UK is one of world’s most nature-depleted countries, new data shows

The world has an average of only 75% of its biodiversity left, according to the Natural History Museum, far below the safe limit for humanity.

UK is one of world’s most nature-depleted countries, new data shows

The UK is one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries – and may not have enough biodiversity to prevent an ecological meltdown, according to new data.

The UK has an average of only 53% of its biodiversity left, well below the global average of 75%, according to analysis by the Natural History Museum released on Sunday.

Both figures are lower than the 90% average, which experts consider the “safe limit” to prevent the world from tipping into an “ecological recession” – a future in which ecosystems do not have enough biodiversity to function well, leading to crop failures and infestations that could cause shortages in food, energy and materials.

“Much of the world has lost a large amount of its natural biodiversity,” said Dr Adriana De Palma from the Natural History Museum.

“Those systems have lost enough biodiversity to mean that we have to be careful about relying on them functioning in the way that we need them to.”

Researchers at the museum have developed the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), which measures the percentage of nature that remains in an area.

The UK’s 53% BII places it in the bottom 10% of the world’s countries and last among the G7 group of nations.

The UK’s long-time low position in the league table is linked to the industrial revolution, said Professor Andy Purvis from the Natural History’s life sciences department.

“That mechanised the destruction of nature to an extent, converting it into goods for profits,” he said.

Red squirrel forage ahead of winter as their numbers decline
The UK has only 53% of its biodiversity left, with species such as the red squirrel in decline (Danny Lawson/PA)

While the country has seen some increases in the amount of high-quality natural vegetation that helps support native species, those gains have been offset by the expansion of cropland and urban areas, as well as population growth, she explained in a press briefing.

The UK can fix the problem, but “we’d hope from a global biodiversity perspective that that doesn’t come at the expense of just offshoring biodiversity damage to other places,” said Professor Purvis, who is a world-renowned expert on biodiversity metrics.

The team from the Natural History Museum hope their BII tool will help global leaders meeting for the UN Biodiversity Conference, known as COP15, next week.

The conference, hosted by China, is set to take place online on October 11-15, with a second round to be held in the city of Kunming next spring.

Negotiators are tasked with agreeing a new set of goals for nature over the next 10 years.

None of the world’s last targets for protecting wildlife, which were set in Aichi, Japan, in 2010, were met.

Endangered Asian elephants
Leaders meet next week at COP15 to discuss protecting nature across the planet, such as endangered Asian elephants (Peter Byrne/PA)

He highlighted the need for action that recognises that developed countries have a stable but low level of biodiversity intactness, while developing countries have a high level that is decreasing fast – a “global levelling up.”

He said: “Biodiversity loss is just as potentially catastrophic for people as climate change, but the solutions are linked.

“Stopping further damage to the planet requires big change, but we can do it if we act now, together.

“Muddling through as we currently are doing is nowhere near enough to halt, let alone reverse, the ongoing worldwide decline in biodiversity.”

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