Urgent action needed to halt decline of Scotland’s wildlife

Volunteer surveying the dispersal of Chequered skippper butterfly after being released, part of the Back from the Brink project to reintroduce this species to England, Northamptonshire, May

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Scotland’s wildlife continues to decline, according to the most comprehensive State of Nature report ever produced.

The latest findings show that in the five decades since consistent scientific monitoring began there has been a 24 per cent decline in average species abundance across monitored wildlife. The report confirms that averaged across all wildlife groups the decline continues unabated.

Following on from State of Nature reports in 2013 and 2016, leading professionals from more than 70 wildlife organisations have for the first time joined with government agencies to present the clearest picture to date of the status of species across the land and sea.

The State of Nature Scotland report 2019 reveals that since recording began 49 per cent of Scottish species have decreased, 28 per cent have increased. Nature is changing rapidly, with 62 per cent of species showing strong changes. Of the 6,413 species found in Scotland that have been assessed, 11 per cent have been classified as threatened with extinction from Scotland.

Experts also conclude that it is not too late to act. Much is known about the causes of decline and about some of the ways in which we could reduce impacts and help struggling species. The evidence from the past 50 years shows significant and ongoing changes in the way we manage land and sea, and the ongoing effects of climate change, are having the biggest impacts on nature.

Moths have been particularly hard hit in Scotland with numbers down by 25 per cent. Butterflies, meanwhile, have shown a slight increase in average abundance of nine per cent.

Of nine mammal species assessed since 1998, their abundance has also declined by nine per cent. In 2018, the wildcat was declared functionally extinct in Scotland, though conservation efforts using captive-bred genetically pure animals continue.

The pine marten, however, has made a strong return in both abundance and distribution in recent years.

Overall, the 143 species of birds assessed in Scotland appear broadly stable. Looking at specific bird groups, however, reveals a more complex picture.

Scotland’s seabird populations have undergone substantial declines over the past 30 years. While the monitoring period is shorter – running from 1986 to 2016 – the average numbers of 12 species of breeding seabirds have declined by 38 per cent. Surface feeding birds like kittiwake, or species that depend on them to find prey, such as Arctic skua, have been particularly affected, with major declines of 72 per cent and 77 per cent respectively.

The State of Nature 2019 report builds on the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) advice to governments published earlier this year, recommending stringent emissions reductions by 2050, and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) global assessment in May showing unprecedented global declines in nature.

The report has a foreword by a collective of young conservationists who are passionate about conservation and the future of our wildlife and nature to preserve it for future generations.

Dan Rouse, a young conservationist said: ‘Nature is something that shaped my childhood, that allowed me to be free to use my sense of wonder, and to gain an insight into the wonderful world of nature.

‘It’s young people who are now picking up the baton to save our nature – we’ve already lost corn buntings and nightingales in Wales – how long until they’re gone from the rest of the UK, along with the eerie calls of curlew and the gentle purr of the turtle doves?’