Red squirrels and pine martens could lose protection in UK review, experts say | Wildlife
Legal protections for wildlife and plants in the UK are slated for review which could result in the loss of some important species of their right to special status, ecology experts have told the Guardian.
Vipers, slow worms, water voles, mountain hares, pine martens and red squirrels are among the species that experts say could be affected, after unexpected changes in the screening process. government that will raise the bar on an animal’s rarity and threat. be to obtain legal guarantees.
The changes, which have not been widely announced by the government, could benefit property developers and infrastructure projects such as road construction, which currently need to take into account the rare species found in the proposed development areas, and sometimes need to be changed or moved. Therefore.
Angela Julian, Amphibian and Reptile Groups UK (ARG UK) coordinator, who represents 37 local groups and over 4,000 members, said: “We are shocked to find out about these proposed changes, which will effectively remove any form of protection for many of our beloved widespread species, including slow worms, snakes and viviparous lizards. Our native wildlife deserves a fair hearing.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA) of 1981, the government is required to review the status of protected species on a five-year basis, a process currently underway. The WCA classifies the UK’s rare flora and fauna, with legal protections for those considered at risk.
When species are protected, it becomes illegal to harm them, for example by hunting or gathering plants, or to sell or trade them. Protections can also extend to their habitat, which can affect infrastructure and development projects such as the construction of housing or new roads.
Last summer, announcing a push to “build, build, build,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson attacked wildlife conservation. “The delays in counting newts in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and prosperity of this country,” he said.
In documents published on an obscure government site, the terms of this year’s review were amended to incorporate new standards that would mean that an animal or plant species would only be protected if “in imminent danger of extinction.”
Activists fear that this sets the bar too high, and that dozens of endangered species would lose vital safeguards. More than 30 conservation groups have written to ministers expressing their concerns.
In a letter viewed by the Guardian, they argue that the government’s plan to move away from the UK’s own standards to use the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s risk definitions will result in the loss of protection for many. cash.
The IUCN establishes the Global Red List according to which species are classified into nine categories, including vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered. However, the letter warns that the government’s proposals would mean dropping current safeguards for all species except those at the worst of the scale, considered threatened with imminent extinction. That would leave in trouble species that may still be critically endangered but whose populations have improved slightly, often as a result of conservation efforts.
“Changes [also] remove the opportunity to prevent species decline, ”the organizations say. “Under the changes described, we will only respond to catastrophic species declines. “
Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said species whose protection would certainly be removed under the changes include beetles, purple emperor butterflies, pine martens, brown hares and mountain hares. Species likely to be removed from protection included vipers, smooth newts, grass snakes and basking sharks.
Amphibians could also be particularly threatened, as if trade in certain species became legal, wild samples could be bought and sold and mixed with captive collections across the country. This would risk spreading the deadly chytrid fungus and severe perkinsea infection, which have devastated amphibian populations around the world and have been discovered in some captive populations in the UK.
Jenny Tse-Leon, head of conservation at the charity Froglife, said: “Many amphibians and reptiles have suffered severe declines in recent years but are not threatened enough by IUCN definitions. Our research has shown that the number of common toads has dropped 68% over the past 30 years, but these plans mean they [would] no longer entitled to protection.
The five-year review is carried out by the UK Joint Committee for Nature Conservation, together with Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot and representatives from the non-governmental sector.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The Joint Committee for Nature Conservation (JNCC) is currently in the initial data collection phase of its five-year review of protection of species. No change in species protection has yet been recommended to us. Any proposed changes will be put to the JNCC for consultation in the fall before any recommendations are made to us, as well as to the Scottish and Welsh governments.