22 May 2008 09:47 AM
Bats to help measure the UK's biodiversity

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS News Release (News Release ref :153/08) issued by The Government News Network on 22 May 2008

From today (International Biodiversity Day), for the first time bat and wintering waterbird numbers will be used to measure the health of the UK's wildlife.

They join other wildlife indicators published today as part of the UK and England Biodiversity Indicators.

Bat species are some of the UK's most common wild mammals, found throughout urban areas, farmland, woodland and river/lake systems. Strict legal protection, direct conservation action and education, and warmer winters have all helped bats on the slow road to recovery since 1999, following long term declines in their numbers in the second half of the 20th Century.

Bat populations remain vulnerable, which is why they serve as a good indicator for the wider health of the UK's wildlife. Pressures faced by bats including landscape change, agricultural intensification, development, and habitat fragmentation are also relevant to many other wildlife species.

The six bat species which will now be used as indicator species are the Daubenton's bat, the noctule, lesser horseshoe, common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle and serotine.

Wintering waterbirds such as the Whooper Swan have also been included in the UK Indicator for the first time, helping to measure the effects of a changing climate. A recent decline in numbers has been associated with a spate of warm winters allowing the birds to remain in continental Europe.

The overall trend of the indicators published today shows that since 2000 there has been general slowing and halt in the long-term decline in populations of key species or habitats. However it is important that efforts to halt declines are maintained.

Joan Ruddock, Minister for Biodiversity said:

"The state of our wildlife is an indicator of the health of our environment and life itself. We can be proud of our efforts to slow and halt the decline of wildlife. More money is being spent, more people are volunteering for conservation and more woodland and farmland is managed for wildlife.

"Bats are integral to the environment and are a good indicator of the wildlife we often don't see - such as the insects they feed on.

"The evidence for all the indicators gathered by organisations such as the Bat Conservation Trust and its volunteers is invaluable to better focus research and conservation action."

Amy Coyte, Chief Executive of the Bat Conservation Trust said:

"Bats are an excellent indicator of the state of the natural environment. As our wildlife continues to struggle against many threats, it is vital to have indicators of whether current efforts are working. By adding bats to the suite of indicators, we will gain a greater understanding of how our wildlife is faring."

Also published today is the list of habitats and species of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.

The 56 habitats and 940 of the species are already prioritised for conservation by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. In addition, the Hen Harrier has been included on the list in light of the severe declines this bird has suffered in England.

Also published today are the wild bird population indicators for the English Regions 1994-2006.

Notes for Editors

1. Pictures of the six bat species included in the indicator are available.

2. There are 18 UK Biodiversity Indicators. 11 of the indicators have been updated today and can be found at http://www.jncc.gov.uk/biyp . The indicators are published on a rolling basis, and the remaining indicators will be published later this year.

3. There are 51 England Biodiversity Indicators. The 10 published today can be found at http://defraweb/wildlife-countryside/biodiversity/biostrat/indicators/index.htm . The indicators are published on a rolling basis, and the remaining indicators will be published over the next two years.

4. The bat indicators are compiled by the Bat Conservation Trust using data collected annually from the National Bat Monitoring Programme. A network of over 1600 volunteers record observations at approximately 3300 sites to measure trends for 11 of the UK's 17 resident bat species.

5. The wintering waterbird indicators are compiled by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology from a number of different surveys mostly undertaken by volunteers. The indicators show that whilst some species may benefit from climate change, for others the impacts are potentially damaging. The UK's coasts and wetlands are an internationally important wintering refuge for species such as the Whooper Swan or European White-fronted Goose. A recent spate of warm winters has led to a reduction in numbers in the UK as the birds winter further North and East.

6. Under section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, the Secretary of State must publish a list of the living organisms and types of habitat which are of principal importance for the purpose of conserving biodiversity.

7. Most of these species and habitats are already found on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Details can be found at http://www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-countryside/biodiversity/index.htm

8. The Hen Harrier is not currently on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, but has today been included in the statutory list. This is in recognition that the Hen Harrier is England's most seriously threatened bird of prey, and that without continued conservation action it is unlikely that the population will increase from its current low levels in England.

9. Recognition has been given to the critical role of several habitats new to the list including traditional orchards and ponds. In addition, some habitat definitions have changed to better reflect our understanding of their functioning and importance.

10. Natural England today published accessible, web-based guidance to accompany the list, which can be found at http://www.ukbap-reporting.org.uk/

11. The Wild Bird Population Indicators for the English Regions: 1994-2006 can be found at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/statistics/wildlife/research/rwbi.htm

Public enquiries 08459 335577;

Press notices are available on our website http://www.defra.gov.uk

Defra's aim is sustainable development

To subscribe or unsubscribe to Defra's mailing list go to: http://nds.coi.gov.uk

Once on the GNN website see Sign up

Nobel House
17 Smith Square
London SW1P 3JR
Website http://www.defra.gov.uk