State of Nature report 2019 reveals butterflies among hardest hit wildlife

Scientific monitoring has shown the overall abundance of wildlife is declining with farming practices, climate change and pollution, highlighted as causes.

Common Blue c.Bob Eade
Common Blue c.Bob Eade

State of Nature 2019 shows since the 1970s there has been a 13% decline in average abundance across wildlife studied and that the declines "continue unabated".

Following the State of Nature reports in 2013 and 2016, professionals from more than 70 wildlife organisations have joined with Government agencies for the first time, to present a picture of the status of species across land and sea.

The State of Nature 2019 report reveals 41% of UK species studied have declined, 26% have increased and 33% shown little change since 1970, while 133 species assessed have already been lost from our shores since 1500.  

Butterflies and moths have been particularly hard hit with numbers of butterflies down by 17% and moths down by 25%. The numbers of species, such as the High Brown Fritillary and Grayling, that require more specialised habitats have declined by more than three quarters.

The report authors blame "significant and ongoing changes in the way we manage our land for agriculture, and the ongoing effects of climate change [for] having the biggest impacts on nature". Butterflies moving north is one impact, while 40% of moths' decline put down to climate change. There are more flying aphids because they have more breeding cycles.

Spear thistle, cow parsley, brambles, bumblebees, woodpigeons and jackdaws adapt better to intensively managed farmland than specialists.

Pollution "continues to have a severe impact on the UK’s sensitive habitats and freshwaters, and new pollutant threats are continuing to emerge".

Woodland cover has increased by 9% between 1998-2018 and 44% is managed sustainably.

Around 10-12 non-natives establish annually and 10-20% cause serious adverse impacts.

There are 440 plants on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

A detailed assessment accounting for potentially confounding and exacerbating factors applied to 402 species suggested that 35% are at risk of range loss, particularly among thebryophytes and vascular plants, while 42% may expand their range. 

The report says there is "enormous potential for engaging people to take action in their own gardens or to act together in local green space projects.This is being supported by policy and planning regulations to ensure best practice in new developments and management of existing green spaces, as well as through empowering citizens to take individual and collective responsibility for the nature on their doorstep."

Daniel Hayhow, lead author on the report, said: “We know more about the UK’s wildlife than any other country on the planet, and what it is telling us should make us sit up and listen. We need to respond more urgently across the board if we are to put nature back where it belongs. Governments, conservation groups and individuals must continue to work together to help restore our land and sea for wildlife and people in a way that is both ambitious and inspiring for future generations.

“In this report we have drawn on the best available data on the UK’s biodiversity, produced by partnerships between conservation NGOs, research institutes, UK and national governments, and thousands of dedicated volunteers. It’s through working together that we can help nature recover but the battle must intensify.”

"Causes for hope" show species such as Bitterns and Large Blue Butterfly "have been saved through the concerted efforts of organisations and individuals".

NGO expenditure is up by 26% since 2010/11 and time donated by volunteers having increased by 40% since 2000. However, public sector expenditure on biodiversity in the UK, as a proportion of GDP, has fallen by 42% since a peak in 2008/09.


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