View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news

State of Nature report


Today saw the release of the 2016 State of Nature report, once again reporting declines in British wildlife, and threats of extinction. The RSPB summary and the PTES infographic give some interesting facts on the declines, and one worth highlighting is the Biodiversity Intactness Index. It shows Britain doing badly, coming 189th out of 218 countries assessed.

Intensive management of agricultural land is top of the list of causes, perhaps unsurprising given that around 75% of UK land is used for agriculture.

One of the most influential farm management changes is a move to sow crops in the winter rather than the spring. This isn’t likely to be something we can change.

A lead author of the report, RSPB’s Mark Eaton, clearly understood the challenge, speaking of the need to tweak current farming practices to make them more wildlife friendly whilst acknowledging that changing practices have been ‘great for putting food on the table’. After all, milk and wheat yields have almost doubled since 1970, the period covered by the report.

Many of the changes to farm management in question actually took place decades ago, and the rate of change has declined. The report shows that many short-term biodiversity trends suggest improvement, though there was no statistical difference between long and short-term trends, and no change in the proportion of species threatened with extinction. We’ll have too see how this pans out.

Not only is food production contributing to wildlife declines directly through land use, it is also contributing indirectly through greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is listed as a primary cause, second to intensive management of agricultural land.

Of course, nothing is all good or all bad, and climate change has also brought plenty of winners, particularly as milder winters increase the survival of some species.

There were also some positive messages with case studies of success stories, and lots of suggestions of how we can all help.

Public spending on UK biodiversity has fallen from 0.037% of GDP in 2008 to 0.025% in 2014–15. What could we achieve if we reversed this trend?

There have been lots of questions about whether Brexit can mean more effective farming policies which protect the environment. Unsurprisingly, I’m yet to see any answers.


Author: Rebecca Nesbit

I am author of a popular science book 'Is that Fish in your Tomato?' exploring the fact and fiction of GM crops. In my work and leisure so far, I have trained bees to detect explosives, used a radar to study butterflies for my PhD, written a novel, taken the train from London to China, organised Biology Week, sold science jewellery on Etsy, and traveled to four continents with Nobel Laureates. Best off all, I've made lots of friends whose support I very much appreciate. Thank you! Please visit my website:

8 thoughts on “State of Nature report

  1. Agricultural land rarely seems to lie fallow for any time – many stubble fields are already ploughed & harrowed in Norfolk – possibly sown. I suspect that gives birds less feeding opportunities. Loss of ditches as land is now drained – almost every arable field had a ditch. Reduced field margins…
    Then there is land that is suitable for agriculture turned to solar farms – in my view something better done on urban rooftops. I fear that land may at some point get reclassified as ‘brownfield’ then one day built upon, but I have no evidence for that.

  2. I’m inclined to agree about the solar farms (and sometimes I fear similar arguments could be made about wind turbines) – does the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions really compensate for the use of land, especially when you take manufacture into account.

  3. Pingback: Bad news in business and in Bangalore | View from the fence

  4. Pingback: Farming post-Brexit: the fate of agri-environment schemes

  5. I went to a lecture by Graham Harvey (agricultural editor of the Archers) about his book ‘Grass Fed Nation’. I think he would be interested in your ideas about this.

  6. None can doubt the vectiray of this article.

  7. so in his interview “Perfume Genius and porn star Arpad Miklos”. as you know, women can get away with their whole boob being shown as long as you cant see their nipples and its obvious that you dont see much gay images or videos being advertised at all. i understand your sick of the feminine theme but his intentions are progressive and great in killing off this double standard.

  8. Pingback: Farming post-Brexit: the fate of agri-environment schemes | View from the fence

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