Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) are anadromous, migratory fish which means they spend part of their life in the ocean but they breed and lay their eggs in freshwater, returning to the same river in which they hatched. After two years at sea, the fish average around 75cm in length and 3.6 to 5.4 kg in weight, but specimens can be much larger.
Since the 1970s the numbers returning to spawn have dropped by over 50%. The species is subject to many pressures, including pollution, over-abstraction, sea lice, escapes from salmon farming, physical barriers to migration, exploitation from netting and angling, physical degradation of spawning and nursery habitat, and increased marine mortality. In 2015 a new five-point approach to salmon conservation in England, which sets out measures to benefit salmon, was developed by the Environment Agency and partners.
Championed by Charles Walker (Broxbourne)View Champion
The highly popular barn owl (Tyto alba) has the distinction of being one of the most widely distributed land birds in the world, being found on every continent except Antarctica. Barn owls inhabit farmland throughout the UK, wherever there is rough grazing or tall grass, though the owls are usually absent in mountainous areas. Barn owls nest in holes in old trees, but also take readily to farm buildings, as long as there is a suitable undisturbed ledge or hole.
This bird suffered declines through the 20th century and is thought to have been adversely affected by organochlorine pesticides such as DDT in the 1950s and ’60s. Concerted conservation efforts have led to the recovery of the UK’s barn owl’s population, although in Northern Ireland populations are still declining.
Championed by Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire)View Champion
The Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) is a type of heron that was extinct in the UK at the turn of the 20th century but is now on the road to recovery following extensive conservation to improve and restore its reed bed habitat.
It is a secretive bird and very difficult to see hunting for fish amongst reeds as it is perfectly camouflaged with buff-brown plumage covered with dark streaks and bars. Easier to detect is the male’s foghorn-like booming call in spring.
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, commented: ‘”The bittern is a species which proves that conservation can be successful, especially when you can identify the reason behind its decline and bring in measures and funding to aid its recovery.”
Championed by Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal)View Champion
The broken-belted bumblebee, Bombus soroeensis, is a highly localised species found mainly in the north and west of the country, with a southern population remaining on Salisbury Plain. The species tends to be found in large areas of mid to late summer flowers on chalk grassland, coastal heathland, or moorland edge meadows in the uplands.
The name ‘broken-belted’ is unhelpful as the yellow abdominal band is usually unbroken. The species can be identified by the fact that the yellow band leaks forward onto the first abdominal segment, giving the appearance of two crescent-shaped bars. This is a late emerging species with queens appearing in late May to June. Workers are most numerous in August and September, and all castes can persist into October.
The species was once widespread across the British Isles but is now declining in range, having entirely disappeared from most southern and eastern counties.
Championed by Claire Perry (Devizes)View Champion
Cirl buntings (Emberiza cirlus), which were once widespread and common across southern England, are now the UK’s rarest resident farmland songbird, confined to south west England.
Males have a black chin and eye strip with yellow stripes on their heads and underparts. Females and juveniles look extremely similar to female yellowhammers, to which they are related, but with grey brown rumps.
The species is a Red listed UK Bird of Conservation Concern. The main reason for the population decline and slow recovery is the loss of food sources and nesting sites. The RSPB’s Cirl Bunting Recovery Project, which works with farmers and landowner in Devon and Cornwall, has led to a huge increase in the population of cirl bunting.
Championed by Sarah Wollaston (Totnes)View Champion
Although it is the most common and widespread bat species in Britain, populations of the common pipistrelle, Pipistrellus pipistrellus, declined dramatically in the last century. These tiny mammals weigh about the same as a 20p coin but can consume thousands of insects every night. They feed in a wide range of habitats including woodland, grassland and farmland. They roost in natural (e.g. trees) and artificial (e.g. buildings) crevices in both urban and rural areas. Bats give birth to a single offspring (called a pup) each year so populations can be slow to recover from harmful disturbance. Declines are thought to be due in part to modern agricultural practices – increasing pesticide use has reduced the availability of insect prey – while their reliance on buildings makes them vulnerable to building renovations, toxic chemicals used to treat timber, and disturbance or exclusion.
Conservationists are working to restore the population back to pre-1970s numbers. The species can benefit from insect rich habitats and the provision of safe artificial and natural roosting sites. Common pipistrelle populations have started showing signs of recovery in recent years, although there is more to be done.
Championed by Helen Hayes (Dulwich & West Norwood)View Champion
The distinctive large red flowers of the common poppy, Papaver rhoeas, are familiar to many as the symbol of remembrance, and provide pollen to bumblebees and a variety of other pollinating insects. One of eight poppy species in the UK, each common poppy plant produces thousands of seeds which are dispersed by the wind and can then lie dormant for up to 100 years, finally germinating when the surrounding earth is disturbed.
Although still widespread, the poppy has declined in the UK as a result of post-war agricultural intensification and the widespread use of herbicides. The species is now mostly confined to unsprayed field margins and gateways, roadsides, and wasteland, and the poppy’s future depends on environmentally sustainable and sensitive management of our arable farmland.
Championed by Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford)View Champion
The corn bunting’s rattling song, often likened to the jangling of keys, is unmistakable. They inhabit open farmland with good views, where males may sing incessantly throughout June from elevated song posts or prominent weeds. They resemble skylarks in size, colour and shape, but are relatively plump and rarely sing in flight. Corn buntings mostly breed in cereal crops, occasionally pea and silage crops, where nests are built on or close to the ground. They are late breeders and nests in crops (particularly silage) harvested before August are likely to be destroyed.
