The UK’s nature is in trouble – that is the conclusion of a groundbreaking report published today by a coalition of 25 leading conservation and research organisations. The State of Nature report launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation charities at the Natural History Museum is a stock take of our native species – the first of its kind in the UK.
The report reveals that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether; and this trend is worryingly mirrored in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and across the south east of England.
For example, the native white clawed crayfish has declined by 95% since the 1970s and Hampshire now has just one viable population left. The marsh fritillary butterfly, which was once found in wet meadows across north Hampshire, is now extinct and its habitat has reduced to mere fragments.
Of the three species of auk recorded as breeding on the Isle of Wight, only guillemots still have an active colony on the island, and this is the only place where guillemots breed in the south east. Puffins were last recorded as a breeding species on the Isle of Wight in the late 1950s early 1960s; while the island’s razorbill colony has been extinct since 1979, there have been a few reports of isolated pairs breeding since then, the last was in 2001.
The Isle of Wight has a diverse and complex geology with chalk, greensands and clay and gravel, and it’s because of this geological diversity that the landscapes on the Island are incredibly varied. With no feral deer, no mink and, perhaps most famously, no grey squirrels the result is the Island’s woodlands are unique, providing good habitat for red squirrels and dormice. On the rivers, the lack of mink means that water birds and water vole thrive. The Island’s open species-rich downland is home to 80% of the world population of early gentian, a plant found only on chalk soils in Britain.
But the Island is still suffering serious species declines. The greater horseshoe bat, grey partridge, redshank, spotted flycatcher, marsh tit, and small pearl-bordered fritillary are all in danger, and it’s already too late for species like the little tern, razorbill, corn bunting, duke of burgundy fritillary, pearl bordered fritillary, white legged damselfly, shepherd’s needle, pale butterwort, and burnt orchid.
Hampshire is incredibly diverse – the New Forest, the Solent coast, the iconic chalk rivers Test and Itchen, the chalk grassland of the South Downs and the heathland of the Thames Basin all give the county its varied landscape character.
But despite almost 7% of the land surface being protected, we are still suffering serious wildlife declines locally. Breeding waders such as lapwing and redshank were lost from the Itchen Valley more than a decade ago and despite efforts to clean up our chalk rivers, phosphate levels remain dangerously high.
There is increasing evidence that climate change is affecting the breeding success of UK seabirds.
Declines are happening across all habitats and species groups, although it is probably greatest amongst insects, such as our moths, butterflies and beetles. Other once common species like the lesser spotted woodpecker, barbastelle bat and hedgehog are vanishing before our eyes.
None of this work would have been possible without the army of volunteer wildlife enthusiasts who spend their spare time surveying species and recording their findings. Our knowledge of nature in the UK would be significantly poorer without these unsung heroes.
For some species it may be too late but it’s not all doom and gloom. Many of these declines are reversible. By using a joined-up, landscape-scale approach to conservation that engages land-owners, wildlife bodies and the public we can help ensure that wildlife recovers and starts to thrive again across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight for future generations to enjoy.