Why are we losing nature and wildlife?

The UK is known for its beautiful green landscapes and rich biodiversity. However, like many other parts of the world, our region is facing the alarming loss of nature and wildlife.

This loss of biodiversity has severe consequences; it doesn’t only affect the environment, but also our own health and wellbeing. But what are the causes of this decline, and what can be done to address it?

Let’s explore the causes of biodiversity loss in more detail…

Habitat loss and fragmentation

One of the main reasons why we’re losing so much wildlife in the West of England is due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Fragmentation means changing natural habitats into agricultural land and urban areas - this infrastructure development is destroying essential habitats for wildlife. As our population grows and urban areas expand, human activities encroach upon previously wild lands, and the available space for our native species to live, feed and breed is significantly reduced.

Development can also damage the connections between different ecosystems, which makes it harder for wildlife to safely move around the region, and reduces their chance of survival. According to a report by the West of England Nature Partnership, more than 2,000 hectares of greenbelt land in the region are at risk of being lost to development by 2036.

Species that rely on specific habitats for survival, such as the dormouse, the greater horseshoe bat and the brown hare, are particularly vulnerable. As their habitats disappear, their populations decline - sometimes to the point of extinction.

Climate change

The worsening climate crisis is another significant factor contributing to biodiversity loss in the West of England. Global warming and changes in climate patterns have severely altered our native habitats, making it harder for wildlife to survive as they adapt to these new conditions. 

Climate change can affect the growth and survival of plants, which many other species depend on. In the West of England, shifts in local temperatures, changes in our rain patterns and extreme weather events like droughts can disrupt ecosystems, potentially leading to the decline or disappearance of certain plant and animal species.

The West of England has seen an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms, floods, and heatwaves in recent years, and many of our native plant and animal species are now struggling to adapt to the changing climate.

Hunting and fishing

Overhunting and overfishing are major threats to wildlife populations in the West of England. In the past, industrial hunting to make money from certain animal products has driven species, like the otter, to the brink of extinction. 

Similarly, unsustainable fishing practices like overfishing salmon have had a big impact on our marine ecosystems. 

In the West of England, and the rest of the UK, overfishing has had a particularly severe impact on marine biodiversity. Over half of the UK’s most important fish stocks are being overfished, or are in a critical stage, according to Oceana. This overfishing not only depletes fish populations but also disrupts entire marine ecosystems. 

To restore balance to our ecosystems and reduce the impact on our native wildlife, we need to introduce measures to regulate hunting and fishing activities, and consider more carefully how much fish we consume, and where it comes from.

Invasive species

Non-native species which have been introduced to our region can really disrupt the delicate balance of the ecosystems in the West of England. When non-native species are introduced to new environments, they can outcompete native species for resources, prey on them or transmit diseases. This can lead to the decline of native species. 

For example, the American mink, originally introduced for fur farming, has become a major predator of water voles, which are now one of the most endangered mammals in the UK. 

Similarly, the Himalayan balsam, introduced as an ornamental plant, has spread rapidly along riverbanks, outcompeting native plants and reducing biodiversity.

Pollution and disease

Pollution, particularly from agriculture and urban runoff, poses a significant threat to biodiversity in the West of England. Pesticides, fertilisers, and other chemicals used in farming can leach into waterways, contaminating aquatic ecosystems and harming fish, amphibians, and other aquatic species.

Air, soil and water pollution can harm wildlife by damaging their habitats, physically harming them or increasing their vulnerability to diseases or predation. Pollutants tend to accumulate within the food chain, meaning that the larger animals at the top of the food chain end up ingesting far higher levels of pollutants. 

Plastic pollution is another growing concern. Rivers like the Avon and the Severn, which flow through the West of England, carry plastic waste from urban areas to the sea, where it poses a threat to marine life. Plastic ingestion and entanglement can be fatal for many marine species, including seabirds, turtles, and marine mammals.

Additionally, the spread of infectious diseases from human activities can devastate wildlife populations that are not equipped to combat non-native pathogens. 

The impact on us and our environment

The loss of biodiversity in the West of England has far-reaching consequences for both the environment and for us. Biodiverse ecosystems are more stable and resilient to disturbances like climate change, disease outbreaks and invasive species - so less biodiversity increases the risk of ecosystems collapsing, which then harms natural processes like water and air purification, soil formation, pollination and climate regulation. 

For humans, declining biodiversity affects our food security, as biodiversity is essential for agricultural productivity, pollination and natural pest control. Industries that depend on biodiversity, like agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, may experience losses, impacting employment opportunities. 

Additionally, the loss of biodiversity in the West of England can lead to the erosion of cultural values and traditions tied to nature, as well as impacting our wellbeing, and increasing our vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change.

The West of England is facing significant challenges from biodiversity loss and the impact of this on our nature and wildlife. It is crucial to address the causes of biodiversity loss, such as habitat destruction, climate change, overhunting, overfishing, the introduction of invasive species, pollution, and disease. 

Taking action to protect and restore biodiversity in the West of England is not only essential for the conservation of ecosystems and wildlife, but also for the wellbeing and sustainability of our communities. 

Biodiversity loss is a complex and multifaceted issue around the world. If left unchecked, this decline will have far-reaching consequences for ecosystems, economies and society as a whole.

However, there is hope. By taking action to address these underlying causes, we can slow and even reverse the loss of biodiversity. Conservation efforts, habitat restoration, sustainable land use practices and international cooperation are all essential components of any strategy to protect nature and wildlife. By working together, we can ensure a healthier, more resilient planet for future generations.