Populations in the UK have plummeted since the 1970s and they no longer breed in Ireland or Wales. As a result they are one of 12 farmland species included on the Red list of UK Birds of Conservation Concern. Changes in farming practices, leading to increased nest failure rates and fewer seed and insect food sources have contributed to the decline. Farmers are encouraged to take up land management agreements that are tailored to the needs of corn buntings by providing nesting habitat, summer food and winter food.
Championed by Victoria Prentis (Banbury/North Oxfordshire)View Champion
The cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is well known for two reasons: the familiar and repetitive call of the male heralding the arrival of spring in its breeding areas, and the female’s habit of laying her eggs in another bird’s nest. It is a dove sized bird with blue grey upper parts, head and chest with dark barred white under parts. Their diet comprises insects and especially hairy caterpillars.
Cuckoos are brood parasites: they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds (usually meadow pipits, dunnocks and reed warblers in the UK) and the ‘host’ bird is tricked into rearing the young cuckoo. They are summer visitors, only spending a few months in the UK each year. Cuckoos are long distance migrants, wintering in woodland and forests in central and west Africa. In the UK, cuckoos are Red Listed due to a breeding population decline of more than 50% since the 1980s. Possible causes of decline include the loss of invertebrate food in our countryside due to long-term widespread changes in land management, and reduced survival on migration.
Championed by Robert Courts (Witney)
The curlew (Numenius arquata) is Europe’s largest wader, a tall brown bird with a distinctive long curved bill. Its warbling call is a haunting sound and the name ‘curlew’, seems to be a description of that evocative call. It has inspired people to write music, poetry and literature for hundreds of years.
The UK is the third most important country for breeding curlews in the world, hosting up to 27% of the global population. This key breeding population is in steep decline (48% since the mid 90s), leading to curlew being added to the Red list of UK Birds of Conservation Concern in 2015. A major driver of the decline is poor breeding success caused by a combination of reduction in good-quality breeding habitat and predation of nests and chicks, particularly by foxes and crows.
Championed by Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen)View Champion
Duke of Burgundy
The Duke of Burgundy, Hamearis lucina, is a small orange and brown butterfly with rows of white spots on its hindwings. Feeding mainly on cowslip or primrose, it lives in small colonies on two main habitats; grassland with plenty of shelter from scrub, or slopes and clearings on ancient woodland sites.
The adults rarely visit flowers and most sightings are of the territorial males as they perch on a prominent leaf at the edge of scrub. The females are elusive and spend much of their time resting or flying low to the ground looking for suitable egg-laying sites.
The species has declined substantially in recent decades and is currently one of the most rapidly declining butterflies in the UK. Its remaining strongholds are in central southern England, and many colonies are now the subject of intense conservation efforts in order to prevent the species from becoming extinct.
Championed by Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North)View Champion
Dunlin (Calidris alpina schinzii) are small wading birds with a slightly down-curved bill and a distinctive black belly patch in breeding plumage. They breed in the boggy uplands of Britain, including in the south Pennines, and leave in late summer, flying south to spend the winter in West Africa. Dunlins are unusual in that the females clear off soon after the young are hatched leaving the male to look after the youngsters. Two other races of dunlin are found on the UK’s coasts; one winters here and can be seen in large flocks, the other is a passage migrant, stopping over to refuel in spring and autumn.
The population of breeding dunlin has declined, most likely due to habitat changes, including afforestation and the degradation of blanket bogs. Dunlins had virtually vanished from the Peak District in the south Pennines in the early 2000s but work to restore blanket bog has successfully reversed the decline.
Championed by Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth)View Champion
Dunnock (Prunella modularis), sometimes known as the hedge sparrow, which they superficially resemble although not related, are rather private birds, often seen on their own. They tend to be found in well vegetated areas with scrub, brambles and hedges. The dunnock is predominantly a ground feeder and feeds on insects; in the autumn and winter they will eat seeds and berries.
This species can have a complex private life. They are often monogamous, but frequently one female can be found with two males, a dominant alpha male and a more subordinate beta male.
There has been a moderate breeding population decline over 25 years. More recently dunnock populations are generally increasing, although not yet reaching previous levels. They are an Amber listed UK Bird of Conservation Concern.
Championed by Jess Phillips (Birmingham Yardley)View Champion
European eels (Anguilla anguilla) have a complex life cycle with adults making a 4,000 mile migration to their breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea in the western Atlantic. The hatched eggs drift on the Gulf Stream and when they reach coastal waters, transform into small transparent eels known as ‘glass eels’ and move into estuaries to begin their inland journey.
On entering freshwater, these young eels, or “elvers”, become darker and look like miniature versions of the adults. The spend the next 6-20 years migrating upstream and feeding on invertebrates and fish, until they reach sexual maturity, when they migrate back downstream to the sea to start the cycle again.
This fish is Critically Endangered and has declined significantly in recent decades, although it remains widespread throughout the UK. The UK supports a significant proportion of the eels, making it internationally important for this species. Very little is known about the factors affecting their numbers.
Championed by Jon Cruddas (Barking and Dagenham)View Champion
Fen orchid (Liparis loeselii) is a tiny and delicate orchid with pale green flowers. It is now very rare in the UK, found in a handful of fen areas in the Norfolk Broads in eastern England, and another form of the plant is found at a single site in south Wales.
The major causes of the fen orchid’s widespread decline have been loss and deterioration of its wetland habitat. The cessation of peat-cutting in the fens and drainage are probably the most important contributory factors leading to the decline of this species.
