Latest Species Champions News

Thank you to all our Species Champions

23 May 2024

As Parliament dissolves on May 30th, the tenure of our current cohort of Species Champions ends. The Species Champions partnership organisations would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to all the MPs who have taken part in the initiative for their hard work and dedication in championing their species in Parliament and beyond. Working together we have helped take steps towards conserving, protecting and restoring some of our most threatened species. 

The Species Champions project will return once a new Parliament is in place. We are in the midst of a crucial decade for nature, and what happens in the next Parliament will be critical to meeting our domestic and international biodiversity targets and we look forward to working with MPs to ensure our at-risk species are well represented throughout the next Parliament. 

Biodiversity loss is back on the political agenda

16 May 2024

On the morning of Wednesday May 15th, Round-headed Rampion champion, Caroline Lucas held a parliamentary debate on the critical issue of biodiversity loss. Together Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, SNP, DUP and Plaid Cymru MPs were united in their recognition of the profound importance of nature, the interconnectedness of the climate and biodiversity crises, and the need for action to tackle biodiversity loss to be faster and go further. Amongst those taking part in the debate were the Species Champions Duncan Baker (Glow-worm), Kerry McCarthy (Swift), Olivia Blake (Hen Harrier), Sarah Dyke (Great Crested Newt), Alex Sobel (White-clawed Crayfish) and the Minister responding for the Government was Rebecca Pow (Lapwing).

Central to the debate was the State of Nature 2023 report, the UK’s most comprehensive biodiversity audit, which concluded that the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries on the planet, with less than half of our biodiversity remaining and of those 1 in 6 species are at risk of extinction. The report states that the evidence is clear: significant and ongoing changes to the way we manage our land for agriculture and the effects of climate change are the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss on land and in freshwater, whereas unsustainable fishing, climate change and marine development are the main pressures at sea and around our coasts.

Important points were exchanged in the debate on the need to drive up nature-friendly farming through properly funding the Environmental Land Management scheme and supporting farmers throughout the transition, reviewing and strengthening our protected areas on land and at sea to ensure they are in favourable condition and delivering for nature, and harnessing nature-based solutions to drive progress towards the Government’s net zero and nature targets.

We are almost halfway through this critical decade for nature; with the legally binding target to halt species decline and the commitment to protecting 30% of land and sea both set for 2030 and our net zero goal on the horizon. We need ambitious action at pace and scale to reach these targets and turn the tide on biodiversity loss, and, as such, it is encouraging to see such a strong show of support for our species throughout the debate.

Great Crested Newts grab a great new Species Champion

03 February 2024

Sarah Dyke, the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Somerton and Frome, gears up for her new role as the Species Champion for the Great Crested Newt. The Great Crested Newt has sadly suffered very significant declines and are now the UK’s rarest newt but can be found within Sarah’s constituency. 

Their threats include the loss or isolation of suitable habitat, often due to agricultural, residential, industrial or commercial development, which is a leading cause of species decline, alongside poor site management or the removal of suitable breeding ponds. Sometimes, isolated populations utilise areas earmarked for development, like brownfield sites, which may mimic the structure of their former natural habitat – much of which has been lost. 

To turn the fate of the Great Crested Newts around we need action. Alongside further protections into local and national policy, the creation and restoration of suitable breeding ponds and surrounding terrestrial habitats, connecting isolated populations, and improving public awareness and education are all vital steps required to secure the future of the Great Crested Newt in the UK. 

Starlings secure a Species Champion: Ed Miliband

30 November 2023

Ed Miliband, the Labour Member of Parliament for Doncaster North and Shadow Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, steps up to become the Species Champion for the Starling. Present in his constituency, and spread across most of the UK, Starlings are a firm favourite for many; they are one of the most common garden birds, have a penchant for mimicry, and band together in flocks often thousands-strong to perform aerial acrobatics called murmurations.

Starlings are UK red listed due to its ongoing severe population declines, with over half (62%) of its breeding population lost in less than 3 decades. Whilst the drivers of Starling decline are varied, complex and in need of further research, it is understood that key factors are the loss of suitable nesting sites (in natural habitats but also urban areas), increasingly extreme weather affecting their invertebrate food sources and the intensification of our agriculture.

