University researchers contribute to RSPB’s State of Nature 2019 report

Researchers from the University of Plymouth have contributed to a national report which shows the UK’s wildlife is in a continued state of decline.

The RSPB’s State of Nature 2019 report shows that since rigorous scientific monitoring began in the 1970s there has been a 13% decline in average abundance across wildlife studied.

Professionals from more than 70 organisations joined with government agencies to produce the report, aimed at presenting the clearest picture to date of the status of our species across land and sea.

Among those sharing their expertise were the University’s Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop and Dr Jacob Bedford, who were invited to co-author the marine chapter of the report. The report also cites several high profile pieces of research from the University's Faculty of Science and Engineering.

The marine chapter provides an overview of the current plight facing species who rely on the UK’s seas, showing that everything from seabirds to marine mammals have seen changes in terms of abundance and distribution in recent decades.

It also highlights a number of areas where the university has extensive research expertise, including plastic pollution, ocean acidification, offshore renewable energy, sustainable fisheries, plankton monitoring and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Dr McQuatters-Gollop, Associate Professor of Marine Conservation, was appointed earlier this year as a senior academic fellow working with the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) to inform and shape key future policy decisions. She said:

“This report is a timely reminder of the many and varied threats facing our wildlife, both on land and at sea. It also demonstrates how the expertise we possess here in Plymouth is informing and influencing policies to safeguard species now and in the future.

“Over the past 50 years, the changes within the marine environment have been sizeable and significant, and species are having to adapt their habits and habitats in order to survive. This report highlights some of the instances where that has been less than successful, but also other initiatives which will help wildlife to thrive in the future.”

Dr Bedford, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, added:

“It is only through continued monitoring that impacts of pressures, such as overfishing and climate change, on the UK marine food web can be efficiently assessed and managed. Given our reliance on the services provided by a healthy and functioning marine ecosystem, it is crucial that conservation of marine biodiversity is kept high on the political agenda.”

The State of Nature 2019 report reveals that 41% of UK species studied have declined, 26% have increased and 33% shown little change since 1970, while 133 species assessed have been lost from our shores since 1500.

Butterflies and moths have been particularly hard hit, with numbers down by 17% and 25% respectively, while the UK’s mammals also fare badly with greater than 26% of species at risk of disappearing altogether.

The evidence from the last 50 years shows that significant and ongoing changes in the way we manage our land for agriculture, and the ongoing effects of climate change, are having the biggest impacts on nature while pollution is also a major issue.

University research cited within the RSPB’s State of Nature 2019 report

Beaugrand G, et al. (2008). Causes and projections of abrupt climate-driven ecosystem shifts in the North Atlantic. Ecology Letters, 11: 1157–1168.

Beaugrand G & Reid PC (2003). Long-term changes in phytoplankton, zooplankton and salmon related to climate. Global Change Biology, 9: 801–817.

McQuatters-Gollop A, et al. (2019). Plankton lifeforms as a biodiversity indicator for regional-scale assessment of pelagic habitats for policy. Ecological Indicators, 101: 913–925.

Ostle C, Thompson RC, Broughton D, Gregory L, Wootton M and John DG (2019). The rise in ocean plastics evidenced from a 60-year time series. Nature Communications, 10: 1622.

Parmesan C & Yohe G (2003). A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems. Nature, 421(6918): 37.

Rees SE, et al. (2016). An evaluation framework to determine the impact of the Lyme Bay Fisheries and Conservation Reserve and the activities of the Lyme Bay Consultative Committee on ecosystem services and human wellbeing. A report to the Blue Marine Foundation by research staff the Marine Institute at Plymouth University, Exeter University and Cefas.