Plantlife’s Tim Pankhurst said: “Over the last 8 years, we have been carrying out conservation work on the ground to help the fen orchid thrive again but if we want to secure its long term future we also need the support of politicians and others who make the big decisions that affect its habitat.”
Championed by Norman Lamb (North Norfolk)View Champion
Greater horseshoe bat
The Greater horseshoe bat, Rhinolophus ferrumequinum, which has a distinctive horseshoe-shaped noseleaf, is rare in the British Isles and confined to south-west England and south Wales. These bats were originally cave dwellers, but few now use caves in summer – most breeding females use buildings, choosing sites with large entrance holes with access to open roof spaces warmed by the sun. Greater horseshoe bats are nocturnal feeders, leaving their roosts to search for moths and beetles, especially dung beetles.
It is estimated that the number of greater horseshoe bats has declined by over 90% in the last 100 years, but the short term population trend has been positive. The overall decline of the greater horseshoe bat may be due to factors such as disturbance of roosts and intensive agricultural practices including loss of permanent pasture.
Championed by Peter Heaton-Jones (North Devon)View Champion
The Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) is a small, nocturnal rodent that hibernates over winter and lives in the tree and shrub canopy when they are active in late spring, summer and autumn. They feed on fruits and berries and will usually only produce a single litter of four young which are raised in a woven nest protected by green leaves. Dormice are traditionally associated with coppice woodlands where they were frequently found by Victorian coppice workers but it is now known that they will occur in a wider range of woody habitats.
Due to the reduction of coppice management in Britain and the isolation of many woodlands in the landscape due to hedge removal and occasional over management or neglect, their range has contracted and dormice populations have declined by 38% since the year 2000.
Championed by Matt Hancock (West Suffolk)View Champion
Twice voted the UK’s favourite wild animal, the hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is unmistakable as our only spiny mammal. Sadly, it is in severe decline, with around a third of the population lost since 2000.
The hedgehog has around 6,000 striped spines, giving it a grey-brown appearance, and will characteristically roll into a ball as a defence. It is a generalist, feeding primarily on macroinvertebrates such as worms and beetles, but it is also commonly fed pet food by people. The hedgehog is nocturnal, hibernates and is widely distributed through a range of urban and rural habitats.
Hedgehogs are highly mobile animals, requiring large areas of connected land to forage and nest. Consequently, fragmentation of their habitat is a real threat. The drivers behind their decline are complex and incompletely understood, but are thought to involve development, interactions with predators, high levels of traffic mortality and the widespread simplification of the rural landscape.
Championed by Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)View Champion
The Hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) is a bird of prey that earned its name through its predation of free range foul. Famous for their spectacular sky dancing, hen harriers mainly eat small mammals and birds such as field voles and meadow pipits. Males are pale grey in colour whereas females and juveniles are brown with a white rump and a long, barred tail. Hen harriers breed in the upland heather moorland areas of the UK and in winter many move to lowland farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and river valleys.
The species is a Red listed UK Bird of Conservation Concern, and illegal persecution on heather moorland managed for driven grouse shooting is the main factor behind the hen harrier’s decline.
Championed by Angela Smith (Peningstone and Stocksbridge)View Champion
The Horrid ground-weaver (Nothophantes horridus) is one of the rarest invertebrates in the UK; it may also be one of the rarest spiders in the world! This spider is so rare it has only been found in three places in the entire world – all in the Plymouth area of south west England.
The Horrid ground-weaver is a species of small money spider with a total body length of just 2.5mm. The spider’s name comes from the fact that its body is rather bristly – the Latin origin for the word horrid is bristly.
Andrew Whitehouse, South West Manager at Buglife said “We’re delighted to announce that we’ve found the Horrid ground-weaver at a new site! And to now have photographs of live Horrid ground-weavers is wonderful. However, we need to continue the surveys and learn more about this special spider so we can ensure its survival.”
Championed by Gary Streeter (South West Devon)View Champion
The Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) gets its name from their evocative “kitt-ee-wake” call. An elegant, medium-sized gull with striking black tips, they may be the UK’s commonest breeding gull species, but their numbers are of global importance. The 380,000 breeding pairs found in the UK represents 8% of the entire global population. They breed predominantly on inaccessible sea cliffs with large colonies in north-east England, eastern Scotland, the northern isles and north-west Scotland. They spend the winter far out at sea.
Widespread marine ecosystem changes, largely driven by climate change, are having a severe impact on kittiwakes and a number of UK colonies have recently suffered steep population declines. Kittiwakes forage for small fish just beneath the surface of the sea and breeding productivity is closely linked to sandeel abundance. As well as measures to tackle climate change, action is needed to curb the activity of the large Danish-led sandeel fishery in the North Sea.
As a result of the severe population declines, kittiwakes joined the Red list of UK Birds of Conservation Concern in 2015 and in 2017 they were added to the list of species that IUCN classes as globally vulnerable to extinction.
Championed by Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick upon Tweed)
Also known as the peewit in imitation of its display calls, the lapwing’s splendid crest makes it a distinctive and popular farmland bird. During the breeding season males can be seen performing tumbling display flights in order to advertise their presence to rival males and potential mates. The species occurs throughout Britain in a range of habitats including open farmland, wet grassland, and marshland. During the breeding season lapwing favour a mosaic habitat of invertebrate rich grassland for feeding young, and spring tillage fields for nesting.
