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UK in the relegation zone for nature, reveals Natural History Museum and RSPB

New analysis from the Natural History Museum, in collaboration with the RSPB, has revealed that the UK languishes at the bottom of the league table of both G7 and EU countries for the amount of nature it has left. 

New number crunching from Natural History Museum researchers using the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII)* has revealed that:

  • The UK is bottom of the pile for G7 countries for the fraction of biodiversity it has left.
  • The UK comes third from bottom across all EU countries, ahead of only Ireland and Malta.

The BII is a rigorous approach to estimating biodiversity loss across an area using a combination of land use, ecosystem, species and population data to give a simple figure for ‘intactness’, that is, how much nature is left in a given area.  

The UK has a BII percentage of 50.3, compared with 65.3 for France, 67.1 for Germany, and 88.6 for Finland, which is among the best countries worldwide for retaining its natural biodiversity.

The UK’s low position in the league tables reflects a combination of history and what is happening today. The Industrial Revolution and later Agricultural Revolution transformed the UK’s landscape. The result of this combined immense destructive forces meant the UK’s biodiversity was some of the most degraded in the world for a long time.

In the last few decades, human activity has continually shaped and reshaped our rural and urban environment. In 2020, over two thirds of the UK is still used for agriculture and another 8% has been built on – leaving little room for nature.

Over 40 million birds having disappeared from our skies since 1970, and this crisis is showing no signs of slowing.

  • The 2019 State of Nature report, which both the Natural History Museum and RSPB contributed to, revealed:
  • 41% of species assessed have decreased over the past 10 years.
  • 15% of all wildlife in the UK is now threated with extinction and 2% are already extinct.
  • Butterflies are down 16% since the 1970s.
  • Familiar birds like the house sparrow have declined by more than half in the last 50 years.

One species, the turtle dove – the UK’s only migratory dove – has declined by 93% since the 1970s.

The NHM and the RSPB believe the new league tables provide an urgent wake-up call that more and faster action is needed to reverse the terrible losses in wildlife seen in recent decades.

Natural History Museum Biodiversity Researcher Adriana De Palma, who worked on the analysis, says: “The way we use the land in our country has left its mark not just on the landscape, but on our biodiversity. If we want nature to recover in the UK and across the world then immediate action is required.

“The rapid disappearance of species and ecosystems is a global disaster - it requires a global solution. We must act but we must also avoid falling into the trap of preserving or improving our biodiversity levels at the cost of exporting losses to other countries.”

Beccy Speight, chief executive at the RSPB says: “These league tables make for difficult reading. But we don’t have to continue like this.  For the UK they set the scene for the scale of the task before us. Over the coming weeks and months, we have the opportunity to make a strong statement that we should have the best, not the most impoverished, wildlife on our continent or amongst the G7.

“Next year the UK will play a leading role in developing a new set of global targets to restore nature and revive our world. In order to play that role, we need an honest assessment that recognises we need to do much more at home. We have binding targets enshrined in law to tackle the climate emergency, but none, yet, to reverse the crisis facing nature. We must end burning on vital peat bogs and begin investing in win-win nature-based solutions to the climate crisis as well as rewarding farmers and other landowners for playing a vital role in helping to address the nature and climate crises. Science-based analysis like this and the RSPB’s Lost Decade for Nature underline that we must make urgent progress if we are to avoid being in the same position in 2030 with our natural world vanishing due to inaction.”

ENDS

Media contact: Tel: (0)779 969 0151 Email: press@nhm.ac.uk 

Notes to editors

*The BII is produced as part of PREDICTS project, led by the Natural History Museum which has produced the biggest global database of how local ecological communities have been affected by human impacts. Using a wide evidence base to analyse how local terrestrial biodiversity responds to land use and related pressures, researchers are able to estimate biodiversity losses across space and time. Small differences in estimated BII between countries should not be overinterpreted.

About the Natural History Museum:

The Natural History Museum is both a world-leading science research centre and the most-visited natural history museum in Europe. With a vision of a future in which both people and

the planet thrive, it is uniquely positioned to be a powerful champion for balancing humanity’s needs with those of the natural world.

It is custodian of one of the world’s most important scientific collections comprising over 80 million specimens. The scale of this collection enables researchers from all over the world to document how species have and continue to respond to environmental changes - which is vital in helping predict what might happen in the future and informing future policies and plans to help the planet.

The Museum’s 300 scientists continue to represent one of the largest groups in the world studying and enabling research into every aspect of the natural world. Their science is contributing critical data to help the global fight to save the future of the planet from the major threats of climate change and biodiversity loss through to finding solutions such as the sustainable extraction of natural resources.

The Museum uses its enormous global reach and influence to meet its mission to create advocates for the planet - to inform, inspire and empower everyone to make a difference for nature. We welcome over five million visitors each year; our digital output reaches hundreds of thousands of people in over 200 countries each month and our touring exhibitions have been seen by around 30 million people in the last 10 years.