`500 species of plants, animals vanished in 200 years`
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Last Updated: Friday, March 12, 2010, 18:29
London: Past 200 years of human activities have led to the extinction of nearly 500 species of plants and animals in Britain, the first comprehensive audit of native wildlife in the country has found.

The disappearance include four species that did not exist anywhere in the world, said the study carried out by Natural England, a government advisory body.

The great auk, a flightless seabird similar to a penguin, Ivell's sea anemone, Mitten's beardless-moss and York groundsel, a weed, have all become extinct since 1800.

"These species were lost on our watch. In the late 1980s the last Ivell's anemone died out in a lagoon near Chichester," Dr Tom Tew, chief scientist for Natural England, was quoted as saying by 'The Times'.

"Extinction rates are 1,000 times higher than natural background rate indicated by the fossil record.

"This time it isn't being driven by a meteorite hitting earth or a natural catastrophe, but by human activities."

According to the report, based on an extensive survey of records and specimens dating back 2,000 years, all but 12 of the 492 species to vanish were lost after 1800.

This was attributed in part to the scarcity of records in pre-Victorian times, but also to increased hunting and fishing, loss of habitat to farming, and climate change, the report said.

"Extinction rates are very high and it's predominantly down to changes in land use," said Prof Kathy Willis, a long-term ecologist at the University of Oxford.

Other ecologists said, however, that it was not valid to compare recent events in England with fossil evidence, which represented longer timescales and was not as geographically specific.

The report titled 'Lost Life: England's Lost and Threatened Species' showed that the geographical ranges of many species were being reduced to isolated spots, meaning that children would not experience the same diversity of wildlife as their grandparents.

However, the report offered encouragement, suggesting that conservation efforts, when employed, had been effective.

Dr Jane Smart, director of the biodiversity group at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said: "We need to scale up and mainstream conservation work."


First Published: Friday, March 12, 2010, 18:29

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