Nature charities in the North East have issued an urgent call for action after a survey of wildlife in the UK revealed huge declines in native species.
Scientists working with 25 wildlife organisations have produced the inaugural State of Nature report – the first of its kind to document the current status of animals and plants in this country.
It has found that, of 3,148 species in the UK, 60% have declined over the last 50 years, with almost a third dropping strongly. The UK has also lost 44m breeding birds since the late 1960s.
Mike Pratt, chief executive of Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said: “The report is screaming out for action. If we continue to do what we have been doing for the past 100 years, we are facing species extinction on a massive scale
“Even in the wilds of Northumberland there is evidence of declining bio-diversity. The situation is more worrying than we had perhaps appreciated locally as we see the countryside as being largely unspoilt and natural in many areas.
“The trust is already involved in big partnership projects at Druridge Bay and North Tyneside, and in the uplands, to extend opportunities for wildlife, including massive new plans to create wild wood at Kielderhead in Northumberland and extend wetlands on the coast.
“But this is still not enough on its own. We need powerful support from the public to make sure wildlife survives for future generations and we need to maximise every inch of land for wildlife benefit from our cities to the tops of the hills.
“We are fast approaching a fundamental watershed in terms of how we take forward protection and enhancement of species and habitats in our landscapes.
“This is not to say we have not had wins along the way. We have had success stories with red squirrels, otters and the return of ospreys and marsh harriers and possibly even pine martens to Northumberland.
“But we have almost lost the black grouse, water voles, golden eagles and hen harriers. Even more worrying, if the hedgehog continues to decline at the rate it is now, we will be in danger of losing them forever.”
The report shows that, in the uplands – which make up much of the North East’s outstanding landscapes – of the 877 species studied, 65% are in decline and 118 plants are on the Red List, indicating high levels of threat to the species.
Nick Adams, the RSPB’s conservation manager for the North East, said: “More species have become extinct in the uplands than any other area so we have to act now to protect this precious and fragile habitat.”
Pat Thompson, Newcastle-based RSPB uplands policy officer for England, said that large areas were dominated by heather grouse shooting moorland, heather burning and intensive sheep grazing which meant that many specialist animal and plant species were losing out while carnivore mammals were heavily controlled.
But Robert Benson, chairman of the Moorland Association, said: “Without 200 years of grouse moor management, the State of Nature in the uplands would be much, much worse. Heather moorland managed for grouse supports up to five times as many threatened wading birds compared to moors with no gamekeepers. “
More species have become extinct in the uplands than any other area