IPBES biodiversity report: Friends of the Earth calls for UK government to step up to avoid catastrophic nature decline

Press release
We're calling on the UK to take responsibility and halt the ecological crisis by drastically stepping up protection and restoration of our own nature and addressing our role in global biodiversity decline. Find out how.
  Published:  07 May 2019    |      5 minute read

Campaign group names some of the UK’s under threat species as global report on biodiversity and ecosystems is launched

  • UN-backed report reveals species declining globally at fastest ever rate due to human actions, with around a million species threatened with extinction unless action is taken.
  •  “For too long the UK government has failed to reverse nature decline not just within its own borders but also internationally”, Sandra Bell, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth

The IPBES global assessment is a heavyweight international report focusing on the epic disappearance of plant and animal populations. This report is the result of a 3-year study and is backed by the UN. The report contains the stark warning that around a million species are threatened with extinction - more than at any other time in human history.

Friends of the Earth is calling on the UK to take responsibility and halt this ecological crisis - by drastically stepping up protection and restoration of our own nature and addressing our role in global biodiversity decline; including our own consumption of imported products – such as soy - from nature depleted areas.

In the UK a government assessment found around a third of our natural ecosystems - basically our life support systems - are declining. Many of our most precious nature sites are threatened by harmful development.

Sandra Bell, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said:

“The decline of biodiversity around the world - including right here in the UK - is setting us on a path to catastrophe that will soon become impossible to avoid. Biodiversity is intrinsically linked to human wellbeing – if we don’t reverse its decline we are risking a future where we can’t even grow the food we need for basic survival. The continued drop of our plants and wildlife would also leave a huge void in what makes us happy and healthy, with access to nature crucial to welfare.

“A nature-depleted world will suffer more from natural disasters such as landslides and floods. We’re already seeing this around the world, with the planet’s poorest communities suffering the most. This is the cruellest injustice of the climate and ecological crisis, with those who have barely contributed to it bearing the brunt of the impacts.”

Below are just some of the UK animals urgently in need of saving. 

  1. An Iconic UK bird, the Skylark, renowned for its flight pattern and song, has declined by 50% in 40 years across Europe. In the UK the decline of the skylark started in the 1970’s and has continued ever since due to changing farming practices which have resulted in loss of nesting sites and food sources.

Farmland birds in the UK declined by 56 per cent between 1970 and 2015; linked to changes in agricultural practices, including loss of habitat and the use of pesticides.

  1. The small blue butterfly is in decline in most parts of the UK, with numbers down by 38% since the 1970s.  Habitat fragmentation and incompatible grazing practices (e.g. summer grazing/overgrazing) is contributing to decline.

Butterflies are often used as an indicator species for the health of our wider environment. Defra 2018 biodiversity indicators show that since 1976, the habitat specialists butterflies index has fallen by 77%. Over the same period, the index for species of the wider countryside has fallen by 46%.

  1. Bees and hoverflies are also faring badly. Recent studies including by The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology show that one third of the 353 wild bee and hoverfly species across the country are in decline. Here in the UK, and globally, bees are facing many threats. These include habitat loss, climate change, toxic pesticides and disease.

The decline in bees' diversity and abundance would have a serious impact on how our natural world functions. This includes our food crops. Bees pollinate much of the food that makes our diets healthy and tasty – from the apple in our lunchbox, to the tomatoes on our pizza.

  1. The red squirrel, wildcat and the grey long-eared bat are all facing severe threats to their survival, and other mammals such as the hedgehog and water vole have seen their populations decline by up to 66% over the past 20 years.

Climate change, loss of habitat, use of pesticides and road deaths are all putting pressure on some of the best loved and most recognisable of Britain’s 58 terrestrial mammals,

  1. Hedgehogs are much loved and used to be a familiar site in our gardens. We have lost over a half of rural hedgehogs and a third from towns and cities.  The decline in towns and cities seems to be slowing, but the situation in the countryside is a real concern. 

The reasons for the dramatic decline in the countryside are not fully understood but are likely to include the loss of key habitat features such as hedges, and the availability of their main food – insects – declining due to intensive farming practices.

Sandra Bell added:

“This is a crisis and should be treated as such. For too long the UK government has failed to reverse nature decline not just within its own borders but also internationally.

“We need commitment from ministers for a huge nature boost – it’s not enough to simply maintain what little we have left. Having more space for nature across our countryside and in our towns and cities, including significantly increased tree cover, will not only boost biodiversity but will also be a big part of the fight against climate chaos.” 

Editor’s notes

  1. In order to reverse biodiversity decline, Friends of the Earth is calling for action including:
    1. Cutting consumption that damages global biodiversity. The meat and dairy industry is a big factor in this with soy for animal feed being imported from deforested areas. If meat and dairy consumption was reduced, we would be able to free up vast swathes of land and boost biodiversity. 
    2. Reforming farming policy is essential. A switch from intensive farming would enable us to cut pollution from pesticides and restore habitat enabling wildlife to thrive.  The UK Government must follow through on its promises for a “greener, cleaner countryside” after Brexit by ensuring that the Agriculture Bill will only reward farmers for working with nature and not for intensive practices that damage it.
    3. Protecting current nature sites is of huge importance but will not go far enough in reversing the biodiversity crisis. The UK government’s own indicators show that only 50% of its key wildlife sites are in a favourable condition. These need to be urgently restored, along with extensive nature restoration and the doubling of tree cover across the UK. This will boost biodiversity, improve soil quality and help reduce flood risk as well as absorbing climate-wrecking emissions from the atmosphere.
    4. As Britain leaves the EU it will be vital that strong environmental protection is put in place across the UK. For example we need strong laws on air pollution, pesticides, and habitat and species protection, and an independent watchdog with teeth to enforce them.
    5. Governments must avoid false solutions to the duel threats of climate change and declining nature. The government must focus fully on genuine action to reduce climate emissions and to address the drivers of nature’s decline, and not waste time and money on projects to offset carbon or biodiversity which could lead to the further destruction of nature. For example, intensive farming for energy crops or monoculture tree plantations rather than mixed forests.
  2. Frontline species examples picked based on pre-existing surveys and studies:
  3. The State of Nature 2016 report shows that over half (56%) of the UK’s wild species have declined in the past 50 years and continue to do so and that more than one in ten species faces extinction.
  4. The UK government’s 2018 biodiversity indicators show that the decline in the abundance of ‘priority species’ continues. UK priority species include: the wild cat, water vole, greater horseshoe bat, otter and brown hare, skylark, house sparrow and cuckoo.  Only 3% of the UK’s European protected sites are in favourable condition.
  5. The UK Ecosystem Assessment in 2011 found that around a third of our natural ecosystems are declining with many others in a reduced or degraded state.