Alarming wildlife report should be a wake-up call for Norfolk conservation

Two cranes flying over Hickling Broad. Picture: Elizabeth Dack

Two cranes flying over Hickling Broad. Picture: Elizabeth Dack

Elizabeth Dack

A major study showing 15pc of UK wildlife species are at risk of extinction should act as an urgent “wake-up call” to expand conservation efforts across East Anglia.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust chief executive Pamela Abbott, pictured at Southrepps Commons nature reserve. Picture: Chris Hill.Norfolk Wildlife Trust chief executive Pamela Abbott, pictured at Southrepps Commons nature reserve. Picture: Chris Hill.

That was the message from conservationists following the publication of the 2019 State of Nature report, a collaboration of more than 70 wildlife organisations and government agencies, drawing on nearly 50 years of scientific monitoring.

Data on nearly 700 species of land, freshwater and sea animals, fish, birds, butterflies and moths reveals that 41pc have seen populations decline since 1970, while 26pc have increased and 33pc have seen little change.

Among thousands of species assessed, the report says 15pc are threatened with being lost from Britain, including wildcats and greater mouse-eared bats. Butterfly numbers have fallen by 17pc on average, and moths by 25pc.

More intensive agriculture is still driving declines in farmland nature, it says, while pollution, land lost to development and climate change are also having an increasing effect.

Bittern in the Broads. Picture: Elizabeth DackBittern in the Broads. Picture: Elizabeth Dack

Agricultural leaders in East Anglia said it was unfair to judge modern farmers against 1970s baselines, and that "it would be far more illuminating" to focus on more recent successes to reverse wildlife declines on farmland.

The Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) also pointed to recent success stories - but said the report highlighted the urgent need to scale-up all efforts to protect threatened birds, mammals, insects and aquatic life.

NWT chief executive Pamela Abbott said: "In the face of evidence of continuing declines in biodiversity in the UK, now more than ever there is a need to scale up the effort and impact of conservation work across Norfolk.

"All the evidence shows that connecting fragmented habitats is an effective and vital way of helping endangered species. NWT has seen key species such as common crane benefit from our large scale restoration of fragile wetland habitats in the Broads, and the once-extinct pool frog reintroduced to restored pingos in the Brecks.

Grayling butterfly. Picture: Ian SaggersGrayling butterfly. Picture: Ian Saggers

"Our challenge and ambition is to build on such stories of success to create a compelling narrative where everyone can contribute to making a difference for nature in Norfolk."

As well as wetland restoration projects at Hickling Broad and Upton Broad and Marshes to benefit species including bittern and fen orchid, the trust highlighted the landscape-scale work at Roydon Common, in the west of the county, where at least 15 species of dragonfly can be found including the rare black darter, 30 species of butterfly and 450 types of moth. It is also the only place in East Anglia to host the raft spider, one of the two largest British spiders.

The report highlights other national successes such as the return of red kites and bitterns, and acknowledges an increase in woodland cover, the restoration of wetlands and heaths, and that many farmers are now farming in nature-friendly ways.

Rob Wise, East Anglia environment adviser for the National Farmers' Union (NFU), said the region's farmers "continue to be at the forefront" of efforts to protect wildlife and species diversity.

Rob Wise, NFU East Anglia environment adviserRob Wise, NFU East Anglia environment adviser

"A vast majority of farmers farm in a nature-friendly ways," he said. "In recent years they have been responsible for planting 10,000 football pitches worth of wildflower habitat, creating homes for bees and food for insects, and 47,000 hectares of buffer strips to protect watercourses.

"Stone curlew numbers in the Brecks continue to rise, as do lapwing and skylark numbers in arable areas throughout East Anglia, where farmers are taking land out of production to provide suitable habitat.

"Farmers are driving innovative trials in the Broads, the Brecks and Suffolk and Essex river valleys to provide even more wildlife friendly outcomes as part of developing the new Environmental Land Management Scheme set to replace the EU's Common Agricultural Policy."

Conservation experts called for more ambitious action, including a strong new set of environmental laws to reverse declines in nature.

Hickling Broad. Picture: Richard OsbourneHickling Broad. Picture: Richard Osbourne

Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England, said: "This report is a wake-up call. More needs to be done to achieve the ambitions of the government's 25-year environment plan to reverse nature's decline so that our children can experience and benefit from a richer natural environment."

A bittern feeding along the reed margins at Hickling. Picture: Nick GoodrumA bittern feeding along the reed margins at Hickling. Picture: Nick Goodrum

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