UK branded one of the world’s worst coun­tries for Na­ture in ‘in­sub­stan­tial’ re­port

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

HE nat­u­ral world needs our help as never be­fore,’ warns Sir David At­ten­bor­ough in his fore­word to the de­press­ing State of Na­ture 2016 re­port, re­leased last week, which found that the UK is ‘among the most na­ture-de­pleted coun­tries in the world’, rank­ing 189th out of 218 as­sessed. One in seven of our wildlife species is at risk of ex­tinc­tion and more than half (56%) are in de­cline.

The study is in­fin­itely more thor­ough than the in­au­gu­ral re­port three years ago, pool­ing data from more than 50 or­gan­i­sa­tions—twice as many as in 2013—in­clud­ing the RSPB, BTO, Na­tional Trust, Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum, Plantlife and Wildlife Trusts, to mon­i­tor 9,670 species (up from 3,148 in 2013). How­ever, farmer and writer Robin Page of the Coun­try­side Restor-ation Trust be­lieves that the re­port paints ‘an in­com­plete pic­ture’ and he’s not alone. ‘Three or­gan­i­sa­tions that should have been in­cluded were not con­sulted—the Coun­try­side Restora­tion Trust, the GWCT and Song­bird Sur­vival,’ he says.

De­spite the Wildlife Trusts’ Di­rec­tor for Eng­land Stephen Trot­ter’s as­ser­tion that ‘this is not a fight with farm­ers—farm­ers are part of the so­lu­tion to the prob­lem’, this time, the fin­ger of blame is pointed squarely at the ‘in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of agri­cul­ture’ and its pol­icy-driven new techno-

Tlo­gies used ‘at the ex­pense of na­ture’. NFU Vice Pres­i­dent Guy Smith ar­gues that this ‘makes lit­tle sense’ as, in the past 25 years, ‘Bri­tish agri­cul­ture has not in­ten­si­fied’ —quite the op­po­site has hap­pened. He adds: ‘We’re the gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers that have em­braced con­ser­va­tion, but, mys­te­ri­ously, that never seems to be recog­nised by the wildlife NGOS.’

‘It seems un­fair to over­look this,’ agrees James Spreck­ley, head of the Agri­cul­tural and Landed Es­tates team at law firm Lod­ders, es­pe­cially as many farm­ers ‘em­brace this re­spon­si­bil­ity at their own cost’ and ‘are ex­pected to op­er­ate in a chal­leng­ing eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment which takes no ac­count of this role’.

Two-thirds of farm­ers have signed up for agri-en­vi­ron­ment schemes, 30,000km (18,641 miles) of hedgerows have been re­vived and fer­tilis­ers and pes­ti­cides are used less than ever be­fore. As a re­sult, green­house-gas emis­sions from agricul ture have de­creased by 16% since 1990. ‘Other causes ac­knowl­edged in the re­port, such as ur­ban­i­sa­tion, cli­mate change or in­creas­ing preda­tor pres­sure, need greater at­ten­tion,’ adds Mr Smith.

Back in 2013, the study was crit­i­cised for nei­ther con­sult­ing the game­keep­ing com­mu­nity nor in­ves­ti­gat­ing fully the se­vere ef­fect of pre­da­tion on wildlife. This re­peated ex­clu­sion, says a spokesman from the Na­tional Game­keep­ers’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion, shows that ‘its au­thors sim­ply do not un­der­stand the finer points of wildlife man­age­ment’. He laments that ‘ca­sual read­ers will go away with only half a story’.

‘Num­bers of badgers and buz­zards, for ex­am­ple, have all in­creased in the past 20–30 years,’ adds Mr Smith. ‘Some­times, the wildlife lobby would rather turn a blind eye to that, like Nel­son at Copen­hagen.’

Mr Page goes even fur­ther, com­ment­ing that as the study largely ig­nores pre­da­tion and over­pop­u­la­tion, it is ‘su­per­fi­cial, in­sub­stan­tial and just a PR ex­er­cise’.

The re­port does ad­mit that, al­though about 75% of land in the UK can be classed as agri­cul­tural, its anal­y­sis fo­cuses on en­closed farm­land, which cov­ers 40%. Cli­mate change is ac­knowl­edged as the most sig­nif­i­cant long-term threat to Na­ture glob­ally, but, in the short term at least, its ben­e­fit out­weighs the detri­ment, with in­creased win­ter­time sur­vival and more south­ern species ex­pand­ing into the north than northerly species lost. How­ever, ris­ing

More than 50 con­ser­va­tion groups say that one in seven of the UK’S wildlife species is at risk of ex­tinc­tion. The blame is largely di­rected at in­ten­sive farm­ing, as well as ur­ban­i­sa­tion, cli­mate change and pre­da­tion

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.