'Act now to save our natural environment or Britain's most precious wildlife will be lost forever'

England's green and pleasant land is in catastrophic decline, with some of its most precious wildlife at risk of disappearing for ever, the first comprehensive report into the nation's natural life has shown. In a landmark study into every aspect of the environment, the government advisory body Natural England has compiled research from all corners of the countryside, from woodland and wetland to marine life and salt marsh.

Its findings make for bleak reading. Under siege from climate change, development, pollution and aggressive new farming methods, the country's biodiversity is already significantly less rich than it was 50 years ago, The State of The Environment report said. Just 3 per cent of grassland is rich in native plants and a fifth of the countryside is already showing visible signs of neglect, it reported. The collapse of this habitat is having such a devastating effect on native species, including the red squirrel, the turtle dove, the bumblebee and the adder.

"If we don't act now, there's a real danger some of our most precious wildlife will be lost for ever and our lives will be poorer for it", said Helen Phillips, chief executive of Natural England.