Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust state of nature report

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 May 2020

The nightingale, once widespread in Hertfordshire thriving in woodlands with a healthy scrub layer, is now extinct as a breeding bird in the county mostly due to the decline of traditional woodland management.  (c) Chris Gomersall

The nightingale, once widespread in Hertfordshire thriving in woodlands with a healthy scrub layer, is now extinct as a breeding bird in the county mostly due to the decline of traditional woodland management. (c) Chris Gomersall

© Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Dr Tom Day here discusses the good, the bad and the future of Hertfordshire wildlife

Managed by Herts and Middlesex Wildlfe Trust, Kings Meads Nature Reserve near Ware is one of the largest water meadows in Herts with 265 species of wildflower and 119 bird species recorded here (c) Steve KennyManaged by Herts and Middlesex Wildlfe Trust, Kings Meads Nature Reserve near Ware is one of the largest water meadows in Herts with 265 species of wildflower and 119 bird species recorded here (c) Steve Kenny

Wildlife is in trouble – globally, nationally and locally. The national State of Nature report, first published in 2013 and updated in 2016 and 2019, clearly shows that wildlife in the UK is under threat. While most agree wildlife should be cherished and protected, it continues to struggle and we continue to be disconnected from it.

A local view

From the urban centres of Watford and Stevenage to the rolling arable farmland around Royston and Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire is a county of contrasts. With the chalky grasslands of the Chilterns in the west to the woods of Broxbourne in the east, and the wonderful wetlands of the Lea Valley to our precious chalk streams scattered throughout the county, we have some truly stunning wild places which are home to wonderful wildlife.

Over the past year, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust has been busy combing species records collated through the Hertfordshire Environmental Records Centre which is hosted by the trust. Almost three million individual species records covering the last 50 years were identified, summarised and analysed to paint a picture of how wildlife is faring in our county.

Unsurprisingly, many results in the local report correspond with findings on a national level – we are in nothing less than a biodiversity emergency. Nearly one-fifth of species are threatened with extinction in Hertfordshire. The nightingale, loved for its beautiful song, is no longer heard in the county – one of 76 species lost from Hertfordshire since 1970 – that’s more than three every two years.

Struggling wildlife often has specialist habitat requirements. The green tiger beetle has declined hugely in Herts. This striking, iridescent insect thrives in healthy heathland but there are less than 13 hectares left in the county, making it one of our rarest local habitats. Heathland and grassland have seen greater species decline over the past 50 years than any other habitat.

The overall woodland area has increased in the last five decades. Today, some 10 per cent of the county is woodland. However, woodland wildlife has continued to decline with 30 species going extinct in this habitat. Herts rivers and wetlands are faring similarly. Hot summers and dry winters as well as over-abstraction has led to the deeply worrying situation of dried-up chalk rivers and suffering wetlands. There are three times fewer wetlands here than the national average.

Farmland is already relatively poor habitat for wildlife but intensified agricultural management and the use of herbicides and pesticides have made it unsuitable for most. With almost half of Hertfordshire arable land, this habitat provides huge potential for improvement.

Another major driver of biodiversity loss is urbanisation. With a disproportionately larger urban area than the national average, our gardens, parks and allotments are becoming increasingly important wildlife refuges.

A wilder future?

There is still hope for the future of wildlife in Hertfordshire. Of the species we were able to assess for population changes, 12 per cent noticeably increased in the last 50 years and more than a third were more or less stable. Concerted conservation has increased populations, including wading birds such as bittern and lapwing, while water voles would probably be extinct from the county without these efforts.

Besides the trust, there are a number of organisations in Hertfordshire working for wildlife. Farmers and landowners are creating wild spaces on their land, local authorities are implementing habitat creation schemes and individuals are helping wildlife in their gardens.

This report marks the beginning of a whole new story for our wildlife in Hertfordshire. It highlight what we have lost over the last 50 years but it also shows us what great wildlife we have left to protect. If we all muck in together, we can reverse the trend and create a county where people and wildlife can thrive together. u

To read the full report and find out how you can help, visit hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/StateofNature

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