State of Nature report

I’m sorry I missed the launch of the State of Nature report by a large group of NGOs as I think it would have been a very enjoyable event.  A bit like a gathering of old friends at the deathbed of UK wildlife – determined to have a good time, mention what a great person the old girl was and to praise her not to bury her?

But I have had a good look at the report and there is one thing I like about it but two things I don’t like about it.

The report chronicles, as best as can be done with the data available, the status of UK wildlife – more of it is declining than increasing.  This deserves to be said over and over again as it is a sad indictment of UK wildlife NGOs (to a small extent because they aren’t ‘in charge’), governments (to a large extent because they are ‘in charge’ ) and all of us (to a varying extent depending on our lifestyles).

It’s all a bit heavy on species and light on habitats (not a point you will often find me making) and the species that get most mentions seem to be birds and butterflies – which is understandable because they are well monitored.


The thing I liked:

The best thing about the report is that it is a collaborative production by all the wildlife NGOs and non-NGOs who matter – at least in the realm of species monitoring, survey and audit (counting stuff).  It’s really good to see the British Lichen Society (and what an attractive logo they have) and the Association of British Fungus Groups associated with the likes of the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts.

But it is disappointing that there are some notable absentees from the list of participating and involved organisations.  Where are the National Trust for example – remember they described themselves as ‘one of Europe’s leading nature conservation organisations’ just 18 months ago but now they can’t even turn up at a wake for UK wildlife. It’s a pretty poor show NT.  And WWF-UK weren’t there either – charity begins abroad, perhaps.  Note added later: it appears that the NT, Woodland Trust and WWF-UK weren’t approached by the rest of the consortium to be full members of this initiative – that’s a bit surprising.

However, it is rare to see so many wildlife conservation organisations working so closely together and that is something definitely to be celebrated.  Hooray!


Something I didn’t like:

I wasn’t keen on the design of the report.  I’m not sure why, these days, people seem to think that no-one can read a paragraph of more than a few words without a box, a highlighted piece of text or a razorbill flying across the page.  Why is that?  I didn’t like the full-page diagrams of ‘why is xxx wildlife changing?’ because they looked like rather ugly circuit diagrams to me and used lots of space but carried rather few words.  There were too many attractive photographs – many of them full-page, of lovely wildlife that you might want to cuddle – but they softened the impact of the dismal story contained within this report.

Pick up the report and it is difficult to feel unsettled or worried unless you get into it quite deeply  -the design isn’t helping to get the message across.  This report could have ditched the colour and gone for a sombre black-and-white.  It ought to have lots of downward pointing arrows and stickers across the nicest images saying ‘down X%’ or ‘extinct’. Maybe even a few dead animals too. There ought to have been lots of red and black to signal danger and despondency.  A few acerbic cartoons of gallows humour wouldn’t have gone amiss.


The main thing I didn’t like:

We aren’t making enough progress.  Nature is bleeding from our lives.







PS  David Gibbons had a new tie to wear at the launch by the look of it

PPS how clever of everyone to predict the arrival of a very rare bird on Islay by having its image on page 67.

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33 Replies to “State of Nature report”

  1. The launch of the report was covered in my local newspaper a few weeks ago. There was a photo of our local MP, the Chief Exec of our local Wildlife Trust and the Manager of our local RSPB website holding the report with big smiles on their faces. The next week the paper printed a letter by someone who said that they should not have had such happy faces, given the bad news in the report. He was right of course.

    1. Wendy - nothing to smile about, although crying in front of the camera would have been a bit odd too...

  2. Members of the NT believe it fights for wildlife. Not so apparently. At last the NGO's are standing up for the badger. They need to get involved in the insecticide/pesticide debates now. A single pesticide coated seed will kill a songbird. If bees and insects finally go, all animals including us will go. As a child, if we turned on the lights at night we had to shut the windows to stop moths and insects coming in; we don't have to now.

    1. Rebecca - many thanks. Yes, and how about cleaning your car windscreen? I noticed in the USA that I had to do that in some places but rarely is it needed in the UK these days.

      1. Great point about your car windscreen Mark. I drove from Devon to Cambridgeshire on the hottest day of the year yesterday and didn't have to clean the windscreen once during a 250 mile journey. Not that I enjoyed killing critters whilst driving, but I found it very sad and it was a talking point in the car with when would be get the first first 'splodge'. We didn't.

        And excellent observations as ever about the report. I agree about the design getting in the way of the message.

