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What is the state of biodiversity in the UK?

The UK boasts more than 70,000 known species of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms, but the majority of assessments indicate that the abundance of its wildlife is declining.  

Trying to measure biodiversity loss over time is very difficult and much of the data available will have gaps, not having been gathered consistently over time. However, the most recent State of Nature report, published in 2019, suggests there has been a 13% decline in the average abundance of wildlife in the UK since the 1970s. Changes in land use and changes in the distribution of habitat types will have seen changes in biodiversity with an overall picture of ongoing species decline, although perhaps not at the rate seen in previous decades.

The UK, however, is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity and in 2010 committed to a set of biodiversity goals known collectively as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (that were due to be met by 2020). The UK has increased the extent of protected areas both on land and at sea, together with reducing air and sea pollution. The relative abundance and distribution of priority species, however, has not improved. Numbers of farmland and woodland birds have deteriorated while pollinating insects have also showed little sign of improvement. This comes despite an increase in public spending on biodiversity of 69% since 2000, although there has been a 33% decrease in spending over the past five years. The £473m of public sector funding spent on biodiversity in 2018/19 accounted for just 0.022% of the country's GDP. 

Growing pressure from introduced diseases, invasive non-native species and climate change is expected to further exacerbate the decline of the UK's natural wealth over the coming decades. 

UK Overseas Territories have very rich and varied natural habitats. They are thought to account for 90% of the biodiversity found within the UK and the overseas territories combined. They face many of the same challenges as habitats in the rest of the world.

Find answers to 16 key questions about biodiversity

  • Introduction

    At its simplest, biodiversity describes life on Earth – the different genes, species and ecosystems that comprise the biosphere and the varying habitats, landscapes and regions in which they exist. We've answered some of your most popular questions about biodiversity.

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  • What is biodiversity?

    Biodiversity is all the living things on our planet – from the smallest bacteria to the largest plants and animals. So far, we have identified around 1.6 million species but that is probably only a small fraction of the forms of life on Earth.

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  • Why is biodiversity important?

    Biodiversity is essential for the processes that support all life on Earth, including humans. Without a wide range of animals, plants and microorganisms, we cannot have healthy ecosystems.

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  • How do we measure biodiversity?

    There is still much we do not know about the complexity of biodiversity on Earth. There are a number of ways that we measure it, with counting species the most common approach.

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  • What is the scale of biodiversity loss?

    The list of known recent extinctions is still a small fraction of all species on the planet but it is far above prehuman levels and the evidence suggests it is rising fast.

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  • We regularly hear of new species being discovered - does that not offset the loss of existing species?

    Every year thousands of previously unknown species are discovered, described and named.

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  • Where is most biodiversity loss happening and why?

    Biodiversity loss has been most pronounced on islands and in specific locations around the tropics.

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  • Is the rate of biodiversity loss increasing or decreasing?

    Compared to the 1.6 million species known about on Earth, the number of recorded extinctions can seem very low.

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  • What is the state of biodiversity in the UK?

    The UK boasts more than 70,000 known species of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms.

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  • How do humans affect biodiversity?

    Humanity impacts the planet's biodiversity in multiple ways, both deliberate and accidental.

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  • How does the growing global population and increasing consumption affect biodiversity?

    Since the middle of the 20th century, the human population has grown dramatically.

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  • How does climate change affect biodiversity?

    The environmental changes being driven by climate change are disturbing natural habitats and species in ways that are still only becoming clear.

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  • How does deforestation affect biodiversity?

    Forests contain some of the richest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet. But between 1990 and 2020, around 420 million hectares of mainly tropical forest has been lost.

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  • What can we do to protect biodiversity?

    Loss of natural habitats has been taking place over thousands of years, but scientists are confident that we have ways to help biodiversity recover.

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  • What can I do as an individual to protect biodiversity?

    While large scale changes in behaviour, policies and measures will be essential, individuals have a vital part to play.

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  • Can we allow nature to regenerate without intervention?

    Biodiversity loss is a complex issue involving many overlapping processes. While nature can recover when left to do so, it requires dramatic changes in our behaviour for this to happen.

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  • How do we decide what is worth saving or putting our efforts into protecting?

    The value of the natural world can be interpreted in many ways, from their raw economic value to the inherent social, cultural and emotional benefits they provide.

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