State of Nature 2023
By Dave Stone, JNCC Chief Scientist, on behalf of the Chief Scientists' Group
Our latest blog post is from our Chief Scientist, Dave Stone, on behalf of the Chief Scientists’ Group (CSG), a director-level group of the science leaders from the UK statutory nature conservation bodies (Natural England, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), NatureScot, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and JNCC). The CSG shares best practice, and develops and resources solutions for common nature conservation issues in the UK and beyond.
Today, the latest State of Nature report has been published. This world-leading publication reports on the status of various elements of the natural environment in the UK and the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. Production of the report has involved professionals from over 60 research and conservation organisations. The headlines highlight that wildlife is continuing to show critical decline: for example, in Great Britain nearly one in six of the 10,000 plus species assessed are classed as threatened and are therefore at risk of extinction.
This message, unfortunately, is not new. The 2019 State of Nature report showed similar findings. In addition, the UK Biodiversity Indicators, published on the JNCC website on an annual basis, report a mixed picture of how different elements of the natural environment are faring.
However, it is important to note that the report also highlights that action to halt and reverse these declines – through nature conservation and recovery – can, and does, work. Examples and case studies are presented throughout the report. Some examples of our work across the statutory nature conservation bodies are provided below.
In Scotland, NatureScot is a partner in the award-winning Tweed Forum, which has led the restoration of the Eddleston River, a tributary of the River Tweed, for 15 years. This restoration work has provided natural flood protection for local communities and supported improvement of the natural environment in and around the river’s catchment. This has been through actions to restore some of the natural features of the Eddleston catchment, such as the creation of flood-water storage ponds, tree planting and re-meandering of particular river sections, thereby improving conditions for wildlife and fisheries. In February 2023, the project was chosen as a UNESCO Ecohydrology Demonstration Site, the only one in the UK.
In Northern Ireland, the Garron Plateau Bog Restoration Project, launched in 2013, is a partnership between the RSPB, Northern Ireland Water and NIEA, to restore the Garron Plateau SAC, the largest expanse of intact blanket bog in Northern Ireland. Works to restore the natural hydrological conditions were completed in Phase 2, as part of the ‘Cooperation across Borders for Biodiversity’ (CABB) INTERREG VA project. Along with managing grazing levels, this has improved the condition of the bog, the biodiversity it supports, and the quality and reliability of the water received at Northern Ireland Water’s Dungonnell treatment works. It is also supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation, through reducing carbon emissions and regulating water flow in the catchment, highlighting the multiple ecosystem services and benefits secured through restoring nature.
In England, Natural England launched the Species Recovery Programme Capital Grant scheme earlier this year (April 2023), and this month (14 September 2023) announced the 63 projects which had been awarded a grant and which aim to help recover 150 species. This scheme is part of Natural England’s flagship Species Recovery Programme (SRP) which has been running for over 30 years, focussing on bespoke conservation action to reverse the fortunes of our most threatened native species. The programme’s previous successes include rises in the population of the once endangered Bittern, the recovery of the Fen Raft Spider, and the successful reintroduction of Water Voles to areas from where they had previously been lost.
In Wales, five NRW led EU LIFE projects – DeeLife, Sands of Life, 4Rivers4Life, Life Quake and New Life for Welsh Raised Bogs – together total over £27 million that we spend on direct conservation work and raising awareness of these crucial habitats. Other large nature programmes such as Natur am Byth and the Welsh Government’s Nature Networks programme are restoring and improving habitats for our native species and working to increase the population of some of our most threatened species, including the curlew, salmon and sea trout, the native oyster, marsh fritillary butterfly, burnt-tip orchid and high brown fritillary.
JNCC has worked with the UK Overseas Territories for over 20 years. In the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), JNCC’s experts have recently assisted the TCI Government’s Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) to understand the value of the services provided by TCI’s natural resources and how this information can help to inform decision-making and management. In 2018, these services were estimated to be worth over US$100 million per year, with work ongoing to improve the data and information used to make regular valuations, and to evaluate the impacts of particular pressures or of management changes. Building on this, JNCC is working with DECR to develop a new Environment Strategy, which will allow for a coherent approach to environmental management that supports effective decision making and guides meaningful implementation.
Nature conservation and recovery is what we do, on a daily basis, to improve the state of the natural environment. And these examples and delivery commitments are cause for optimism, they demonstrate that when we make space for nature, recovery can happen. Implemented well, nature conservation action has real potential to achieve sustained nature recovery in the UK and beyond. We know action works, but we also recognise that more, better and joined-up action is needed urgently.
Last year, we published a Joint Statement – Nature Recovery for Our Survival, Prosperity and Wellbeing – setting out the need for action to recover nature in the UK and globally. This report built on Nature Positive 2030, published in September 2021, which set out priority actions to reverse nature’s decline by 2030.
These joint reports highlighted several key points:
- The value of nature for our survival, prosperity and wellbeing – nature loss harms human health and undermines our economic security.
- We need to go high nature and low carbon to tackle the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change together.
- We need to work together – nature’s decline affects us all. By working together, we can better help nature recover.
- It’s not too late, provided we act now – time is running out, and what happens in the next few years is critical, but nature recovery remains within our grasp.
State of Nature 2023 reflects these points and demonstrates how the nature conservation sector is working hard together on helping nature recover and to generate and evaluate data to produce assessments of nature’s status. The report uses some of the latest and best available evidence from monitoring schemes and biological recording centres, available only through the collective efforts of a wide variety of organisations and thousands of people, many of whom are skilled volunteers. This evidence enables us to understand the effects of pressures on the natural environment and, equally importantly, how efforts to address these pressures through nature conservation and recovery can be effective in reversing decline.
As this landmark report illustrates: "We have never had a better understanding of the State of Nature in the UK and what is needed to fix it." We within the statutory nature conservation bodies echo these sentiments – nature’s decline is causing serious harm to people and planet. It is not too late to change course, but we need to act together for nature, and we need to act now.
To find out more, visit the State of Nature website.
You can also read this blog post in Welsh.
Image credits: Aerial view of River Eddleston, © Tweed Forum; Garron Plateau, © Paul Corbett; Nightjar, © James Phillips, Natural England; Curlew, © Natural Resources Wales; Turks and Caicos coastline, © Matt Smith.