  3. I work for the NT and agree, in principle, the comments you make in Fighting for Birds about the NT about us being in he entertainment business. I was also with one of our 'specialists' when the SoN report came out. To say they were fuming that the NT wasn't involved was an understatement, however i think it just goes to show how little we are viewed as a conservation organisation, which is a shame. There are a lot of people on the ground who do a lot of very positive conservation work however this never gets shouted about by the NT. Last year we were sent out an email about some of our press coverage, if i remember correctly it celebrated the 'year of the slug' more than anything else! I find it very frustrating that the conservation work that we do do isn't highlighted more by the NT and only hope that a change can come from within - are you available for the next few years?! On another note it has been good to see the majority of NGO's bringing the the SoN report to the fore and hopefully it has triggerd alarm bells in the publics mind as well as the governments, though for the latter i believe the bell would have to be an extremely large and loud one...

    1. A. Ranger - Very many thanks for your comment. I agree that there are many brilliant (really brilliant) naturalists and conservationists within the NT staff but they must feel like they are working for the wrong organisation at times.

      And yet the brand shift and recruitment campaigns of the NT have been very successful - 3.5m members! This increase in membership was probably achieved at despite the conservation work of the NT and certainly not because of it. Maybe others are a bit envious of that membership...

      1. I certainly agree that it can feel like we work for another organisation! i spoke to an ecologist of ours recently who replied when asked about the NT not championing the conservation work we do, 'We don't want to and can't upset our members!' If we are one of Europes leading conservation organisations then surely we can risk being more outspoken about conservation matters and risk upsetting a few more of our members. We might pick up a few more on the way....

        1. A. Ranger, NT do have some superb keen and dedicated conservation staff and volunteers, its just their voices are not often the loudest compared to some of the more ‘traditional’ views. I suspect the bulk of its membership is hugely enthusiastic on conservation and those who disagree are a small element of entrenched dead wood, the type that probably also occur within its management decision making process. The Trust needs to see the new direction of travel in a modern world and realise that many of its internal opponents are outdated and wouldn’t be missed if they resigned. The Trust need to wake up to this for its greater memberships benefit, its a difficult decision but the right one. A good case in point maybe the quietness over its aspirations for its Peak District estate - a good vision that hopefully won’t be derailed by the same minority baggage. Lets hope its membership complains if it gets it wrong.

    2. A. Ranger. You are right and the NT doesn't promote itself that well in this area. I live in Wiltshire and the houses at Lacock and Avebury etc are lovely (to mention only 2). But we also have large areas of chalk downland and other meadows at Cherhill White Horse and Sutton Lane, to mention only 2. Very few people realise the significance of these open areas and you are more likely to find a dog walker rather then someone out there photographing or understanding what is actually being preserved. I wish I could put photos on this blog, the orchids at Cherhill were superb this year and that is only achieved by good management.

      1. "that is only achieved by good management"

        Don't tell 'em, Bob! An Orchid Management Plan will be imposed and they will all disappear.

  4. People are missing the point. This advert is not a collection tin rattling exercise but a call to arms: give a nature a home. There are many in conservation who talk the talk but don't get down and dirty. Me for one. To misquote someone wiser and more influential than I will ever be: "Don't ask what can the countryside do for me but what can I do for the countryside?"

  5. "Something I didn’t like"

    I fished out my electric copy and found I had added a highlight on p7 - "The threats to the UK's wildlife are many and varied". I recall Professor J P Hudson telling the class of '65 at Sutton Bonington that such tosh would steer you towards a 3rd. So I stopped reading at that point.

  6. In response to your comment about NT, we were not asked to contribute & as far as I am aware knew nothing about it. When the NT asked RSPB why we were not consulted we were told it was 'an oversight'. So please no NT bashing.

      1. Just to confirm what NT staff member says. A lot of NT staff were upset that we had been left out (as had NT Scotland & the Woodland Trust) and asked the question. Evidently the answer from the RSPB was "cock up rather than conspiracy"

        1. Jon - thank you very much. An interesting mistake/omission. And I have added a note to the blog to make this point clear - thank you.

  7. It's fair to say that there are a number of organisations that might have been expected to be have been involved with the partnership, e.g. Wildlife & Countryside Link, Association of Local and Environmental Record Centres and many more. Some additional bodies were suggested for inclusion by those that were involved but those pulling the SoN partnership together obviously had to make a decision about just how many cats they might herd successfully the first time round. Perhaps SoN II (Son of SoN?) will see a broader partnership.

    Various of the organisations that commented on Defra's consultation over proposals for revising the Biodiversity Indicators in response to the Aichi Targets in the wake of the Natural Environment White Paper (for England) and the new UK Biodiversity Framework, called for a wider taxonomic range than birds and butterflies (hugely useful though all the effort which has been devoted to these has been in influencing policies in the UK and Europe).