Lapwing have suffered significant declines and are included on the red list of UK Birds of Conservation Concern. These declines have been greatest in southern England and Wales, where numbers have declined by 80% since 1960, and are thought to be due to agricultural intensification and changes in land use. A switch from spring to autumn sown crops has resulted in arable land that is unsuitable for nesting, while drainage of wetlands and increased use of pesticides has reduced insect food. Sympathetic farming methods, and agri-environment schemes which provide grants to help land-owners manage their land to help lapwings, are required if we are to halt and reverse these declines.
Championed by Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs)View Champion
The striking Large Blue (Maculinea arion) is the largest and rarest of our blue butterflies, distinguished by the unmistakable row of black spots on its upper forewing. It has a remarkable life cycle that involves spending most of the year within the nests of a certain species of red ant where the larvae feed on ant grubs. Large Blue larvae initially feeds in the flower heads of Wild Thyme and Marjoram, later dropping to the ground to be adopted by ants, which they attract using mimicry and by secreting a honey-like substance. This complex life-cycle means Large Blues are sensitive to changes in management which affects ant and foodplant populations.
The species has always been rare in Britain but declined rapidly during the twentieth century and became extinct in 1979. It has since been reintroduced successfully to selected sites in South West England as part of a major conservation programme and populations in England have increased. However the species remains vulnerable and work is ongoing to boost populations and encourage the colonisation of new sites.
Championed by David Drew (Stroud)View Champion
The lesser sandeel Ammodytes marinus is a small, slender shoaling fish with a pointed snout that gives them an eel-like shape. They are found in the seas around the UK and rely on sandbanks for much of their life cycle, which includes spending each winter burrowed into the sand. Their diet consists of plankton, fish larvae and small crustaceans which they feed on during their active months of the year. As oily nutritious fish, sandeels are themselves a high quality food source for seabirds, marine mammals and table fish like cod and mackerel. Sandeels are vital to the breeding success of many of our seabirds, as witnessed by the classic sight of birds returning to the colony after a foraging trip with a beakful to feed their young.
Warming seas aggravated by overfishing (lesser sandeel is an important component in animal feed, especially for raising farmed salmon) have caused a significant drop in the abundance of sandeels, in turn leading to massive losses of the seabirds that depend on them. Measures to conserve this critically important fish species include the creation of a large area closed to sandeel fishing off the east coast of Scotland and Northumberland, but even stronger curbs on the Danish-led sandeel fishery in the North Sea are needed.
Championed by Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby)View Champion
The lesser spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopos minor, is the smallest and rarest woodpecker in the UK. They are the size of a house sparrow and the male is distinguished from the female by his bright red crown. Found in heavily wooded landscapes with broadleaved woodland, they feed almost exclusively on insects and nest in a tree hole made in rotted wood.
Since the mid-1980s the species has declined in the UK by between 43% – 59%, and was added to the UK Red List of birds of highest conservation concern in 2009. Reasons for the decline are uncertain although they are thought to be due to changes in woodland structure and food shortages during the breeding period. The species is now mainly limited to the south, with the highest density occurring in the south-east of England.
Championed by Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest)View Champion
Little terns (Sternula albifrons) winter in Africa and return to our coast to breed every April. The nest is a shallow scrape on sand or shingle beaches, spits or inshore islets, close to suitable hunting patches where they feed on small fish and invertebrates.
The effects of climate change and human disturbance have resulted in the little tern becoming one of the UK’s rarest breeding seabirds. As the coastline becomes more developed, and as nesting areas are lost to sea level rise, flooding or storms, there are fewer places for little terns to nest. UK numbers have declined from 2,500 breeding pairs in the 1980s to current estimates of circa 1,500 pairs. 11 wildlife organisations are now working together on an EU funded project aiming to improve the conservation status of the little tern through targeted action at the most important nesting colonies.View Champion
The Long-horned bee (Eucera longicornis) was once widespread across southern Britain both inland and along the coast, but now survives at just a few dozen sites, most of which are concentrated along the south coast.
One of the UK’s largest solitary bees, the long antennae of the male make this a distinctive and charismatic species. Adults emerge in May and forage until early July, during which time each female digs her own burrow in bare or sparsely-vegetated ground and provisions it with pollen and nectar before laying her eggs.
The species requires both suitable nesting habitat plus an abundance of key flowering legumes for foraging. Declines are thought to be due to losses of flower-rich grassland during the 20th century, and it is hoped that the creation of legume-rich wildflower areas will provide new foraging habitats for the long-horned bee.
Championed by Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle)View Champion
The Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) gets its name from the way in which it flies, with wingtips almost touching, or “shearing”, the water. These birds spend the majority of life at sea, returning to coastal or offshore islands of the north Atlantic to breed in burrows or cavities in cliff faces in early spring. In winter they migrate over 10,000km to the South Atlantic off the coast of South America.
In the UK, breeding populations are concentrated in a small number of sites, making them vulnerable to environmental changes; consequently the Manx shearwater is an Amber listed UK Bird of Conservation Concern. Threats include introduced non-native ground predators, such as rats and cats, which feed on the adults and their eggs and young, and over exploitation of fish stocks and changes in sea temperature, both of which alter the availability of prey.
Championed by Derek Thomas (St Ives and the Isles of Scilly)View Champion
The Marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) has the most colourful uppersides of all of our fritillaries. Its wings are brightly coloured with a chequered pattern of orange, yellow and brown. The larvae spin conspicuous webs that can easily be recorded in late summer.
Marsh fritillary are found on damp, marshy grassland but also inhabit south and west facing chalk grassland. The main foodplant is Devil’s-bit-Scabious (Succisa pratensis).
