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‘Wildlife is in freefall’

Populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have fallen more than two-thirds in less than 50 years
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Baby leatherback turtle

Today (10 September), WWF has warned that global wildlife ‘is in freefall’.

Its flagship Living Planet Report 2020 reveals population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have fallen an average of 68% globally since 1970 – more than two-thirds in less than 50 years.

‘Catastrophic decline’

Nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before, and this catastrophic decline is showing no signs of slowing, the study says.

Intensive agriculture, deforestation and the conversion of wild spaces into farmland are among the main causes of nature loss, while over-fishing is wreaking havoc with marine life.

The decline has happened even faster than anticipated in 2018, and the conservation charity is warning that without urgent global action, life on Earth will be pushed to the brink.

A path to recovery

This year’s Living Planet Report includes significant new research from a global group of scientists which confirms for the first time the actions that can halt and reverse the downward spiral of wildlife loss.

The research shows that we can only turn things around if ambitious conservation efforts to protect our wildlife are combined with urgent action to stop habitat loss and deforestation – changing our farming and the way we produce our food; tackling food waste and moving to healthier diets and working to restore damaged habitats and landscapes.

With this urgent and ambitious global action in both conservation and the food and agriculture system, it may still be possible to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030.

In the UK, WWF is campaigning for tough new nature laws to protect and restore wildlife at home and abroad as a crucial part of the global response.

‘We are wiping wildlife from the face of the planet, burning our forests, polluting and over-fishing our seas and destroying wild areas. We are wrecking our world – the one place we call home – risking our health, security and survival here on Earth. Now nature is sending us a desperate SOS and time is running out.

‘We are in a fight for our world: we now know what needs to be done, and paper promises won’t be enough. In the UK we need to fast-track tough new nature laws that protect our wildlife at home and abroad, and with the COP26 summit in Glasgow next year the Government has a huge opportunity to show global leadership in securing urgent commitments and action from world leaders.

‘Only by putting the environment at the heart of our decision making can we build a safe and resilient future for nature, people and our planet.’

Chief executive at WWF

‘Conservation works’

The Living Planet Report is based on data from the Living Planet Index produced by ZSL.

The report and index reveal a 94% decline in average size of monitored wildlife populations in Latin America and the Caribbean – the largest drop anywhere in the world.

Freshwater species populations have seen a steep decline of 84%, including the critically endangered Chinese sturgeon in the Yangtze river (down 97%).

‘The Living Planet Index is one of the most comprehensive measures of global biodiversity. For this report, ZSL’s team tracked data on 20,811 populations of 4,392 vertebrate species. An average decline of 68% in the past 50 years is catastrophic, and clear evidence of the damage human activity is doing to the natural world.

‘If nothing changes populations will undoubtedly continue to fall, driving wildlife to extinction and threatening the integrity of the ecosystems on which we all depend. But we also know that conservation works and species can be brought back from the brink. With commitment, investment and expertise, these trends can be reversed.’

ZSL’s director of conservation

In some parts of the world, leatherback turtles have declined by between 20% and 98%, with an 84% decline at Tortuguero beach in Costa Rica.

African elephant populations in the Central African Republic have declined by up to 98%.

In the UK, populations of grey partridge have declined by 85% and populations of Arctic Skua in Orkney have declined by 62%.

The report also highlights that 75% of the Earth’s ice-free land has been significantly altered by human activity, and almost 90% of global wetlands have been lost since 1700.

Attenborough on the Anthropocene

Conservation measures are already proving they can deliver positive results around the world, with legal protection for forest elephants in Ghana, blacktail reef sharks in Australia and tigers in Nepal resulting in large population increases, the LPI shows.

This year’s Living Planet Report also includes Voices for a Living Planet, a collection of essays from global thought leaders on how to build a healthy and resilient world for people and nature.

The lead essay is written by WWF ambassador Sir David Attenborough, who highlights that humanity is now in a new geological age, the Anthropocene.

‘The Anthropocene could be the moment we achieve a balance with the rest of the natural world and become stewards of our planet.

‘Doing so will require systemic shifts in how we produce food, create energy, manage our oceans and use materials. But above all it will require a change in perspective. A change from viewing nature as something that’s optional or ‘nice to have’ to the single greatest ally we have in restoring balance to our world.

‘The time for pure national interests has passed, internationalism has to be our approach and in doing so bring about a greater equality between what nations take from the world and what they give back. The wealthier nations have taken a lot and the time has now come to give.’

WWF ambassador

WWF wants to see legislation in the upcoming Environment, Agriculture and Trade Bills that upholds UK environmental standards and stops our supply chains wrecking the planet and driving deforestation and species loss overseas.

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