The UK Priority Species Indicator - assessing progress towards saving our most endangered wildlife
Each country in the UK has produced a list of priority species for conservation, which taken together represent priority species in the nation as a whole; those species, across all of nature, which most need conservation action.
In order to improve these species’ conservation prospects and to assess our progress towards national and international biodiversity targets, we need a robust system of monitoring, analysis and reporting for priority species in the UK.
To address this, the RSPB and JNCC have initiated a partnership of organisations to develop a new biodiversity indicator describing the changing status of priority species in the UK. The indicator will be a clear and simple way to communicate whether or not we are managing to help priority species and to answer questions such as are they on average continuing to decline, are declines levelling off, or are species starting to recover? The published indicator can be viewed on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee website.
- To develop a biodiversity indicator to assess the change status of priority species in the UK
- To identify species or groups where current knowledge is insufficient, and based on this, prioritise further analysis and improved monitoring
- Review of the quantity and quality of data currently available for each species on the list
- To investigate the need and feasibility of other cross-taxa biodiversity indicators and develop them as required
Key dates so far
- The project working was set up in Summer 2012, and the organisations involved are listed below. A range of other organisations have contributed to and support the project.
- A paper outlining our planned methods and datasets for inclusion in the priority species indicator was reviewed by independent academics. Most of the datasets used are those of national monitoring schemes, into which each year tens of thousands of volunteers contribute.
- The first iteration of the priority species indicator was published in October 2013.
Work planned or underway
The indicator has been adopted as part of the official set of government biodiversity indicators as of 2013. As part of this set it will be updated and published annually each autumn.
As an official government statistic the priority species indicator will increase the profile of our threatened species and the ongoing declines observed will be used to press for additional effort and focus on conservation.
Many species groups have not been included in the current indicator, such as plants, molluscs and fungi due to the difficulties of assessing long-term trends. The project team are working on this and we hope to be able to include many more species in future years.
With the help of conservation organisations and recording societies we combined population trends for as many priority species as possible to create the indicator. Each population trend shows how the abundance of a species has changed each year between 1970 and 2010. The indicator combines population trends for 210 species, including birds, butterflies, mammals and moths.
The indicator was recently published for the first time. The headline message in 2013 is that both the long-term (1970 - 2010) and the short-term (2005 - 2010) assessments of change show significant and continuing declines. Between 1970 and 2010, populations of priority species declined to 42% of the original index value, a statistically significant decrease. Within the index over this long-term period, 30% of species showed an increase, and 70% showed a decline.
Between 2005 and 2010, populations of priority species declined by 7% relative to their value in 2005, a statistically significant decrease. Within the index over this short-term period, 41% of species showed an increase, and 59% showed a decline.
Within this overall picture of decline, some species, like red kite and greater horseshoe bat are benefiting from conservation efforts, whilst others, such as the high brown fritillary butterfly and skylark continue to decline dramatically.
Who to contact
Project working group
Bat Conservation Trust
Biological Records Centre (part of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology)
British Trust for Ornithology
Freshwater Habitats Trust
Natural Resources Wales
Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Scottish Natural Heritage
Please note that this list may change over time.
The project group is working with and supported by a range of other organisations, including many of those who contributed to the State of Nature report.