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10 September 2020

+ Scottish species highlighted in landmark report as populations of Arctic Skua decline by 62%

+ Desperate state of nature unveiled in new report: and prescription to save the natural world for people and planet 

+ 68% average drop in global wildlife populations since 1970 

+ Sir David Attenborough calls for international co-operation to restore the natural world 

Global wildlife populations are in freefall, warned WWF today (Thursday 10 Sept), as its flagship Living Planet Report 2020 reveals numbers of mammals, birds, fish, plants and insects have fallen an average of 68 per cent globally since 1970 – more than two thirds in less than 50 years. [1]

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. Agriculture and land use change, including the conversion of wild spaces into farmland, are among the main causes of global nature loss, while over-fishing is wreaking havoc on many marine stocks.

This year’s Living Planet Report includes significant new research [1] 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 Scotland, we are already seeing the impact climate change is having on nature. The drastic decline of the Arctic Skua in Orkney is highlighted in the global report.  It’s population on the island has decreased by 62%, due to competition for nest sites and warming temperatures leading to a lack of food, mainly sand eels.   

Scotland is already taking steps to reduce carbon emissions, including bringing more renewable energy online, ramping up investment to restore our vital peatlands and planting thousands of hectares of woodlands.  However, the report finds that impacts of the nature and climate emergencies on species around the world are happening even more quickly than anticipated, meaning more needs to be done.

Lang Banks, director at WWF Scotland said:

“We’re on track to wipe wildlife from the face of the planet, but nature is sending us a desperate SOS. This report makes clear that recovery can happen, but we need to place the environment at the heart of our decision-making, end harmful practices and catalyse nature’s recovery if we are to have any hope of building a safe and resilient future for nature, people and our planet. Here in Scotland that means restoring and expanding our native habitats; building farming and fishing in a way that enhances nature and reduces climate emissions, and protecting our oceans.” 

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. 

Sir David Attenborough says: 

“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.” 

The Living Planet Report is based on data from the Living Planet Index produced by ZSL. Dr Andrew Terry, ZSL’s Director of Conservation said:  

“The Living Planet Index is one of the most comprehensive measures of global biodiversity. 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.”