The species was once widespread throughout Britain but has suffered a huge decline and is now extinct in eastern Britain. This decline has been mirrored throughout Europe. Habitat loss and inappropriate management are the main threats to this species. Marsh Fritillary requires extensive habitat or networks of habitat for its long-term survival.
“In Dartmoor we have worked hard to reverse the fortunes of Marsh Fritillary. I get a real buzz from seeing Marsh Fritillary colonise new sites transformed by support from Agri-environment Schemes and by volunteer and landowner action. I am pleased that Neil Parish has agreed to champion such a beautiful, threatened species”
Jenny Plackett Senior Regional Officer for Butterfly Conservation, who is responsible for conserving Marsh Fritillary on Dartmoor.
Championed by Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton)View Champion
Natterjack toads (Epidalea calamita) are found in coastal sand dune systems, coastal grazing marshes and sandy heaths but are now almost completely confined to coastal sites. They are Britain’s loudest amphibian; the rasping call of the males can be heard up to a km away and is the means used to attract females to warm shallow pools to breed.
In the last 100 years, the UK has lost 75% of its natterjack toad breeding sites and they are now found on only about 60 sites in Britain. Reintroduction programmes have now started to boost populations and restore the range of this once widespread amphibian.
Yvette Martins, ARCs Amphibian Conservation Officer, said “the decline in range and numbers of this unique amphibian has been vast over the past century. ARC is working with land owners all over the country, from Dorset in the south to Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, to try and establish and address issues behind their decline. It’s only now after almost half a century of conservation efforts that we have started to see a small rise in numbers on those sites which are managed with the natterjacks’ interest in mind, the same cannot be said for those sites with little or no conservation managements in place”.
Championed by Damien Moore (Southport)View Champion
Nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) are long distance migrants that winter in west Africa, and are famous for the rich and melodious song that can be heard day and night in early summer. Nightingales favour dense scrub and woodland habitats, nesting near or on the ground which makes them highly vulnerable to disturbance by pets.
This species has recently been added to the Red list of UK Bird of Conservation Concern because of the severe decline in the breeding population and range. The causes of the decline are not well understood but likely reasons include habitat changes at both their breeding and wintering grounds, and climate change affecting the availability of prey.
Championed by Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood)View Champion
The noctule bat is one of the largest British species and is usually the first bat to appear in the evening, sometimes even before sunset. The species is a tree dweller, found mainly in rot holes and woodpecker holes during the summer, and hibernating in trees or rock fissures as well as bat boxes, buildings and other man-made structures during the winter.
Noctules emerge to feed early in the evening when they hunt on the wing for moths, beetles, mayflies and other insects. They often hunt well above tree-top level, diving to chase their prey at speeds reaching up to 50kph.
The species is still relatively widespread in much of England, Wales, and south-west Scotland, but has become scarce in some areas and is absent from Ireland. Recent declines are attributed to intensive agricultural practices such as habitat change and increased use of pesticides, which cause loss and fragmentation of invertebrate-rich feeding habitat. Loss of suitable trees for roosting is also a major concern.
Championed by Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)View Champion
This endangered cornfield flower was once widespread on the chalk and limestone of southern England – so much so that it was gathered for sale as ‘Red Morocco’ in Covent Garden. It is now restricted to field margins and disturbed sites such as Salisbury Plain and Porton Down military areas.
A member of the buttercup family and native of the Mediterranean, pheasant’s-eye, (Adonis annua), has been known in Britain since the Iron Age. It declined dramatically in the 20th century due to intensive farming methods such as seed cleaning methods, the use of herbicides, fertilisers and dense planting of modern crops.
Pheasant’s-eye is Endangered in the UK and is listed under section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. It will be reintroduced to sites in England in 2018-2020 through Plantlife’s Colour in the Margins project to restore arable plants, as part of the ‘Back From the Brink’ initiative.
Championed by John Glen (Salisbury)View Champion
Puffins (Fratercula arctica) are unmistakable birds, found in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, with approximately 10% of the population breeding around Britain and Ireland. Adult birds spend the winter at sea, returning to colonies to breed on grassy cliffs or offshore islands in March or April.
There have been large population declines over much of the species’ European range, and in 2015 the puffin was added to the Red list of UK Birds of Conservation Concern. Threats include over exploitation of fish stocks and changes in sea temperature, both of which alter the availability of prey, and ground predators (e.g. rat, mink, cat) which feed on the adults and their eggs and young.
Championed by Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton)View Champion
Redshank (Tringa totanus) have earned their name because of their brightly coloured shanks or legs, and they have a matching orange base to their bill. They are sometimes known as the “the guardian of the marsh” because they make a loud warning cry at the first sign of an intruder, and are often seen on top of fence posts, looking down over their chicks.
Redshank breed in damp places such as saltmarshes and flood meadows and during the winter months they can be seen on estuaries and coastal lagoons.
There has been a significant decline in redshank numbers in many areas of the UK. On farmland, the main reasons for this reduction have been the drainage, re-seeding and fertilising of grassland and on saltmarsh it is thought to be unsuitable grazing levels.
Championed by Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness)View Champion
The round-headed rampion, Phyteuma orbiculare, is a herbaceous plant which grows on chalk grasslands. The plant is topped with a deep blue flower which, rather than being a single flower, is actually a collection of 15-30 smaller blooms grouped together. Now more common on the South Downs than anywhere else in the UK, the species is known locally as the ‘Pride of Sussex’ and is the official county flower.
