Critically threatened species recovery: major investment announced

An initiative aimed at improving the conservation status of some of our most threatened species has received significant new funding. The Species Recovery Program, a scheme run by Natural England along with partners in a wide range of statutory and non-governmental organisations, has announced an investment of nearly £1m for 2013/2014. The SRP, which has run for over a decade has been responsible for a number of past successes, and it is anticipated that this latest funding will be put to use in the recovery of 56 highly threatened native species.

Our native wildlife is currently under greater threat than ever before with over 1000 species of plants, animals and fungi considered to be in need of urgent conservation action.  Habitat destruction and fragmentation by development along with agricultural intensification and changes to woodland management practices have all led to declines in wildlife and the loss of robustness in many habitats.  Whilst many conservation programs focus on re-establishing links between these fragmented habitats and creating more stable systems, the SRP funds work targeted at the needs of individual species, including carrying out status surveys and research to understand the details of a species’ ecological requirements and the causes of decline. The investment announced this week is matched by Natural England’s partners in this scheme, highlighting the widespread concern and desire for immediate action before more species disappear entirely from these islands.

Since 1996 the SRP has been employing a targeted approach and has successfully reduced the conservation status of a number of species including the sand lizard, wild asparagus and the red kite, the recovery of which has been so successful that they no longer require conservation action, with the RSPB announcing red kite breeding pairs now too numerous to survey annually.  In some cases direct action has been taken, captive breeding and re-introduction schemes carried out in collaboration with ZSL are continuing to support the recovery of the common dormouse, previously classified as extinct in several counties where they were known to be present in the 19th century. 

The funds announced this week will be put to use in 56 conservation projects focusing on some of our most critically threatened species. One such species is the Freshwater pearl mussels, one of the most critically endangered molluscs in the world; illegal fishing of these animals over the last 100 years has reduced the number of rivers they are found in by a third, only one population (on the River Ehen in Cumbria) is considered to be secure with numbers of around 300-500,000 mussels. The Freshwater Pearl Mussel Ark project shows the multifaceted approach typical of SRP funded programs; the aim is to create a captive breeding facility to rear juvenile mussels for potential re-stocking along with on going restoration of their habitat, and the identification of suitable re-introduction sites elsewhere in their catchments. This species is also known to be very susceptible to extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and heat waves, which are likely to become more common in the future as a result of climate change. The BES highlight these issues along with potential actions for limiting the impacts of extreme events on freshwater systems in the newest addition to our Ecological Issues series – ‘The Impact of Extreme Events on Freshwater Ecosystems’.

This on-going investment into the protection of our native species is encouraging and falls in line with the objectives of Defra’s biodiversity 2020.