A study conducted by a coalition of more than 50 organisations has revealed that nearly half of Scotland’s seabirds have disappeared in less than four decades, with populations of 11 seabird species declining by 49% between 1986 and 2019.
These alarming losses occurred prior to the current bird flu epidemic and are part of a more extensive trend of biodiversity decline. The report suggests that various factors, including agriculture, forestry, fishing, climate change, and pollution, may be driving these declines.
The study also highlights that Scotland ranks 28th from the bottom among 240 countries and territories in terms of nature depletion, making it one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. England, Wales, and Northern Ireland also rank lower in these rankings.
The report, considered the most precise review of Scotland’s natural environment, is based on evidence from 50 nature and conservation organisations and covers 407 species of birds, mammals, plants, and butterflies. It paints a grim picture of the state of Scotland’s biodiversity, with 11% of species threatened with national extinction, and a decline in the distribution of flowering plants.
Several bird species, including Swifts, Greenfinches, and Curlews, have experienced declines of over 60%, while Kestrels have declined by more than 70%. Moths such as Rosy Minor, Satyr Pug, and Grey Mountain Carpet have declined by more than 90%, although butterfly numbers have increased, partly due to the warming climate pushing them north.
The Red Squirrel population remains endangered, with their range shrinking by 7% from 1993 to 2016. However, localised conservation efforts, such as “Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels,” have significantly increased numbers in certain areas, such as Aberdeen.
The report also highlights cases where careful conservation and legislation have positively impacted populations of Water voles, Great-crested Newts, and the White-tailed Eagle.
Paul Walton, one of the report’s authors, said: “Every time we allow a species to go into decline, or to be lost from our country, we progressively undermine the health and functions our ecosystems. This is a fundamental problem for the living world, including us.
“The findings should be a further wake-up call that, despite extraordinary efforts across our society to restore ecosystems, save species and move towards nature-friendly land and sea use, there’s much more we need to do to halt and reverse the decline.”
The authors of the report emphasise that each time a species goes into decline or is lost from the country, it undermines the health and function of ecosystems, which is a fundamental problem for the living world, including humans.
The report attributes many of the changes in Scotland’s habitat and wildlife to centuries of shifting land use, driven by farming, forestry, and the industrial revolution. Despite this historical impact, the past decade has seen 43% of recorded species experiencing significant declines.
Prof Colin Galbraith, Chair of NatureScot, said: “The State of Nature report is evidence that Scotland’s nature is in crisis, but it also inspires us with what can be achieved by farmers, foresters, communities, charities and scientists when we all take the urgent action needed to protect and restore our ecosystems and species before it is too late.”
The Scottish government initiated a consultation on a new plan to address nature loss in September, pledging to accelerate efforts to combat the biodiversity crisis.
Scottish Liberal Democrat climate emergency spokesman Liam McArthur said: “Almost half of species in Scotland are in decline. Meanwhile, the Scottish government has launched yet another consultation on a biodiversity strategy that was supposed to be implemented at the start of the year.
“That is not the urgency we need to see in the face of a climate and nature emergency. Hopefully, this latest report from RSPB will be the wake-up call that ministers clearly need”.
Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater emphasised that the report underscores the damaging impact of climate change on Scotland’s plants and animals.
“This crisis affects everyone – we all depend on biodiversity for food, clean water, fibres and medicines. It can also help prevent flooding, and contributes to our health and wellbeing,” she said.
The Scottish Government is taking action through initiatives such as the £65 million Nature Restoration Fund and the £250 million peatland restoration program. Their biodiversity strategy aims to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and reverse declines by 2045.
At Natural World Fund, we are passionate about stopping the decline in our wildlife.
The decline in our wildlife is shocking and frightening. Without much more support, many of the animals we know and love will continue in their decline towards extinction.
When you help to restore a patch of degraded land through rewilding to forests, meadows, or wetlands, you have a massive impact on the biodiversity at a local level. You give animals a home and food that they otherwise would not have had, and it has a positive snowball effect on the food chain.
We are convinced that this is much better for the UK than growing lots of fast-growing coniferous trees, solely to remove carbon, that don’t actually help our animals to thrive.
This is why we stand for restoring nature in the UK through responsible rewilding. For us, it is the right thing to do. Let’s do what’s right for nature!
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