Researchers from the University of Plymouth have played an important part in a major new report highlighting the scale of nature loss across the UK.
The State of Nature 2023 report provides a detailed picture of how nature is faring across towns, cities, the countryside and seas.
It shows that the abundance of land and freshwater species has on average fallen by almost a third (32%) since 1970 and, overall, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries globally due to human activity, with less than half of its biodiversity remaining.
The report has been compiled by leading professionals from over 60 research and conservation organisations, and contains the best available data on the UK’s biodiversity.
Among the scientists involved are Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop and Dr Matt Holland, from the Plankton and Policy Research team at the University of Plymouth.
They wrote the section on plankton that is featured within the report and highlights the importance of plankton to both the marine food web and to other wildlife, such as seabirds.
They also demonstrated how climate change is driving complex and varied changes in the UK’s plankton, with some zooplankton types showing long-term abundance increases in some areas of the North Sea, with strong declines in phytoplankton abundance offshore over the last six decades.

This is only the second time plankton have been included within the RSPB’s State of Nature report, and it is just recognition of their significance. We may not be able to see them with the human eye, but plankton are critical for the health of our entire planet. They not only underpin the marine food web, but are vital in supporting populations of other wildlife – especially seabirds – that are such a popular feature of our coastlines.

Abigail McQuatters-GollopAbigail McQuatters-Gollop
Associate Professor of Marine Conservation

The University’s role in developing the State of Nature report represents the latest national success for its plankton researchers, whose work is consistently being used to both influence and inform national and international marine policies.
The data used to develop the text were highlighted in greater detail within OSPAR’s Quality Status Report 2023, also published in September 2023, and will form an important part of the UK Marine Strategy Report for 2024.
The University also led the writing of the plankton sections within that report, and it detailed the current status of marine biodiversity as well as the specific human activities exerting pressures on the marine environment, with a particular emphasis on climate change.
Working alongside colleagues in Plymouth, nationally and internationally, researchers have also conducted groundbreaking studies into plankton community changes and the impacts of significant changes now and in the future.

If we are to fully highlight the changes happening within the marine environment, we need to share them with as wide an audience as possible. That includes scientists, policy makers and industry, but also the public. As such, it is great to see plankton included within the RSPB’s State of Nature report, and it complements our recent work to provide more detailed observations in other publications including OSPAR’s Quality Status Report 2023.

Matt HollandMatt Holland
Research Fellow

The State of Nature report shows that almost 1,500 species are at risk of UK extinction and there are multiple challenges that need to be addressed to help them. These include a lack of available food, lack of habitat, the impacts of the climate crisis or pollution.
It also highlights that, in many cases, the solutions to the challenges nature faces are known with projects to restore habitats such as peatlands, wetlands and woodlands now underway to help capture carbon and save species.
The report celebrates the successes of communities, conservation organisations and agencies in restoring nature for wildlife and people.
A Eurasian Curlew on the North York Moors

For anyone who cares deeply about future generations and the state of nature, now is the time to urgently get to grips with the scale of our collective challenge. This report draws on a robust synthesis of our very best science over decades, and spells out the magnitude of ecological loss and scale of effort that is so urgently needed required. We simply cannot be complacent with words such as extinctions, ecological tipping points, and nature and climate emergencies. The difference we can make to holding the line or help reverse the fortune of special wildlife or precious habitats is now urgently a matter of scale.

Michael Copleston, Director of RSPB England

Marine Institute

Representing 3000 staff, researchers and students, the University of Plymouth's Marine Institute is the first and largest such institute in the UK. 

We provide the external portal to our extensive pool of world-leading experts and state-of-the-art facilities, enabling us to understand the relationship between the way we live, the seas that surround us and the development of sustainable policy solutions.

Discover more about the Marine Institute

Marine Institute