No progress in halting biodiversity loss

13th May 2014

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  • Agriculture ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Natural resources



Many of England's habitats and native species have declined over the past five years, reveals Defra, although some progress has been made in the longer-term

The environment department has published its annual assessment of England’s natural environment and confirmed that numbers of priority species are continuing to fall, river quality is failing to improve and water abstraction levels remain unsustainable.

Launched last year, following a commitment in the government’s natural environment white paper, the annual assessment draws on existing data to provide an overview of progress towards protecting and improving England’s countryside and natural resources.

Defra has analysed progress against 13 “natural environment indicators”, which include land-use, stocks of natural resources and wildlife species. The report examines 24 measures, such as the number of breeding wetland birds, the total area of woodland being actively managed and the amount of raw materials being consumed, over the long-term (with data sources from as far back as the 1970s) and short term (the last five years in most cases).

In last year’s report, Defra concluded that 10 of the measures showed improvement over the short-term and five showed signs of deterioration, however, the latest report concludes that this trend has reversed. Just five measures are rated as improving in recent years while nine were assessed as being in decline, the bulk of which are related to wildlife species.

The number of butterflies, breeding wetland birds and priority species remain in long-term steady decline, for example, while levels of water abstraction and the biological quality of England’s rivers have both deteriorated over the past five years or so.

The public's interest in the environment is also seen to be declining with fewer people volunteering for conservation projects and children making fewer visits to the countryside.

On a more positive note, Defra’s assessment reveals that levels of marine litter and the proportion of large fish in English waters have improved in the past five years or so, following long-term declines. And that levels of resource consumption and the water quality of rivers remains stable.

Defra acknowledges that the results reveal a “mixed picture” when it comes to progress on improving England’s natural environment.

“Despite clear action and some success, notably in the marine environment, many species and habitats are still in decline and public engagement with the natural environment has fallen in the recent past,” states the report.

The report, and links to detailed assessments of each of the indicators, are available from


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