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Three Year Report Shows UK Species, Habitats in Recovery

LONDON, UK, June 19, 2006 (ENS) - The world's most threatened bird to breed regularly in the UK is recovering due to conservation efforts, and there is good news about other species as well, according to a report published by the government on behalf of the UK Biodiversity Partnership today. The partnership reports on a three year cycle. While gains are apparent, the report cites current or emerging threats as global warming and habitat loss and degradation due to development.

The most threatened bird is the corncrake, a grassland bird that started to disappear from the British countryside more than a century ago, after intensive mechanized farming methods were introduced.

Migratory birds that winter in Africa, corncrakes are related to moorhens, coots and rails but live on dry land, mostly in Britain's western islands and in Scotland. They are secretive, spending most of their time hidden in tall grasses and corn, located by their rasping call - crek-crek.


The corncrake is recovering in England and Scotland due to intensive conservation efforts. (Photo courtesy DEFRA)
The UK population of corncreks has more than doubled from 488 calling males in 1993 to 1,113 today, the report finds. The corncrake in Scotland has continued to increase with the support of agri-environment measures that have improved the habitat for this species.

The turnaround is credited to actions taken by group to stem the loss of biodiversity such as the corncrake captive breeding and release program by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, English Nature and the Zoological Society of London.

Scotland's Deputy Minster for Environment, Rhona Brankin, said, ""I am particularly pleased to see two predominantly Scottish species, the corncrake and the great yellow bumblebee, singled out as positive examples of recovering populations. We are proud of these success stories."

"This kind of action to prevent the loss of important wildlife and to reverse previous losses through targeted work for species and habitats is one of the key objectives of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy," she said.

The UK has lost over 100 species during the last century, with many more species and habitats in danger of disappearing, especially at the local level, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The UK government has made a commitment to halt biodiversity decline with the aim of reaching this by 2010 along with other EU countries, and the status of UK Biodiversity Partnership (UK BAP) species and habitats are among the draft headline indicators for this target.

"Despite these improvements, there is still a lot of work to do, and we cannot afford to relax our efforts to safeguard the UK's wildlife and habitats," said UK Biodiversity Minister Barry Gardiner.

"There are major challenges for everyone to protect and enhance our biodiversity in the years ahead," he said, "but the unprecedented effort being brought to bear on this means that we will meet those challenges head-on."

About 150 Local Biodiversity Action Plans have been developed by local partnerships to engage local communities and help deliver conservation action.

This report contains an update on progress on the 391 Species Action Plans, covering 475 separate species, and 45 Habitat Action Plans produced under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan between 1995 and 1999.

The report released today shows that Biodiversity Action Plan partnerships at both UK and local levels continue to deliver gains for priority species and habitats.


Researcher holds a lesser horseshoe bat hanging upside down, in the bat's favorite position. (Photo courtesy DEFRA)
The good news is that 22 percent of habitats and 11 percent of priority species are increasing. Lesser horseshoe bats and native pinewoods are among the threatened species and habitats that are improving.

Numbers of lesser horseshoe bats have increased by 42 percent in Wales and 39 percent in South West England.

More than 23,000 hectares of native pinewood have been planted against a target of 25,000 hectares.

Gardiner said, "Apart from being something that we value in its own right, biodiversity is a vital part of our natural support system. It helps to regulate climate and provides other benefits that contribute to people's health, prosperity, and enjoyment of the natural environment.

"It is encouraging to see that we appear to have turned the corner in the fight to protect our most threatened species," said Gardiner, "and the work being done across the UK is beginning to show significant gains."

On the other hand, the report finds that 39 percent of habitats and 27 percent of priority species are declining, but the decline is slowing for 25 percent of all habitats and 10 percent of all species.

Another 36 percent of species and 13 percent of all habitats identified as being among the nation's most threatened have remained stable.

Overall, more priority species are showing improved trends than in the last two reports in 1999 and in 2002.

There was a significant improvement in the level of reporting in 2005 but gaps in monitoring information for UK priority species remain for habitats outside of designated sites. "These need to be addressed if we are to monitor progress towards the 2010 target to halt biodiversity loss," the report states.

All of the targets for 51 species and two habitats were met. Although many targets for other habitats and species have still to be achieved, it can take time to reverse adverse trends and progress is being made in many cases.

Overall, the signs are encouraging but there is still more to do to meet the 2010 target, the ministers said.

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan was published in 1994 as part of the UK response to the Convention on Biological Diversity signed at the UN Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. The UK BAP helps coordinate and drive conservation work at national and local levels through identifying priorities for action, and setting biological targets for the recovery of species and habitats.

On a world scale the rate of biodiversity loss is now viewed to be a cause for serious concern, requiring concerted international action to prevent continued loss.

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