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State of Nature Report: Gloucestershire's Highs and Lows

Posted: Wednesday 14th September 2016 by Community

Large blue (c) Steve LaneLarge blue (c) Steve Lane

The recent UK State of Nature Report 2016 pools a range of technical data and gives a more detailed analysis than that given in the first report in 2013. It presents information in terms of groups of species which unfortunately makes for depressing reading. Here we have summarised the report into the context of some of our Gloucestershire species

The reports quantitative assessments of the change in population or occupancy for 3,829 terrestrial and freshwater species has revealed that over the long term (1970 – 2013) 56% of these species declined and 44% increased.

biodiversity was lost in post-war agricultural intensification... The rate has slowed but not gone away and each further loss becomes more significant

Among these 40% showed strong or moderate declines, 31% showed little change and 29% showed strong or moderate increases.

Over the short term 53% of species declined and 47% increased. Among these 41% showed strong or moderate declines, 12% little change and 34% showed strong or moderate increases.

The reasons for decline suggest that long term declines can be mainly attributed to the agricultural intensification that took place in the 1970’s and 80’s.

An index of species’ status is useful in demonstrating that the decline is slowing – 16% fall since 1970 but only 3% between 2002 and 2013.

This is due to conservation effort, agri-environment schemes and (not mentioned) that there is less left to lose!

Basically much of our biodiversity was lost in post-war agricultural intensification between the late 1960s and mid-1980s.

The rate has slowed but not gone away and the loss of each further site becomes more significant.

What does this mean for wildlife?

The story is one of the countryside being less able to support viable populations of species due to the legacy of intensive agriculture and habitat fragmentation.

Agri-environment schemes and effort by conservation NGOs like us have made a difference to some species, but it is still very much the case of localised improvement rather than a more robust and resilient countryside. 

The Bad News

Many species are still vulnerable to external factors. We have two good examples of this in Gloucestershire:

The Barn Owl

The barn owl has seen an increase in numbers in recent decades mainly due to habitat created through agri-environment schemes. But the overall population is still low and a bad season (poor weather during the breeding season and reduced food supply) can lead to a crash. We saw this in 2015 in Gloucestershire.

We need to do more to make larger tracts of land suitable (and stay suitable) for wildlife if we are to ensure their long term future. Living Landscapes is the Trust’s solution.

The  Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

In the Forest of Dean the small pearl-bordered fritillary is on the verge of extinction and there is probably nothing that can be done now to save it. From a high of over 40 sites in the 1980s it is now down to just two.

The major decline came in the early 2000s following the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease when a lack of sheep grazing resulted in traditional open grassland on which they rely becoming scrubbed over.

The valiant effort of conservation volunteers has failed to achieve what the sheep did and the poor weather during their flight period in 2016 means that the maximum count of flying adults at the two sites combined was just eight adults.

Traditional Orchards

In terms of habitat loss our most reliable figure in Gloucestershire is for traditional orchards which suffered a 69% loss between 1975 and 2009. We have also looked at habitat losses (Key Wildlife Sites) since the last report in 2013.

Although the rate of loss has slowed considerably (again because there is relatively little left) we have lost one wild daffodil meadow to ploughing during the last three years. 

The Good News

The good news is that some species are doing well with targeted action and expert knowledge.

The Large Blue Butterfly

The large blue butterfly is our greatest success story with the re-introduced population at Daneway Banks now the most important in the UK. It has a buoyant population which is already starting to colonise neighbouring areas.

With appropriate management of these sites the butterfly will do well and spread still further. The large blue is now well and truly back as a Cotswold species.

The Water Vole

Water voles have done well as part of the Cotswold Rivers project with relict and isolated populations spreading to new areas following habitat improvements by the Trust.

This work was focussed around Greystones Farm nature reserve (latest stats awaited) which is a stronghold for the species.

The Woodlark

The woodlark has returned as a breeding species to some Trust nature reserves in the Forest of Dean for the first time since the 1960s.

The creation of open areas by extending the nature reserves has created the right conditions for this species and more work is planned to enable other sites to be colonised and for the Woodlark to become re-established as a Gloucestershire breeding species.

The Hedgehog

Following our online survey in 2015/16 we know that the hedgehog is still widespread in the county.

Our work to enrich existing urban areas to create three new “Wild Towns” will hopefully ensure that the hedgehog remains a familiar feature of our urban and sub-urban areas with the help of local people.

What can you do?

The best thing that anyone can do is stand up for nature, fight for what you believe it - perhaps think about volunteering or if you're strapped for time think about donating to, or joining a local conservation organisation like ours.

Our President, Ellie Harrison is doing just that - by championing our Say Yes to Wildlife campaign.

Join us in saying 'YES to Wildlife' 

Read Community's latest blog entries.

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