Blog: We must stand up for our native species

Posted: 5th July, 2021

The Government is poised to remove legal protection for some UK native species as part of proposed changes under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).

Here Dr Jen Nightingale, Bristol Zoological Society’s UK Conservation Manager, explains why Bristol Zoological Society is opposing the plans which risk causing irreversible losses to our native biodiversity.

I’ve studied and worked to help protect UK wildlife for more than 30 years, and have seen first hand how vital our native species are to creating a healthy and balanced ecosystem.

The UK is currently facing many serious declines in both species and habitats, primarily due to changes in land use, pollution, climate change and overexploitation. 

Habitats and species are under threat in many parts of the UK; currently, they are afforded protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

The State of Nature (2019) report found that 41% of UK species are declining and one in 10 is threatened with extinction in the UK.

The change to the Wildlife and Countryside Act would mean that only plants and animals under imminent threat of extinction would be afforded protection.

Therefore, only those UK species listed as being an European protected species or Critically Endangered  on the IUCN Red List (the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animals, plants and fungi) would automatically be protected. All other species will need to be nominated for protection through a strict assessment process.

However, many of our native species are not listed under the IUCN Red List framework. If these plants and animals are removed from the Act we risk major, potentially irreversible, losses to our native biodiversity.

Not only this, but many species are data deficient, i.e. we do not have enough information to fully understand what is happening to their populations. Therefore they would be at risk from these proposed changes because they are not formally recognised in these higher IUCN categories.

Every native species is fundamental to a fully functioning ecosystem. In this time of a recognised ecological emergency, it is vital that we preserve all aspects of our biodiversity and it is incomprehensible that these changes should be suggested.

At Bristol Zoological Society we are committed to conserving and protecting native species and habitats.

Our white-clawed crayfish conservation programme uses this species as a flagship for river restoration. The white-clawed crayfish is a key species within an inter-related ecosystem that will not survive if the rest of the ecosystem is compromised. 

The proposed changes to the Wildlife and Countryside Act, would mean that the vast majority of the species that are found within the same habitat as the white-clawed crayfish would have no protection; their loss could lead to ecosystem failure. 

We have been monitoring the rare silky wave moth in and around the Avon Gorge for over two decades. This species is not assessed by the IUCN Red List, however, it is nationally rare and is only found in Bristol in England. With the proposed Wildlife and Countryside Act changes, there will be no protection for this species in the future.  

Bristol Zoological Society has a leading role in the south west working on invasive species control and raising awareness regarding biosecurity best practice. By removing legal constraints on native species trade, this may lead to increased biosecurity breaches and disease risks. This could result in serious disease outbreaks in our native plants and animals, lowering resistance and allowing invasive species to thrive.

We oppose the proposed changes to the Wildlife and Countryside Act and we call on the review group to reach out to the experts in a more dedicated manner and reconsider the impact of a species by species evaluation. 

You can read more about the review here

  • Please support nature by contacting your local MP before the deadline for feedback of Wednesday July 7.

By Dr Jen Nightingale, Bristol Zoological Society

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions. 

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