The Mammal Society is pleased to have worked with many other conservation organisations in the UK, led by the RSPB, to produce the State of Nature Report 2023. Thousands of records collected by Mammal Society volunteers, and the work we have done to assess the conservation status of our mammals, underpins the report.
To view a copy of the full report please visit stateofnature.org.uk
- The State of Nature 2023 Report shows that UK biodiversity is in severe decline, and reveals that 26% of our mammal species are at risk of extinction in the UK.
- The Mammal Society is concerned by recent government decisions to delay or water down commitments to meet climate and biodiversity targets – especially the delay to the implementation of a legal framework for Biodiversity Net Gain rules in the planning system.
- Small mammals play an important role in healthy and functioning ecosystems, but habitat loss and other pressures are driving many species into decline.
- Data on wildlife is vital to inform conservation and land management policy, and small mammals are hard to monitor as they are so elusive. Help from volunteer mammal recorders all across the UK is vital for science-driven conservation.
- The drivers of habitat loss need to be tackled urgently through action in all areas – especially in the way land is managed for agriculture. Climate, economic and welfare outcomes depend on a healthy and stable ecosystem to underpin progress.
- Mammal Society calls for all members and supporters to add their name in support of the Nature 2030 campaign – a set of targets supported by over 70 environmental charities that could reverse the decline in biodiversity. https://action.wildlifetrusts.org/page/130179/petition/1
- We need to normalise our local landscapes being frayed around the edges – with long grass and scrub areas left for nature in gardens, parks, business grounds, school and university campuses and farms. This is vital habitat for small mammals, as well as invertebrates and wildflowers, and provides vital hunting grounds for larger mammals and birds of prey.
More than a quarter of UK mammal species face local extinction
The UK’s beleaguered wildlife continues to decline, according to the State of Nature 2023 report. The latest findings show that since rigorous scientific monitoring of more than ten thousand species began in the 1970s there has been a 19% decline in average abundance (population size) across all species studied. An average 13% decline was recorded in the 2019 report.
By the time monitoring of these species began in the 1970s, the UK was already a nature-depleted country as a result of hundreds of years of habitat destruction, hunting and unsustainable farming practices. The 19% therefore does not tell the whole story of how much wildlife has been lost from UK landscapes over the past few centuries. In fact, it is estimated that the UK has lost more than half of its biodiversity as a direct result of human activity.
The report also concludes that 16% of the species studied (more than 1 in 6) are at risk of becoming extinct in the UK. However for terrestrial mammals, this figure is much higher – a hugely concerning 26%. We face the awful prospect of losing more than a quarter of the land-dwelling mammals monitored for this report from our lives and landscapes.
Due to the long history of declining UK nature, no one alive today has ever actually seen our landscapes as they could be – fulfilling their potential as havens for nature as well as people. Many of our cultural ties to the landscape are linked to the very practices that have contributed to denuding it of wildlife – even those as seemingly harmless as the image of the manicured and pleasant English Country Garden. We need a mind shift to normalise gardens, roads, parks and ground in our landscapes that are frayed around the edges. When people see long grass, scrubland and bulging hedgerows as signs of nature being allowed a place in the landscape, rather than as evidence of neglect and wasted space, we move a step closer to a society that will see the missed opportunities when nature is suppressed or excluded, and demand better. Matt Larsen-Daw, CEO, Mammal Society
Terrestrial mammals include some of our most iconic and well-loved species, and yet are among the most depleted. The decline or loss of any species can have serious and far-reaching impact, and mammals big and small are no exception. The extinctions of wolves, beavers and boar from our landscapes in previous centuries has had lasting ecological and cultural impact. We now risk losing a swathe of vital species, most much smaller than these, yet no less important. Whether controlling insect populations, playing a key role in seed dispersal and pollination, providing food for larger predators, or even acting as ecosystem engineers to bring benefits for people and nature alike, mammals are vital components of healthy and functioning ecosystems.
However despite their ecological importance and their iconic status in our culture, mammals are often among the most elusive and therefore under-recorded species in a landscape. The powerful insights presented in the State of Nature Report demonstrate the value of collecting data on wildlife populations, and emphasises the importance of the work of grassroots wildlife recorders such as the Mammal Society’s network of Local Mammal Groups.
This is why projects such as the Mammal Society’s National Harvest Mouse Survey are so important. Harvest mice are categorised as ‘near threatened’ in the Mammal Society’s Red List for Britain’s Mammals. However as with many small mammals the true picture of their population distribution and numbers is unclear. Volunteers across the British Isles will start surveying for harvest mouse nests for the third year in a row this October, helping to build a picture of the range and population of this important and charismatic native species, and in doing so providing an important insight into ecosystem health and landscape connectivity.