In the last century much species-rich grassland was lost as a result of intensive ploughing, use of fertilisers, overgrazing, and atmospheric nitrogen deposition. Consequently the species has now been lost from many areas where it once grew and is classified as being ‘nationally scarce’. While many remaining areas of chalk grassland are protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, large areas are still unprotected and may be at risk. The survival of this beautiful flower in the UK therefore depends on the conservation of its habitat.
Championed by Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion)View Champion
The ruderal bumblebee (Bombus ruderatus) is one of the largest species of bumblebee in the UK and often goes by the name of Large garden bumblebee. All three castes are similar, with a yellow-black-yellow thorax, a yellow band at the base of the abdomen, and a pure white tail. They can also come in a completely black form. In comparison with other bumblebee species, the ruderal bumblebee has a long face and tongue; these are adaptations for feeding on long-tubed flowers, such as vetches and clover.
This bee was very common in southern England at the beginning of the 20th century, but by the 1970s it was scarce. Recent research has only identified populations in East Anglia. The main cause of the decline of this species is the widespread loss of large tracts of flower-rich unimproved habitat as a result of agricultural intensification, forestry, and development.
Championed by Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge)View Champion
The Sandwich tern, Thalasseus sandvicensis, is the largest and heaviest of UK tern species, with a 100 cm wingspan, a distinctive ‘pencil-like’ bill and a shaggy black crest. These birds are named after the town of Sandwich, where the species was first identified in 1784, but they are quite widespread across Europe and North America.
Sandwich terns are widely but patchily distributed across the UK, nesting on sandy or pebbly beaches in a small number of fairly large colonies. These birds are migratory, spending the winter along warm seas on the west coast of Africa, all the way south to the Cape of Good Hope.
The population has declined by 15% from 1986-2000 with a further 7% decline from 2000-2012. The breeding colonies are very susceptible to disturbance by humans or predators, especially foxes and gulls. As sandeels form an important part of their diet, Sandwich terns are vulnerable to fluctuations in sandeel availability, which is linked to warming seas and overfishing.
Championed by Matthew Offord (Hendon)View Champion
The sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax), which is found throughout European waters, has a sleek streamlined body with distinct silver scales; the first dorsal fin contains sharp spines. The fish can be up to 1.2m long and 9kg in weight, but UK shore caught fish are typically much smaller. It is mostly a night hunter, feeding on small fish, molluscs and crustacea.
Sea bass are an important fish species for commercial fishermen and recreational anglers, but the species is thought to be particularly vulnerable to over-fishing due to a combination of its slow growth, late maturity, spawning aggregation, and strong summer site fidelity. The most recent assessment of bass stocks showed that stocks in UK waters have continued to decline and as a result there are now strict protection measures in place.
Championed by Scott Mann (North Cornwall)View Champion
Shrill carder bee
The Shrill carder bee (Bombus sylvarum) has declined dramatically in the last century, making it one of the UK’s rarest bumblebees.
It is a very distinct small bumblebee that looks similar in all castes. The Shrill carder can be identified by its pale grey-yellow colouring, black band of hair between the wings and reddish-orange tail. It also has a noticeably high-pitched buzz. Queens are approximately 17mm long, whereas workers and males are generally much smaller.
The Shrill carder bee forages from a wide variety of plants, and is particularly fond of vetches, red clover, black horehound and red bartsia. It needs extensive flower-rich areas and suitable nesting sites of long tussocky grass to survive. The loss of these habitats has led to a steep decline in their numbers, it is now only found in 7 small isolated metapopulations in southern England and Wales. These populations are found in Kent, Essex, Somerset, Wiltshire, Gwent, Glamorgan and Pembrokeshire.
It is a priority species for conservation in England and Wales.
Championed by Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West)View Champion
The Silver-studded Blue Plebejus argus is a small blue butterfly with metallic spots on the hindwing. Males are blue with a dark border and females are brown with a row of red spots. It is found mainly in heathland, where the silvery-blue wings of the males provide a marvellous sight as they fly low over the heather. Caterpillar foodplants include Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Bell Heather (Erica cinerea), Cross-leaved Heath (Erica tetralix) and gorses (Ulex spp.).
The species has declined enormously during the past century because much of its habitat has been destroyed and it is now virtually absent from four-fifths of its former range. Most remaining colonies are in Southern England with some colonies present in Wales, the East of England and Shropshire.
Championed by George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth)View Champion
Admired through the ages for their ethereal song, the skylark (Alauda arvensis) appears in the both music and literature. As well as heralding the dawn, the skylark was also prized for the table. Skylarks are still widespread in our countryside, breeding on most open habitats, from saltmarsh to moorland, with the majority on lowland farmland.
Skylarks nest on the ground in grass or cereal crops. Populations here have declined because of changes to the way the landscape is farmed. The switch from hay to silage and to winter instead of spring cereals have helped improve yields but impact heavily on skylark and other species. Consequently, the skylark is now on the Red list of UK Birds of Conservation Concern.
Championed by Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon)View Champion
The small copper is a bright copper butterfly with brown spots and margins, usually seen in singly or in pairs, although in some years large numbers may be found at high quality sites. The species is territorial – males select an area of bare ground or stone on which to bask and wait for passing females, and will be aggressive towards any passing insect, returning to the same spot once the chase is over.
The small copper has two flight periods, initially recorded between April and June, then seen again between July and September. Females lay eggs on the underside of the leaves of common or sheep’s sorrel – the larval foodplants. Larvae from the second brood will feed overwinter before pupating the following spring.