    The new SoN Indicator offers a useful multi-taxon indicator. From comments at a Defra workshop on revising some of the broader biodiversity indicator set last week, it appears that although it won't be adopted wholesale, it will have a real influence on what is included in the 'Biodiversity in Your Pocket' indicators for the whole of the UK in future.

    The National Forum for Biological Recording warmly welcomes the SoN report, not least because of the broad partnership it involves, but because it offers the opportunity to stop and think about how, between now and 2020 and beyond, we target conservation action more effectively. That requires the collection and handling of a sizable amount of biodiversity information, coordination/integration of effort, effective support for national and local recording schemes and societies, identification and survey training for volunteers etc. Support also needs to be provided in a way that actively encourages rather than forcing effort, however.

    There is a particular need for the value of biodiversity information in guiding national and local policies and decision making to be better recognised. Despite their obligations, how many local authorities, government departments and other public bodies are observing their biodiversity responsibilities in a meaningful way? One example is in relation to ensuring that planning authorities have up to date information about the local environment (and where priority habitats and species are to be found). This is vital in response to individual planning applications and more importantly, following the adoption of the National Planning Policy Framework, in guiding the development of their local plans, yet e.g. in London, GLA support for a hugely important rolling survey programme was abandoned soon after the change of Mayor. Local plans provide an enormously important opportunity not only to reduce friction between conservation and development but to achieve the 'better, bigger, more and linked' recommendations of the Lawton Report. To achieve that they require up-to-date, accurate information, about what's where, what's important and where there are opportunities to make the most of opportunities for restoring and linking habitats, buffering the high value sites. Biodiversity offsetting might then play a useful role. But how many local authorities have decided to ensure that a realistic proportion of the Community Infrastructure Levy, which they can now charge developers will be used to ensure that they have access (thanks largely to volunteer recorders and dedicated record centre staff) to the information they are legally obliged to have to ensure that they get their plans and the conditions the set on planning approval right?

    It's said (sadly too often) that 'if you fail to plan, you plan to fail'. The failure to achieve the 2010 biodiversity targets is further evidence of that. At present it's not clear that we have a good understanding of what biodiversity information we need to be collecting (or how what is presently being collected matches up with this) to address existing pressures let alone the impacts of climate change. Identifying what information we need should be seen as a first identifying what we need in terms of the shills, tools and support to address that information need and then on to guiding resources into positive conservation effort and minimization of harm in a sustainable way. How many conservation organisations or members of the public believe that the approach of the "greenest government ever" to be credible? (Take a quick look at the Wildlife and Countryside Link's 2012
    'Nature Check' report). Andy Murray may have won Wimbledon but there are now just seven and a bit years before December 31st 2020. What will you remember fondly on that particular New Year's Eve?

    So far as the Biodiversity Indicators which UK and national governments do end up adopting are concerned, these must link better with and help to drive positive outcomes. There is still work to be done here. Additionally, whilst governments report at the national level, conservation action (and species losses and declines) happen at a local level so it is important that (where it will help) information is recorded at at least the county/vice-county or catchment level, not just to give a more accurate, more meaningful picture but one that will help to target action.

    For those who are interested NFBR's formal response to SoN is here:

    We really hope that it does mark a turning point. Perhaps one of those things to look back on with pride from the vantage of 31.12.2020.

    1. Steve - thank you so much for taking the time to make such a thoughtful comment. Much appreciated.

  8. A couple of things for you too add to your list of good and bad Mark will be GOOD-It got coverage on Channel 4's news during a week of various reports covering the "state" of nature on the programme, so a small achievement, the other NEWS networks didn't cover only Springwatch refered to it on the Beeb. BAD-during the debate with an RSPB worker at the side of a Loch in Scotland the counter-point was a bloke from the Scottish Gamekeeper Association who used it (30 seconds into the debate) to cull/call for the relaxation of legislation protecting Birds of Prey to safeguard the survival of waders and small birds.
    As for the lack of bugs on your windscreens maybe the problem is.....well you're sitting in it! But I do admit my car doesn't get many bugs on the windscreen were as my truck is covered in them, perhaps it's an aerodynamics thing going on?

  9. The cynical person that I am wonders if the reason NT,WWW-UK and Woodland Trust not asked to the party was one large charity wanted control over events whereas the NT itself would dwarf their membership,if that is the case it is a mockery that the major organisations cannot work together.
    My personal observation often in a minority of course is that after a period of the NT not being very member friendly and getting lots of things wrong it is now very much on the right track and looks very progressive.Interestingly the rspb has after a period of really progressive action now on a very slippery slope.
    I feel what changed the NT was bringing in a very good C E so perhaps the rspb needs to look into things.
    I know you will disagree Mark but in this case you are seriously biased and I would never blame anyone for being loyal to a company or whatever they had devoted a large portion of their life to.

