering given we still have so much to learn about how these groups contribute to combatting the unfolding climate and biodiversity emergencies. From temperate rainforests to wildflower meadows and other species rich grassland habitats Plantlife is committed to working with partners to arrest these losses and improving the state of nature for generations to come.”
Nida Al-Fulaij, Conservation Research Manager at People’s Trust for Endangered Species says: “Alarmingly, many of the most critical species highlighted in the State of Nature report are some of our most-loved mammals, such as hazel dormice – a species with a long history in the UK that plays a vital role within our ecosystem. Yet despite their catastrophic and well-documented decline, dormice, and other species, are still not protected enough and so their decline continues.”
“Data gathered by the public can have a hugely positive impact on a species, as shown by the recent glimmer of hope for urban hedgehog populations, thanks to ongoing public action. This is key for us to understand how different species and habitats are faring, as without local data we remain in the dark and risk more species disappearing right before our eyes. But, with the help of citizen scientists, we can understand how nature is changing and put conservation measures in place and ensure they work effectively. It’s not too late, but this must be the final warning and we must all do everything we can save what we have left.”
UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
Dr Francesca Mancini, Ecological modeller from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), one of the report co-authors, says: “The State of Nature report is the most comprehensive assessment of UK species and habitats, and provides a benchmark for the status of our wildlife. We have a wealth of data on plants, animals, fungi and other organisms from the past 50 years thanks to the work of thousands of skilled volunteers recording their observations.
“While the report shows there are declines in many wildlife populations, it is possible to reverse biodiversity losses through habitat restoration, sustainable agricultural practices and mitigating climate change, for example. Our findings will inform future conservation action to support species.
“Meanwhile, improvements in water quality of many of our rivers and lakes over the past 30 years has enabled recovery of some freshwater species.”
Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:
“The State of Nature report is a stark reminder that politicians must not let nature drop down the agenda – there is far too much at stake. We desperately need better policies that properly fund nature-friendly farming, end the poisoning of lakes and rivers, and create larger wild and more natural areas – including in towns and cities.
“This next parliament is the most important in my lifetime for nature and climate action. The clock is ticking towards the 2030 deadline by which point the UK Government has committed to protect at least 30% of land and sea for nature and halved the use of pesticides. Nature recovery is fundamental to tackling climate change and improving people’s lives – history will not be kind to politicians that ignore this truth.”
Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF said: “The scale of the devastation of UK wildlife and habitats is clear – we are one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. And we will not turn that around if we continue to destroy our forests, pollute our rivers and oceans and leave so little space for nature.
“Nature underpins everything that makes our lives possible, and while there is much work to do we can still bring our world back to life if we act now. We need politicians to keep – and strengthen – their promises, businesses to put action for climate and nature at the heart of their plans and farmers to embrace a wholesale shift to sustainable farming. Only with such concerted action will we save our wild isles for future generations.”
 State of Nature uses a multitude of data sets covering different geographic regions. References to Great Britain mean England, Scotland and Wales. References to the UK/United Kingdom mean England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
To download a full copy of the State of Nature 2023 report, click here.
- The State of Nature (SoN) is a partnership of organisations that are directly involved with conservation evidence and/or conservation delivery, who work together on appropriate science and evidence-based products.
The principal role of the SoN Partnership is to improve the collection, collation and efficient use of data from biodiversity recording and monitoring relevant to nature conservation in the UK and its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories: understanding the status and trends of species, habitats, sites and other environmental variables including those which drive changes in biodiversity, and the causes and consequences of changes in these.
- List of partners: A Rocha, Action for conservation, Alderney Wildlife Trust, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC), Association of Local Environmental Records Centres (ALERC), Bat Conservation Ireland, Bat Conservation Trust (BCT), Biological Records Centre/CEH (BRC), Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, British Arachnological Society (BAS), British Bryological Society (BBS), British Dragonfly Society (BDS), British Lichen Society, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, CEDAR Centre for Environmental Data and Recording, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), Chester Zoo, Continuous Plankton Recorder, Earthwatch, Freshwater Habitats Trust, Friends of the Earth, iSpot (The Open University), James Hutton Institute, Jersey Government Department of the Environment, John Muir Trust, Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Local Environmental Records Centre Wales, Mammal Society, Manx BirdLife, Marine Biological Association (MBA), Marine Conservation Society, MARINELife, National Biodiversity Network Trust (NBN Trust), National Forum for Biological Recording, National Trust, National Trust for Scotland, Natural England (NE), Natural History Museum, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), NatureScot, Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), Northern Ireland Marine Task Force, ORCA, People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Plantlife, Plymouth University, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Scottish Environment Link, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Shark Trust, States of Guernsey, Ulster Wildlife Trust, University of Sheffield, Vincent Wildlife Trust, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, WWF, Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
- A number of organisations play a key role in running structured monitoring schemes for wildlife in the UK, providing the trends in abundance that underpin key State of Nature metrics. Date were provided by the Biological Records Centre from a number of recording schemes and societies. A full list of acknowledgements can be found on page 212 of the report.
Main image: Natterjack toad Epidalea calamita, adult on the heath at The Lodge RSPB nature reserve, Bedfordshire, March.