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10 species that can help save the world – new report highlights the need for UK leadership to restore nature globally

14 March 2022

Thirteen nature charities including the Woodland Trust. Marine Conservation Society, Buglife, and Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust have today published a new report – 10 species that can help save the world – on the need for urgent UK leadership in 2022 to restore nature at home and globally.[1]

The report highlights the vital but often unseen, underestimated and undervalued roles of all wildlife in protecting our climate, water, air and soils, revealing little known facts about 10 key species. The charities are calling for radical government action to protect UK species and to secure a strong global deal for nature at critical COP15 biodiversity talks. These talks are vitally important as they will set international commitments to restore nature for the next decade.

Preparatory meetings for the COP15 global nature talks are taking place from today (14 March) in Geneva, with the main talks expected to take place in Autumn this year in Kunming China. The UK, as COP26 presidents, should have a critical leadership role at the talks given the inextricable link between our nature and climate crises. England is also the only country in the world with a legal target to halt nature’s decline.[2] Nature experts say a main goal of the talks should be to persuade other nations to commit to a target not just to halt, but to reverse the decline of nature.

Given the UK’s key role in setting the tone for the COP15 talks nature experts are asking for:

The Prime Minister to attend COP15 in person, to help secure global agreement to halt and reverse nature’s decline

Government to commit the significant funding required to fully implement global 2030 nature targets at home, and for more ambitious UK targets to restore nature.

Call for the designation of new nature sites to expand UK protected site networks, along with improved protection and management for existing sites.

Domestic action of this kind will help demonstrate leadership, paving the way for global agreement.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “From earthworms improving our soils, to moths pollinating our crops, nature plays a pivotal role in protecting our climate, economy and prosperity. These ten species give a glimpse of the benefits we would enjoy if wildlife were restored.

“The presidency of COP26 climate talks gives the Government a great opportunity to be a world leader at the equally essential COP15 nature talks. The UK is the first country in the world with a legal deadline to end the decline of wildlife. If the Government can back this up with a plan to strengthen and complete protection for wildlife sites and species in advance of the talks, the Prime Minister could be brilliantly placed to help secure a global agreement to restore nature and climate.”

Ed Fox, Director at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said: “This important and timely report reminds us that, while we spend huge resources developing new technologies to avert climate and ecological breakdown, the natural world has already provided us with some of the greatest allies – from the largest whale to the smallest species on Earth. We just need to protect them.

“Nature’s power to tackle climate change is immense, great whales help tiny phytoplankton in the ocean to capture six times as much carbon as the Amazon rainforest. Imagine the difference restoring populations of whales and other wildlife can have for our world and the consequences if we don’t.”

Dr James Robinson, Director of Conservation, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) said: “Decisions made at this year’s global biodiversity talks will decide the future of our natural world. Nature restoration targets have been made and missed for decades. We can’t afford another lost decade for nature. We need UK ambition and domestic action to translate into a global deal at COP15 that will truly turn the tide for nature, before it is too late.

“Nature is a strong connected web of interlinked species, weakening one strand increases the risk of the whole system collapsing. With the role of species such as curlews and the wetland plant, the common reed, alone showing their importance for sustaining life on this planet, we need UK climate and nature leadership at these crucial COP15 talks.”

Abi Bunker, director of conservation and external affairs for the Woodland Trust, said: “Trees, as carbon stores, have rightly earned their place in the government’s plans to achieve net zero. Yet we haven’t fully appreciated the important role of trees, particularly native, in halting and reversing the decline in nature. The focus on tree planting appears to have obscured the mounting and urgent problems facing our existing native wooded habitats and trees, of which only 7% are in a good ecological condition. We urgently need government action and funding to protect and restore these irreplaceable assets of our natural heritage.

“Last year, Boris Johnson celebrated the commitment made at COP26 to end deforestation, but we have heard little since and year on year we’re losing thousands of mature long-established trees to development, pollution and disease - threats that can be addressed with stronger regulation and policy. We’re expecting sight of new policies in the coming months which will test the government’s commitment to seriously address the accelerating decline of nature. This includes a 53% decline in woodland wildlife species in 50 years. We join the calls for meaningful action after years of warm but unfulfilled promises.”

Additional comment from Marine Conservation Society and Angling Trust can be found here.

