Monday 7 October 2019

State of Nature 2019 report - sadly, not a surprise

Glen Feshie, part of the Cairngorms Connect area

The latest State of Nature  makes depressing but unsurprising reading. The overall conclusion, that the UK's biodiversity is declining, is not a shock to anyone interested in the natural world and conservation. A series of impressive reports and infographics packed with worrying detail shows just how serious the situation is. I plucked these figures out of the Scotland infographic - the populations of 48% of species have decreased in the last ten years, only 33% have increased, and 11% are threatened with extinction.

Why is this happening? The reports say the biggest single impact comes from increasing agricultural intensification and that climate change is having an increasing effect. After those hydrological changes (such as draining wetlands, straightening rivers), urbanisation, pollution, invasive species, and woodland management all play a part.

At the same time public support for conservation is growing - time given by volunteers has increased 46% since 2000 and the financial value of their time is estimated at £20.5 million per year. But in the last ten years public expenditure as a proportion of GDP has fallen 42%. So there's a mismatch between the public and the governments.

The report raises questions about the effectiveness of conservation bodies. These have higher membership numbers than ever before yet the State of Nature report shows they are not being effective. Yes, the report lists many successful and encouraging projects but clearly in recent years these have not been enough.

Two books I've read in recent years give some of the answers. Mark Cocker's Our Place: Can We Save Britain's Wildlife Before It Is Too Late? details the history of the conservation movement and shows why it has only had piecemeal success, finishing with some suggestions as to the way forward. George Monbiot's Feral: searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding is a little more fierce in criticising conservation bodies - I wrote about the book here.

One of the problems, I think, has been protecting small areas, leaving them as islands in the middle of devastated land. Instead landscape wide rewilding is needed, with a long term vision. This is starting to happen in the Scottish Highlands. In my own area there is Cairngorms Connect, whose ambitious and inspiring vision is "for habitat restoration ... unparalleled in its scope, scale and timeframe, in the UK. Our milestones over the next 200 years chart our plans to restore native woodlands to their natural limits, including high-altitude montane woodland; to restore peatlands, wetlands and rivers and to build support and understanding locally, nationally and internationally." Trees for Life has a similar vision - "a revitalised wild forest in the Highlands of Scotland, providing space for wildlife to flourish and communities to thrive."
Over the years I've written many posts on conservation and rewilding - links to them all here.  I also listed conservation bodies I think worth supporting in this post. I am still optimistic that the deterioration of nature can be stopped, but it won't be easy.


  1. I did Phd research into a very different area (eating disorders), and what your review of the report suggests is similar to what I saw re charities. In some ways the larger they get the less efective they become. From what I saw it is largley due to a focus on raising money first to feed the charity and then charitable work comes down the list. It is a chicken and egg senario.

    Increasing urbanisation and the value of land for building, I think will continue to see the loss of these "small islands" of habitat and increases the importance of "wild" areas such as the Hghlands, Lake District, Cairngorms etc.

    I live in Greater Manchester and the houseing development is seeing pockets of green between towns etc being eroded and in time will be wipeout.

    It is very worrying

    Gareth Lyons
    (Brand Manager - Criterion Sleeping Bags)

  2. Wow! That sum's up what I feel about many charities now. When they get to a certain size they become self serving. The small charities are the ones I support now.

  3. This reminds me of the time I spent volunteering for a large conservation charity. They apparently didn't have the resources to repair/restore an area that the locals had been requesting for that work, but when the boss of said organisation had a retirement bash in a local hostelry, I know for a fact from an insider that the organisation spent £40,000 on that event.. You read that correctly! £40,000 : (