The species is most commonly recorded on chalk and unimproved grasslands but also occurs in a variety of habitats including heathland, wasteland, and moorland, occasionally appearing in gardens. Though a fairly common and widespread species, the small copper has declined throughout its range during the 20th century. These declines are associated with habitat loss and possibly aggravated by poor weather.
Championed by Alison McGovern (MP Wirral South)View Champion
The Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) is the rarest and most secretive of the three British snakes. Its common name reflects the lack of ridged scales giving them a smoother feel when compared with the other British species.
The species has been threatened due to the historic loss of its heathland habitats through development, agriculture and forestry. As a result it is now only found naturally on heathlands in Dorset, Hampshire and a very few sites in Surrey. Active, sensitive habitat management and a reintroduction programme are helping to restore the range and the fortunes of this species.
Tony Gent, ARC’s chief executive officer, said “The secretive nature of the smooth snake means that we risk this species slipping away unnoticed, which can happen even on protected sites unless sufficient habitat is managed with this species in mind. Effective survey programmes are essential for providing the information needed to target conservation effort and they also provide great opportunities for more people to becoming involved with helping this elusive reptile.”
Championed by Desmond Swayne (New Forest West)View Champion
Snake’s-head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) are the epitome of English floodplain meadows. In a public vote to find the nation’s favourite wildflowers they came 8th place in the UK. The famous checkerboard pattern on the petals give the plant its name – Fritillaria comes from the Latin word fritillus meaning ‘dice-box’.
The Snake’s head fritillary thrives in wet meadows, particularly traditional hay meadows that flood in winter months. They were once abundant in the UK; however a reduction of the habitats favoured by snake’s head fritillary has resulted in the species becoming infrequent in the wild.
Championed by Richard Benyon (Newbury)View Champion
Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) are wading birds, found in damp areas, particularly wet grassland and uplands. The most instantly noticeable thing about them is their beak – it is, proportionately, the longest bill of any British bird. They use it to probe soft ground to find worms, insects and beetles.
Once common throughout the UK, snipe declined in the lowlands throughout the 20th century, as large areas were drained and enclosed as farmland. They are on the Amber list of UK Birds of Conservation Concern and in lowland England they are now largely confined as a breeding species to nature reserves.
Championed by Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane)View Champion
The Spreading bellflower (Campanula patula) is one of our rarest and most threatened plants, occurring in small populations in the Welsh borders and the West Midlands.
Most bellflowers have distinctly bellshaped flowers (the word Campanula means ‘little bell’ in Latin) but in this species, the five bluish-purple petals lobes spread widely for over half their length, giving the flower a pretty star-shaped look, and its English name too.
Classified as Critically Endangered in England, spreading bellflower is considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. Its decline is due to changes in woodland management, such as the cessation of coppicing and other disturbance, and also the increased use of herbicides on roadsides and railway banks.
Championed by Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire)View Champion
Stag beetles (Lucanus cervus) are one of our most spectacular insects. The male’s large jaws look like the antlers of a stag. They spend most of their life underground as larvae, only emerging for a few weeks to find a mate and reproduce. Stag beetles and their larvae are quite harmless and are a joy to watch.
They live in woodland edges, hedgerows, traditional orchards, parks and gardens throughout southern England and into Wales. Males are often seen flying around at dusk searching for a mate. They will wrestle or fight other males using their enlarged antler-like jaws. Although they can fly, female beetles are most often seen walking around on the ground. After mating, females return to the spot where they emerged, if there is enough rotting wood to feed their young, and dig down into the soil to lay their small, round eggs in rotting wood such as log piles and tree stumps. The biggest threat to stag beetles is from habitat destruction and their numbers are declining across Europe.
Championed by Sandy Martin (Ipswich)View Champion
The Striped lychnis (Cucullia lychnitis) is a cream-brown nocturnal moth that is rarely seen during the flight period from May until August. but the larva has bright and distinctive markings and can be found quite easily by searching the most usual foodplant, Dark Mullein (Verbascum nigrum).
Formerly widespread in southern England, this moth has suffered a period of rapid decline. However it appears to be becoming more widespread in West Sussex, north-east Hampshire and the Hampshire, Wiltshire border. A major factor affecting this species is the cutting of the caterpillars’ foodplant in grassland and along road verges at inappropriate times.
Championed by Steve Brine (Winchester)View Champion
Swifts (Apus apus) are migratory birds, which spend almost all their life in the air, only coming down to nest. The swift sleeps with half of its brain at a time, allowing it to live a perpetually aerial life. They are the fastest of all birds in level flight and can be seen careering madly at high speed around rooftops and houses.
They are found UK wide, wherever there are buildings that are suitable for nesting. The species is an Amber listed UK Bird of Conservation Concern, but the causes of its population decline are not completely understood. It is thought that loss of nest sites, due to the modernisation of many buildings, may be a problem. The RSPB’s Swift Cities Project gathers information from the public to monitor local swift populations and nest sites.
Championed by Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East)View Champion
The endangered Tansy beetle (Chrysolina graminis) is a large and iridescent green leaf beetle, with a coppery sheen.
The wing cases of these beautiful beetles were so admired by Victorians, that they were used as sequins. Tansy beetles are a specialist herbivore (plant eating) mainly eating Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), a perennial herb; in York they complete their entire life cycle on and around the plant, beside riverbanks or in wetlands.
