Data deficient: the fate of nature in Wales?

At least we now know what we don’t know 

Natural Resources Wales has today acknowledged that it doesn’t know how nature is faring in many of the protected sites for which it is responsible.  NRW is full of committed and knowledgeable staff with the skills to monitor nature, so this admission suggests that something has gone wrong.

For 50% of natural features such as animal and plant species, NRW can’t say what condition they are in.[1]

Where there is enough data, NRW found just 20% of protected nature features are in favourable condition.

These stark findings are laid out in Natural Resources Wales’ Protected Sites Baseline Assessment published today[2].

‘The results show that NRW currently has insufficient evidence to determine the condition of around half of the features on these sites (condition classed as unknown).  We have concluded that of those features where we now have an assessment:

  • an estimated 20% are favourable
  • around 30% are in unfavourable condition
  • around 50% are not in a desired state’

If this is what’s happening to nature in protected sites, what hope is there for the rest of our countryside?

Monitoring – a conservation essential

People who work in nature conservation have long known that wildlife and habitats in Wales are struggling.  More recently we’ve seen much wider public awareness of this biodiversity crisis.

Networks of protected sites hold much of our remaining richness of wildlife.  Monitoring the condition of these sites is central to successful conservation.  If we know what’s there and how it’s doing, we can learn from successes and failures of management.  Without monitoring we’re working in the dark.  Working without a canary in the mine.

So, if monitoring is essential to protecting nature, why has it been allowed to slip?

Monitoring is hard work – it requires time and effort and skills. Putting monitoring at the heart of conservation requires organisations to make it a priority – and to be prepared to act decisively when monitoring reveals the truth of the situation.

But NRW does have the skills – with a wide range of experienced conservation staff and species experts.  So has it been given the priority it needs?

A partnership approach to restoring nature.

Today’s announcement by NRW calls for an ambitious redoubling of efforts by Wales’ environmental sector, planning and other public authorities, landowners and communities.  It calls for a partnership approach:

‘A strong, all-Wales partnership approach to safeguarding Wales’ most valued species and habitats will be fundamental if the nation is to triumph over the interlinked challenges of climate change and the decline in biodiversity.

That is the clarion call from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) as it publishes the results of a project aimed at understanding the health and condition of species and habitats on Wales’ protected sites.’

Snowdonia Society welcomes this recognition of the scale of the challenge and how to address it.  We are a small but active part of the environmental sector and we are ready to do what we can to help, including through our Helping Hands programme of conservation volunteering.

But let us be absolutely clear.

The hard-working environmental sector, including charities and landowners, has always been prepared to do its bit. That’s why we’re here. We need to see consistent leadership and resources in fair measure and in the right places – including monitoring – from NRW and Welsh Government.  To achieve change at scale, that is what is needed if we are to stand a chance, by working together, of turning around the fate of nature in Wales.




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