We need leadership from government to turn things around, but we are not helpless. Wherever you live you are the best placed person to monitor and protect your local ecosystem. Whether your strength lies in habitat improvement, wildlife surveying, campaigning for better practices from your local and national leaders, or just helping others to notice and value their local wildlife, you can be part of the fight back for UK nature. Dani Connor, Mammal Society Ambassador, Wildlife Photographer and Film-Maker
The report presents evidence from various projects around the UK demonstrating that sustained conservation action and improved policy does deliver results, providing hope that even species and habitats on the brink can be protected and restored with sufficient investment. Grey seal abundance in UK waters is increasing as they recover from historical hunting pressures. Nature-friendly farming practices have been shown to result in greater biodiversity on those sites. Protected areas of landscape have been demonstrated to have greater diversity and abundance of species. We know that such measures work – we just need funding and policy to enable enough action to turn things around in time.
There is no doubt, however, that for us to reap the benefits of any projects aiming to protect and restore wildlife populations long term, we need funding and urgent reform to land use at a national scale in order to ensure ecosystems are healthy and resilient enough to thrive without constant intervention. Only then will we be able to enjoy the full benefits that our natural capital can provide.
Ultimately, the future of many species associated with farmlands and woodlands depends on the widescale adoption of nature (and climate) positive practices by land managers in all parts of the UK and a shift to more nature positive systems of farming and woodland management overall.
State of Nature 2023
Likewise, some projects aiming to protect and restore specific species on the brink of local extinction have succeeded in preventing disaster, but have been unable to remove the threat. Red squirrel populations have been protected from total eradication in some areas of the UK by invasive grey squirrels through the ongoing efforts of large numbers of volunteers, but their survival remains dependent on such volunteer effort until the threat is tackled at a national scale.
Recognising this need for large scale, joined-up and sustained action for nature across all landscapes of the UK, the Mammal Society urges its members and supporters to put their names to the Nature 2030 campaign, backed by more than 70 UK environmental organisations. The campaign sets out five areas of focus which, together, could turn things around. The aim is to show all political parties that no matter what other manifesto commitments they might make, ambition in the right areas for environmental action will be a key issue against which they will be judged in the next election. The Mammal Society stands behind the call for these five actions to be included in all party manifestoes.
- A pay rise for nature
Farmers need greater support to help nature and manage over 70% of UK land – we want to see double the current budget for nature-friendly farming in future.
- Make polluters pay
Business – from companies working in finance to retail to energy – all contribute to nature’s decline and should contribute to nature’s recovery.
- More space for nature
Just 3% of the land and 8% of English waters are properly protected for nature. We want rapid action to expand and improve protected areas, and ensure public land and National Parks can contribute more to recovery.
- A National Nature Service
We want lots of helping hands if nature is to recover quickly and at scale: a ‘National Nature Service’ would create thousands of green jobs as well as a healthier society.
- A right to a healthy environment
Limited access to nature and pollution in the air and water affects everyone’s health: An ‘Environmental Rights’ Bill would drive better decisions for nature and improve public health.
At a local level we can all play a part in making the landscape wilder, and more able to support thriving mammal populations as part of healthy and biodiverse ecosystems. Some actions can support particular species, such as planting forests and wildflower meadows, installing bat or bird boxes and creating ponds in gardens and schoolgrounds. However sometimes it is as much about what we don’t do as what we do. Leaving areas of grass to grow long can give home, hunting grounds and safe passage for small mammals throughout our gardens, parks, schoolgrounds, field edges, business grounds, university campuses and roadside verges.
Whilst the State of Nature 2023 report sets out large-scale targets to resolve the issues we face, it is up to us all to make small changes where we can, whether it be increasing your recording effort or joining in with local groups to survey a particular area or species. Seeing wildflowers and bees and butterflies is better than seeing just short grass, but sometimes old habits need to be challenged before people will realise there is an alternative. Derek Crawley, Mammal Society Council and Chief Mammal Verifier for iRecord
Conservation outcomes depend on data to inform approaches, monitor progress and assess what works. Wherever you live, you are best placed to monitor your local ecosystem. If you want to be part of the fight back against the decline of nature in the UK, help conservation organisations by recording your wildlife sightings. The Mammal Society’s free app Mammal Mapper makes it easy to submit your sightings of mammals or signs of their presence such as droppings or tracks. On the Mammal Society website you’ll find details of other ways you can monitor and record local mammals, and help out in national surveys.
For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:
Areanna Alizan, Communications Officer, Mammal Society: firstname.lastname@example.org
- A full copy of the State of Nature 2023 report can be viewed at stateofnature.org.uk
- Established in 1954, the Mammal Society is a UK science-based conservation organisation working in pursuit of a future in which sustainable mammal populations thrive as part of healthy and diverse ecosystems benefiting people and nature across the British Isles. www.mammal.org.uk
- The Mammal Society’s National Harvest Mouse Survey is entering its third year, with volunteers around the UK surveying for nests from October 2023-March 2024. www.mammal.org.uk/science-research/harvest-mouse-project
- National Mammal Week is 9th-15th October, and will be a week of national celebration of the importance of mammals in our lives and landscapes. This year the theme is Mammal Connections. www.mammal.org.uk/event/national-mammal-week-exploring-mammal-connections