Over the past two centuries, nearly half of Britain's natural biodiversity has been lost. The industrial revolution and urbanization are major contributors to this decline.
This shock result is from a study done by scientists at London's Natural History Museum. It revealed that the UK ranks among the lowest-rated countries in terms of how well its ecosystems have preserved their natural animals and plants.
According to Professor Andy Purvis of the museum's life science department, Britain has lost more natural biodiversity than any other country in west Europe. This is more than any of the G7 countries and more than any other nation such as China. It's alarming and very worrying.
Purvis and his team published their work as negotiators prepare for online discussions at the UN biodiversity conference (Cop15). The talks will be followed by an international summit on biodiversity in Kunming, China next April. The summit will have a clear goal: to set firm goals to stop habitat destruction and wildlife loss that could lead to crisis situations on the planet.
James Nasmyth's Foundry in Manchester, 1832: Britain's Industrial Revolution is seen as the key to the destruction the natural world. Photograph by Print Collector/Getty Images
Purviss' team has created a biodiversity integrity index (BII) to aid in these negotiations. This rates countries on how well their ecosystems keep their natural diversity of plants, animals, and fungi. The index showed that biodiversity in the developing world is at an increasing rate, but it is also declining rapidly. The index shows that biodiversity in the developed world has been relatively stable over the past 20 year, but has fallen rapidly throughout this time. The UK is at the bottom of this list.
According to Dr Adriana de Palma, a senior museum researcher, our analyses showed that the UK consistently ranked in the bottom 10% for biodiversity intactness.
The team points out that Britain's poor standing in the global biodiversity league is due to the fact the industrial and agricultural revolutions began in the UK.
Purvis stated that this resulted in the mechanized destruction of nature to make it profitable. The UK has been one of the most depleted countries in the globe for a very long time.
Woods and grassland across the country have been destroyed and single-crop fields planted in their places. The UK now has more than two-thirds of its land used for agriculture, and only 8% is left for natural resources. However, this is not an all-encompassing picture.
It is not surprising that the index shows that biodiversity is stronger in remote areas of Scotland, England and Wales than in south-east England. This is because farming tends be more intensive and there are more towns and cities.
Another species at risk is the Natterjack Toad. Photograph: Sandra Standbridge/Getty Images
The global biodiversity intactness rate is 75%. This is considerably lower than the 90% average, which is considered a safe limit to ensure the planet doesn't tip into an ecological recession that could lead to widespread starvation.
This scale shows that the UK's index reading was 53%. This has led to dozens of species being threatened with extinction. These include the Scottish wildcat, the pine marten and the turtle dove, as well as insects like the cicada and the natterjacktoad. Even the once ubiquitous hedgehog's existence is at risk. The decline is not limited to animals. Many species of plants, soil micro-organisms and fungi have also been affected.
It would be relatively easy for Britain to increase its biodiversity rating, according to scientists. They warn against offshoring, which would leave developing countries with the burden of providing goods and growing food. This could lead to the loss of biodiversity.
Many people view biodiversity as a luxury, as they see it as beautiful, charismatic and desirable species. Purvis stated that they are good for the soul, but not more than that.
But biodiversity is much more. It is the engine that creates everything we eat. It can be compared to a wild supermarket, which provides food and other gifts for us without our intervention. We have many varieties of tomatoes, apples and other foods because biodiversity is important. If it decreases we lose out.
The Biodiversity Trends Explorer has made it easy for anyone to search, download, view, filter, and understand the Biodiversity Index data at the Natural History Museum.