Biodiversity loss in the UK

Wildlife in the UK is in trouble. The UK has lost almost half of its biodiversity since the 1970s. Much of this is caused by loss of habitat to commercial farming and construction. 72% of UK land is managed for agriculture. 8% of land is built on. 

15% of the 8,431 species are threatened with extinction and 2% are already extinct. That’s not counting the species we don’t know about, just the ones that we are aware of (RSPB State of Nature 2019). 

The Natural History Museum reports that overall 41% of species have declined. Of these, 26% of mammals are at risk of extinction and 22% of bird species have declined. Some animals have fared badly. Hedgehogs and turtle doves have declined by 95% and 98% respectively. 

It is not only animals. We’ve lost 97% of wild meadows and 86% of corn bunting, according to Chris Packham in an article for the Guardian. He goes on to say that we should really not use the word ‘lost’ as if we have misplaced them. These plants and animals have been “killed, starved, poisoned, ploughed up or concreted over”. 

Why is biodiversity important?

When we think about biodiversity, big animals that are endangered, like lions or elephants, are our first thought. But the most important biodiversity is unseen, says David Attenborough. Micro-organisms in the soil that improve it for crops and pollinators like our birds, bees and butterflies. Medicines that we are still to discover in plants. Fish, which are the main protein for 1 billion people. Trees that influence climate change. The very nature of nature and the effects it has on our wellbeing. 

Biodiversity in the UK 

Researchers believe that a target of 90% of biodiversity needs to be maintained by every country in the world in order to avoid starvation ( While some countries manage to maintain their biodiversity, the UK only has 50.3% remaining. The UK sits near the bottom of the Biodiversity Intactness Index. It is the lowest of any G7 nation (Natural History Museum). 

“Britain has lost more of its natural biodiversity than almost anywhere else in western Europe, the most of all the G7 nations and more than many other nations such as China,” said Professor Andy Purvis, Natural History Museum in the Guardian. “It is very striking – and worrying.”

The UK signed up to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010. The goal was to reach a series of targets called the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Despite huge public spending to increase protected areas and reduce air & sea pollution, biodiversity has not increased (Royal Society). 

The UK Government admits it has failed to achieve 14 of the 19 targets. In 2018 the Government published a 25 year plan and announced a ‘state of nature’ target to halt the decline by 2030. They plan to implement a ‘raft of environmental policies’ to achieve these goals. 

The publication then goes on to say that “These policies are a welcome start, but in their current form do not represent the transformative change required to bend the curve of biodiversity loss. As a result, nature will continue to decline and the next generation will inherit a more depleted, damaged natural environment. Action needs to be stepped up in scale, ambition, pace, and detail.”

Professor Purvis told Sky News “Muddling through as we currently are doing is nowhere near enough to halt, let alone reverse, the ongoing worldwide decline in biodiversity.” 

Chris Packham and a group of experts drew up a ‘People’s Manifesto for Wildlife’. It makes over 200 recommendations. He suggests that some cheap options, like not allowing dogs on nature reserves and outdoor learning for primary schools, would contribute to reversing biodiversity decline. He admits they might take some personal commitment. 

Everyone agrees that something must be done. We must all play our part in increasing biodiversity, whether that is through lobbying for change, personal choices in our homes and shopping, contributing to our local areas or running our businesses with as low impact as possible. 

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Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.