Glow-worms shine bright at night-time Parliamentary debate

16 October 2023

Duncan Baker MP, Glow-worm Species Champion, spoke up for nocturnal nature and put Glow-worms centre-stage in his night-time debate on Light Pollution and the Protection of Dark Skies in the House of Commons. 

Unfortunately, Glow-worms are in decline, with light pollution, loss of habitat, climate change and chemical use all negatively impacting the species. Indeed, Trudy Harrison MP, the Environment Minister who led the Government’s response to the debate, reflected that she doesn’t remember the last time she saw a Glow-worm, which were once so prominent in her childhood. Of the drivers of Glow-worm decline, light pollution is the outlier in that it has not been properly addressed in biodiversity action. 

In response to Duncan’s plea for the Government to help #NutureTheNightShift, Minister Harrison detailed the Government’s plans to halt species decline and recognised that more needs to be done to address the challenge of light pollution both domestically and internationally. 

To halt and reverse the loss of nocturnal nature, and to throw Glow-worms a lifeline, the Government must urgently act to ensure better quality, community-friendly lighting is installed and unnecessary artificial lighting is removed. 

Selaine Saxby steps up for Storm Petrels

10 August 2023

Selaine Saxby, the Conservative Member of Parliament for North Devon, joins the Species Champions project to champion the European Storm Petrel. Storm Petrels spend most of their time on the open ocean and only return to land to nest on islands at night. One of their main footholds in the South West is on the Isles of Scilly, and they can be seen They have a foothold in the South West on the Isles of Lundy, and can occasionally be seen from the coast when stormy weather forces them closer to the shore.

The UK supports 5% of their global populations, however these populations are vulnerable. Storm Petrels are amber listed, with more than half of their UK population found on less than 10 sites.

Storm Petrels are very vulnerable to predation from rats and other mammals not usually present on islands, and the arrival of these predators can lead to entire Storm Petrel colonies being destroyed over time. Excellent biosecurity measures to prevent the arrival of predators to new islands are essential and further island restoration work to remove rats from sites they have already invaded will allow these birds to return to breed in more places. Furthermore, with so much of their life spent at sea, either foraging for food from their breeding grounds or wandering the Atlantic Ocean, access to healthy plankton supply is important.  

With globally significant breeding populations, the UK is one of the most important countries in the world for Storm Petrel and protection of all breeding colonies is essential for safeguarding this species for the future. What happens here will have significant impacts for the species worldwide. 

Swifts see MPs flock to their support in Swift bricks Parliamentary debate

13 July 2023

On July 10th, MPs took to Westminster Hall to debate a new national policy to mandate Swift bricks in new housing, a move which would throw a lifeline to Swifts and 4 other threatened urban species. The debate followed widespread public support for a petition highlighting the rapid decline of Swifts and offering a rollout of Swift bricks as a targeted solution. 

Swifts are an urban bird species that is currently red listed in the UK after experiencing a severe population decline of 62%. One driver of their decline is likely to be the loss of suitable nesting sites in both old and new buildings. Swift bricks are durable, low-cost and no-maintenance solutions that can be integrated at scale to provide ideal nests for Swifts. When Swift bricks are included in new housing developments or retrofitted into existing estates, all the evidence shows that they are beneficial not only for Swifts, but other wildlife, including other red-listed bird species. 

MPs from across the political spectrum, including prominent Species Champions, contributed to the debate and there was unanimous cross-party support for the mandating of Swift bricks in new developments. Species Champions Kerry McCarthy (Swift), Robert Courts (Cuckoo), Caroline Lucas (Round-Headed Rampion) and Caroline Nokes (Duke of Burgundy Butterfly) all delivered impassioned speeches and interventions.  

The prevailing theme of the debate was that mandating Swift bricks is a simple, low-cost solution that can have a huge impact on Swifts with minimal effort. Furthermore, despite being a red-listed species, Swifts are not currently covered by any legal requirement for local authorities to consider them as part of their biodiversity duty and as Swift bricks are not covered in biodiversity net gain metrics developers have no incentive to incorporate them in their buildings.  

