UK wildlife under threat
The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries with around one in six native species under threat. A quarter of UK mammals and nearly half of all birds are at risk – hedgehogs, hares and bats, birds such as the willow tit and turtle dove and insects such as the high brown fritillary butterfly, are all under threat. Anyone who grew up in the 1970s will remember the splattering of dead insects on car windscreens during long journeys. Nowadays, there are hardly any. Globally, over 40 per cent of insects are in decline and intensive agriculture and the increased use of pesticides are responsible. It’s an insect apocalypse!
Around 60 per cent of primates, our closest biological relatives, are threatened with extinction. Among the main drivers, scientists say, are expanding production and consumption of beef, soya and palm oil. Palm kernel meal is a lucrative by-product of palm oil production and along with soya, is used as animal feed with more than a tenth of global production fed to British livestock and companion animals.
In both Africa and Asia, populations of great apes – gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans – are rapidly declining. As a result of loss of habitat to agriculture, poaching and infectious diseases, numbers have collapsed, with less than 1,200 mountain gorillas remaining and the Western chimpanzee now critically endangered. In Asia, all three species of orangutans are also critically endangered.
Decades of habitat loss, poaching and conflict have also devastated African elephant populations, with only around 350,000 remaining compared to the 10 million that roamed the continent as recently as 1930. Sumatran elephants are also critically endangered, largely due to oil palm plantations destroying their habitat.
The Amazon rainforest is the most biodiverse place on Earth and is one of the last refuges for many animals, including jaguars and pink river dolphins. It is home to sloths, black spider monkeys and poison dart frogs and perhaps a million more yet-to-be-discovered species. Agriculture is the main global driver of deforestation, according to the United Nations. Gidon Eshel, Assistant Professor in Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago, says: “You eat a steak, you kill a lemur in Madagascar. You eat a chicken, you kill an Amazonian parrot.” And the reason is that species-rich habitats are being converted to land for grazing and animal feed crops as the human appetite for meat grows.
Grasslands and savannahs are also being destroyed for meat production and a typical example is the African savannah, home to a huge variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds. Roaming elephants and buffalo, grasshoppers and beetles, ants and termites make up an extraordinarily complex and diverse ecosystem that has evolved over thousands of years, but which is now under threat.