The report State of Nature published this week by twenty five conservation bodies paints a worrying picture of the decline of wildlife in the UK over the past 40-50 years. While there have been great individual success stories such as the reintroduction of the red kite and the large blue butterfly, the news that many birds, butterflies, mammals and molluscs have had a bumpy ride makes for uncomfortable reading.
It pulls together and presents in a readable way, yet again, the evidence, if any more were needed, that our countryside and our seas are becoming more impoverished places than ever. Where declining populations of fewer species fail to thrive against a backdrop of inexorable pressures from climate change, habitat fragmentation, urbanisation, agriculture and pollution.
But the report begs the question that if we want more red squirrels, capercaillie, stag beetles or speckled woods in future, where do we start? Continue with a myriad of individual interventions or develop some more radical new approach to conserving the countryside? Only the latter will do, in my view.
Of course we have come a long way in recent years in articulating a new way of conserving nature. The Lawton Review talks about creating resilient networks of habitats in the future across the wider countryside which requires habitat expansion as well as protection of special sites, connected rather than fragmented habitats. A more resilient landscape will be good for a whole host of individual species, the habitats that they depend on and the valuable functions which nature offers to society ‘free of charge’.
What we now need is a an extended coalition of conservation interests to agree not just on the evidence and not just on the new paradigm of landscape scale action, but on the specific tools and mechanisms to create a landscape and seascape richer in wildlife for all of us. Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships are part of the toolkit, but we need other novel ways of engaging a wide range of landowning and managing interests. The real challenge is how to build the kind of collaborative action which must involve us all and how to harness that evidence, knowledge and concern to drive real and concerted action for all our wildlife for the future.
Hilary Allison, Policy Director