Please find below some key facts and statistics on the 10 species in the report:

SpeciesKey statisticsRole in protecting climate/air/water/soils
Blue WhaleStatus: Endangered

Population: 10,000 - 25,000

Location: Global, but larger pop.

in the Southern Hemisphere

Size: 80-100 feet, up to 200 tons

Habitats: Ocean
These ocean giants are also giants of climate action. Great whales store a combined 2 million tonnes of carbon, and when they die the carbon is trapped on the ocean floor for hundreds or thousands of years. Whale faeces also stimulates tiny phytoplankton helping them capture 6 times as much CO2 as the Amazon rainforest.
Striped Lychnis MothStatus: Priority species, nationally scarce in the UK

Population: Declining in the UK

Location: Found in much of Europe and the Middle East; limited to South East England in the UK

Size: 42-47mm wingspan

Habitats: Margins, chalk grassland
Night-time pollinators are just as vital as our daytime bees and butterflies. Moths liked the Striped Lychnis are a hugely important part of the pollination process, often travelling further and to more diverse plants than daylight pollinators, playing a crucial role in promoting biodiversity, plant carbon-capturing and food security.
Common ReedStatus: Least concern

Location: Global. Widespread in the UK

Size: Up to 4m tall

Habitats: Wetlands
The common reed is a water-purifying wonder. Its rhizomes under the water, and microbes that live on their roots, give it fantastic filtering capabilities. As part of our wetlands, reedbeds help take out up to 60% of metals in the water, trap up to 90% of sediment from runoff and eliminate up to 90% of nitrogen.
Lob WormStatus: Not monitored

Population: Under-recorded but thought to be declining

Location: Native to Western Europe, found worldwide

Size: Up to 35cm in length

Habitats: Deep soil
The Lob Worm is critical to saving soils in Europe. The only deep burrowing species in the UK, it drags leaves up to 5m below the surface! Active Lob Worms raise plant productivity by 50%+, increase soil nutrients and drainage, and reduce soil erosion. It has a key role in soil health, farm productivity and reduced flood-risk.
Common eelgrassStatus: The most common seagrass in the UK

Population: Declining

Location: Throughout the North Atlantic and North Pacific,

restricted distribution in the Mediterranean

Size: Up to 1m in length

Habitats: Ocean shallows, found at depths of up to 20m
Seagrasses, are ocean super-healers – capturing carbon, protecting from damage & nurturing wildlife. Seagrass captures 35x more carbon than tropical rainforests and homes 40x more marine life than bare seabeds, boosting fishstocks like cod and plaice. It also buffers storm damage and coastal erosion
CurlewStatus: Red-listed in the UK

Population: 58,500 breeding pairs in the UK, 125,000 wintering birds

Location: Much of Europe and Russia, African and Asian coastlines,

with breeding or wintering populations across much of the UK

Size: Length of up to 60cm, wingspan up to 100cm

Habitats: Farmland, Uplands, Grassland, Coastal, Wetland
This much-loved bird improves our important coastal mudflats. Its feeding habits aid the stability of mudflats, helping provide carbon capturing and protection from erosion and flooding. It’s also an umbrella species, tied to the whole ecosystem, so restoring curlews has an ‘umbrella effect’ recovering wider wildlife.
Common PoppyStatus: Common

Population: Declining

Location: Widespread globally and across the UK

Size: Up to 60cm tall

Habitats: Field edges, roadsides and wasteground
Poppies have helped to keep our fields and farmland fertile for hundreds of years. They provide pollen and shelter for pollinators and pest-controlling insects, often when crops are not flowering. They also retain nutrients in the field soils, and reduce run-off in rain, helping to keep soils healthy and preventing water pollution.
Sphagnum MossPopulation: Declining. Localised to certain wetlands in the UK, with some species rare.

Location: Mainly peatlands in the USA, Russia and Europe

Size: 5cm tall

Habitats: Heathland, moorland, wetlands
This super-sponge is a key preventor of flooding and climate change. Its most important role is in forming peatlands, which contain over half the UK’s carbon storage. Sphagnum moss is also a dual flood defence - holding 26x as much water as its dry weight and, when healthy, providing rough terrain which slows rain-flow.
Atlantic SalmonStatus: Priority conservation species

Population: Falling globally, UK populations down 50% in ten years

Location: Breeding grounds in rivers across Europe & NE USA coast

Size: Up to 150cm

Habitats: Ocean and freshwater
Atlantic salmon are swimming carbon-stores made up of 10-15% carbon. It transports vital ocean nutrients to freshwater spawning grounds and surrounding habitats and supports dozens of predators and scavengers, from the endangered freshwater pearl that hitches a lift on its gill to the orca that eats it for dinner.
Common OakStatus: Common

Population: unknown

Location: Nationwide, especially common in southern and central Britain

Size: Up to 40m

Habitats: Predominantly woodland
Our iconic oak trees support more wildlife than any other native UK tree - a huge 2,300 species, with 326 dependent on oaks to survive. Oaks also help green, clean and cool our cities. They reduce air pollution, including soot and heavy metals, mitigate flooding and lower temperatures through evaporative cooling.


Notes to Editors:

[1] The report is supported by: Angling Trust, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Institute of Fisheries Management, Marine Conservation Society, People’s Trust For Endangered Species, Plantlife, RSPB, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), The Wildlife Trusts, Wildlife and Countryside Link and Woodland Trust.

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