Unfortunately, the Government response to the debate was that it does not intend, at present, to make Swift bricks mandatory in new housing. They believe that we need to be cautious when it comes to mandating national planning conditions and that they do not wish to impose additional and potentially unreasonable requirements on developers or local authorities.  

You can watch the full debate here. 

Duncan Baker goes on a night out with Glow-worms

02 July 2023

To celebrate International Firefly Day, Glow-worm Species Champion Duncan Baker joined Buglife, the National Trust, and Glow-worm expert Robin Scagell for a night-time Glow-worm safari around Sheringham Park to meet his species.  It is only the females of the species that glow brightly; towards the end of their life cycle to attract a mate and lay eggs before dying, and in July they do not start signalling until beyond 10pm.  

The search party’s nocturnal ramble was a success, with them managing to find at least 10 females and even more males. They demonstrated the dangers of light pollution on the species with a red light, which the males were strongly attracted to and viewed preferably to the glow of the females. The species thrive in darkness, and most of the sites they inhabit are in dark areas. 

Duncan Baker said: 

“I just can’t thank you all enough for the most wonderful and truly amazing evening. You all gave up so much time to show us the most incredible creatures and I’m still buzzing this morning.

You get to see some amazing sights in this very privileged role as the MP for my home. But I have to say finding glow worms in Sheringham Park, that I have explored since I was a child is probably one of the most memorable experiences to date.

Next stop is an adjournment debate on dark skies!!” 

Photo (left to right): Matt Shardlow, Karim Vahed and Duncan Baker (credit: Kate Bellis).

Derek Thomas’ day out to Lundy Island to meet the Manx Shearwater

05 June 2023

Derek Thomas, Manx Shearwater Champion, ventured out to Lundy Island with the RSPB, Landmark Trust, and his fellow Southwest MPs, Selaine Saxby and Steve Double, to meet the Manx Shearwater and learn more about the importance of Lundy Island for supporting seabird colonies and critically endangered species. The island itself has been designated as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) for some of its species, but not all – and the level of protection afforded by this label is far from sufficient. Besides, beyond excluding some of the species nesting on this internationally significant island, the protection doesn’t extend to the waters around it either. In practice, this means that none of the seabirds’ feeding areas, food source or flyways are protected. 

With the UK having responsibility for around 80% of the global breeding population of Manx Shearwaters, and colonies present on Lundy Island, it is urgent that the Government steps up the protection of Lundy Island and its surrounding waters, so that it may become a Special Protection Area (SPA). This SPA would need to protect all seabird species nesting on the island to safeguard the significant seabird assemblage depending on the area, but also must extend to the sea to ensure their food sources and flyways are properly protected. 

Derek, Selaine and Steve all came away from their visit committed to highlighting this clear gap in the country’s network of Marine Protected Areas and determined to see Lundy Island and the surrounding waters receive SPA designation. 

Robert Courts gets a close-up of a Cuckoo at RSPB Otmoor

31 May 2023

Robert Courts MP, the Cuckoo Champion, put his keen birding skills to the test on a visit to RSPB Otmoor in the hopes of spotting a Cuckoo and hearing their unique call. Cuckoos are summer visitors to the UK and favours reedbeds, open woodland and agricultural land; where there will be suitable other birds’ nests for female Cuckoos to lay their eggs in, as they do not build their own nests and rely on other host birds to raise their young. Robert was in luck, as he was treated to an up-close performance from a Cuckoo, allowing him to see the elusive bird and hear its iconic call.

Cuckoos are a globally threatened species and are of the highest conservation priority. They have experienced severe declines in both their populations and range, with a steep decline of more than 70% in England linked to agricultural changes that have led to significantly reduced suitable habitat and insect populations for Cuckoos and the host species their parasitic young rely on to thrive.

On behalf of his species, Robert remains committed to advocating for nature-positive agri-environmental schemes and a reduction in the use of pesticides in particular.