It is being said that the UK has one of the worst records for protecting native wildlife, and intensive farming is largely to blame. 56% of the 8,000 species assessed have declined in the past four decades with almost 1,200 species at risk of extinction, the 2016 State of Nature report says. This has been disputed by farmers' organisations who've accused the 53 wildlife groups that compiled the report of exaggerating the impact of agriculture and understating the effect of other factors such as urbanisation and failure to control predators.
Sir David Attenborough, who launched the report at the Royal Society said:
“Escalating pressures, such as climate change and modern land management, mean that we continue to lose the precious wildlife that enriches our lives and is essential to the health and wellbeing of those who live in the UK.”
The report says that the UK comes 189th out of 218 countries according to the abundance of “originally present species”. All other large European countries have performed better than Britain. Some depressingly eye-catching stats include:
- 53% of species declining between 2002 and 2013
- the number of hedgehogs halving in rural areas since 2000 and down by a third in urban areas
- water voles declining by 90% since the 1970s
- wildflower meadows declining in area by 97% since 1945
The report says that various factors have contributed but notes that changes in agricultural practices have had the biggest impact. Specifically, it blames increased use of pesticides and fertilisers, habitat destruction, the loss of mixed farms, and changes to sowing patterns.
The report has an eye on Brexit, of course, and the battle over land use policy and subsidy. Farming interests have a similar perspective, and there is a lot at stake.