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.