    1. Dennis - I am seriously biased...but thank you for your perspective on things.

  10. I recommend watching Iolo William's passionate speech about the results of this report:

    It starts off in Welsh for a minute, then goes on in English.

    While I appreciate that the NGOs are only part of the "solution", I did think the report was a bad reflection of them as well - have they been getting things wrong for so long? Do they need to reflect on the direction they were moving in and change direction?

    Many of us as individuals are active in terms of doing surveys and conservation work, keeping issues about the natural world in the limelight etc, but there's only so much individuals can do and we do need more people, organisations and government to come together.

    Unfortunately, there seems to be little chance of government making a difference with the short-termism and policy-based evidence that prevails in politics.

  11. When I became Wildlife Officer for the Forestry Commission in 1985 it was a bit like the NT - some very good work, but a lack of organisational consistency. I'd add my praise to some of the wonderful inspiring, people the Trust has - like Matthew Oates - and my great respect for Simon Pryor, with whom I've worked closely in his FC days, who now heads conservation & countryside - but I feel the Trust has some fundamental organisational issues - is the property manager led management really working ? Can a historic house expert really take the same interest in the natural environment ? The leadership really does have to come from the top - it was George Holmes and Gwynn Francis, as FC DGs during my time in national policy, who made it clear that opting out wasn't optional - so the spruce farmers had no option but to get interested in wildlife, and they were led from the front because Gwyn was the most serious of harvesting foresters, so they couldn't claim he didn't understand !

    I'm afraid I used to keep score - and must have been almost unique amongst landmanagers in lobbying for more SSSIs ! As a starter for the NT, I'd suggest they shouldn't be third in the pecking order to MOD, the leaders, and FC - and destroying FC isn't the answer - get out there and win a few more SSSIs guys - its easy - all you have to do is get some priority wildlife on the land, and we all want that, don't we ?

  12. The report is full of very useful information, but who is using it? It is not the sort of thing that can be repeated every the meantime we all know that losses are taking place. It could be a raised bog or a bit of ancient woodland or Cambridge University building on a river bank. Habitats are still being destroyed as quickly as they have always been. What frustrates me is that there is no central database recording these losses. It would be very easy to establish and it make a very useful barometer. (Especially now that we dont have an effective planning system anymore).

  13. State of Nature (or more accurately - the State of Species).
    No National Trust, no Woodland Trust, no NT for Scotland - why?
    Mark - it is simple - none of these NGOs were invited to participate by the organisers.
    The NT owns more SSSI land in England than the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts combined. It is a big NGO in wildlife conservation.
    Through its staff and volunteers, and by making its land available to specialists, it reports its species counts to the BTO, BC, and many records of species to national recording societies, and to local record centres.
    The Woodland Trust holds the largest database of veteran and ancient trees in the World ! Our veteran trees are quite possibly the most significant and important conservation feature at a European scale, alongside the UK's seabird colonies.
    Hopefully, the next time such a review is compiled, the organisers will be more open-minded in their invitation list !!!

    1. Redwood - not knowing the details, but taking your version as being correct for the purpose of discussion, I tend to agree with you. The NT, Woodland Trust and WWF-UK haven't been very noticeably (note the word noticeably) active in UK nature conservation over the last few years and so I would have thought it in almost everyone's interests, and in Nature's interest, to get them back in the fold as quickly as possible.

      Funny that with such great conservation credentials none of the partners noticed/did anything about it...?

      I would hope that when the 'Let's improve the State of Nature' report comes out it would have wide membership.

    2. "Our veteran trees are quite possibly the most significant and important conservation feature at a European scale, alongside the UK’s seabird colonies."
      And quite possibly the most threatened.

  14. Mark, you make some interesting points especially around large "conservation" groups. However, I have been interested in all things nature for many years, for my own personal pleasure, but I am no expert on anything in particular or even in the greater schemes. What I find quite amusing is the amount of organisations involved and yet there never seems to be no one voice for "Nature UK". Probably short sighted in naming but seems evident from this report that this is what is needed. All I have to say is well done to all those organisations and individuals who contribute in anyway to "Nature UK" but lets try and look at the positive side of what everyone has achieved, no matter how small. Well time to water my wheelbarrow of wildflowers. Gerry

    1. Gerry - welcome and thank you. You should read Chapter 16 of my book Fighting for Birds


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