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Fall in species and habitat in East

PUBLISHED: 21:19 19 January 2003 | UPDATED: 16:12 24 February 2010

A HUGE decline in species and habitats is revealed in a new wildlife audit for the east of England.

It suggests that populations of some species have declined by up to 90% over the past 30 years and that habitats recognised as nationally important, including reedbeds and ancient hedgerows, have suffered a decline of more than 50%.

A HUGE decline in species and habitats is revealed in a new wildlife audit for the east of England.

It suggests that populations of some species have declined by up to 90% over the past 30 years and that habitats recognised as nationally important, including reedbeds and ancient hedgerows, have suffered a decline of more than 50%.

The audit, produced by a project set up to study data from the region's six counties, warns that climate change could make the region unsuitable for planting beech trees by the year 2080.

It also suggests that agricultural practices are continuing to lead to habitat loss and a decline in the variety of wildlife in the east of England.

Project organisers found that the counties have so far produced more than 240 action plans to try to protect and enhance habitats and species. They include 22 national priority habitats and 91 national priority species.

The species attracting priority action in the region include the bittern, brown hare, dormouse, fen orchid, great crested newt, silver studded blue butterfly, stag beetle, starlet sea anemone, tree sparrow, water vole and white-clawed crayfish.

As part of a series of case studies the audit says the brown hare – although still present in large numbers – had undergone a substantial decline since the 1960s.

Anecdotal evidence from some of the region's shooting estates suggest that numbers have remained stable for the past ten years but conservationists believe changes in countryside management are needed to avoid a further decline.

Another case study considers the plight of the cornflower – once abundant in arable fields but now driven out by herbicides to prevent it competing with cereal crops. The audit says the cornflower is now endangered in the UK.

"This audit makes visible the impact modern living is having upon our natural environment," said Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the East of England Biodiversity Forum, which commissioned the study.

"Yet we should remain optimistic as the audit also shows the wealth of action plans being drawn up or already being implemented by organisations across the region, taking grass roots action to sustain our natural inheritance for the future," he added.

The forum hopes the base data produced by the audit will be used to help inform and influence the actions and decisions of local people, organisations and policy makers.

david.green@eadt.co.uk

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