Although once widespread in the UK, they are now found along the banks of a 47 km stretch of the River Ouse around York, with a much smaller population recently discovered in the Cambridgeshire fens. Land-use changes and the increase of invasive species such as Himalayan balsam have caused a decline in the tansy beetle’s food plants over the past few decades.
Championed by Rachael Maskell (York Central)View Champion
Each year turtle doves journey to and from their wintering grounds in the arid belt of West Africa south of the Sahara, to spend the summer in Europe, including in the UK. Once widespread across much of England and Wales, they have been lost from many of these areas, so that strongholds now mostly remain in small areas of East Anglia and south-east England. These birds are more often heard than seen, and their distinctive, gentle, purring song was once a characteristic sound of summer. They breed in agricultural and other rural areas, often building their nest in patches of dense scrub.
In the UK the population of breeding turtle dove is currently halving approximately every 6 years and since 1995 the species has suffered a 94% decline. Changes in agricultural practices leading to reduced seed food supply and nesting habitat and consequently fewer chicks have contributed to this decline, among other factors. Conservation action in the UK includes advising and supporting farmers to create nesting and feeding habitat for the birds.
Championed by James Cartlidge (South Suffolk)View Champion
Violet click beetle
The violet click beetle (Limoniscus violaceus) is an extremely rare, elusive beetle which only occurs on three sites in the whole of the UK, one being Bredon Hill in Worcestershire. Very little is known about the beetle except that it breeds in the hollow trunks of ancient trees and in Britain, this is usually in beech and ash trees.
The beetle depends on the continued production of humid wood mould in the heart of decaying trees, seeming to favour trees where the decaying wood has attained a consistency like damp soot. . It is believed that the adults remain in the same trees all their lives, only leaving when the tree rots away and no longer provides the conditions they need for breeding. The low density of apparently suitable trees, at its known sites, is a cause for concern.
Championed by Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire)View Champion
Immortalised as Ratty in The Wind in the Willows, the water vole (Arvicola amphibious) is our largest species of vole and is found across England, Wales and Scotland. They have glossy brown or black fur, a rounded body, blunt nose and small ears hidden in thick fur. Water voles live along streams and ditches, canals, rivers, around ponds and marshes, reedbeds and areas of wet moorland.
The water vole is one of the UK’s most rapidly declining mammals, with habitat loss, water pollution and built development all adversely affecting numbers since the 1960s. More recently predation by North American mink, which were introduced to Britain for fur farming in the twentieth century, has had a devastating impact on water vole populations.
Since the 1990s conservation groups have been working hard to improve habitats and control mink numbers to try and save this much loved species.
Championed by Hilary Benn (Leeds Central)View Champion
White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes)
The White-clawed crayfish is the only native species of freshwater crayfish in the UK and Ireland. Adults can reach up to 15cm long – making it one of our largest freshwater invertebrates! White-clawed crayfish were once widespread and common in rivers and streams in England and Wales, however they have disappeared from much of their historic range due to human activities.
The causes of this decline include the pollution of rivers and streams, and damage to freshwater habitats. However, the major threat to this species is the spread of non-native crayfish like the North American Signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus). This crayfish was introduced into the UK in the 1970s and 1980s, and has spread rapidly. Signal crayfish out-compete White-clawed crayfish for food and places to live, and they can also spread a disease which is fatal to our native White-claws.
The loss of this species across much of its European range means that White-clawed crayfish populations in the UK and Ireland are of international importance.
In order to prevent the further spread of invasive non-native crayfish and crayfish disease it is important that anglers and other water users clean check and dry their equipment when moving between watercourses.
Buglife and others have been working to establish Ark sites for White-clawed crayfish – safe havens where threatened populations can be relocated, away from the threat of invasive crayfish and crayfish disease.
Championed by Jenny Chapman (Darlington)View Champion
Once relatively widespread across Britain, the willow tit is now one of our fastest declining bird species. Those found in Britain are of the endemic race kleinschmidti, found nowhere else in the world, and have declined by 94% since the 1970s. Causes of this steep decline are not fully understood, although research has indicated that the drying out of woodlands, a lack of appropriate woodland management, and habitat fragmentation have all had a negative effect on willow tit populations.
Willow tit numbers have stabilised in key areas in northern England and the Midlands, and it is here that conservation action needs to be prioritised. Providing connectivity for isolated populations through habitat corridors is key, as is the need to establish more information on willow tit ecology and habitat preferences, so that woodlands can be managed accordingly.
Championed by Caroline Spelman (Meriden)View Champion
Wood white butterfly
A delicate, white butterfly with a slow flight, adults are active from mid-May to mid-July. The wood white has a characteristic courtship display in which the male lands opposite the female, waving his head and antennae back and forth with his proboscis extended.
The species has declined rapidly over the past few decades. Once found across much of southern England and into eastern Wales, the wood white now has a localised distribution, with strongholds in the woods of the West Midlands and Northamptonshire, and the coastline of East Devon. This decline is thought to be due to changes in woodland management, resulting in inappropriate conditions for the species such as increased levels of shade. Conservation of the wood white is a high priority for Butterfly Conservation, and landscape-scale projects aim to improve and connect woodland habitats to encourage establishment of new colonies.
Championed by Philip Dunne (Ludlow)View Champion
Yellowhammers, Emberiza citronella, are with us all year round and are found throughout most of the UK. The song of the male is a familiar sound of the summer countryside, and is usually described as “a little bit of bread and no cheeeeeese”! Yellowhammers are mainly seed-eating, but feed their chicks on insects, particularly caterpillars. In winter they can be spotted on farmland in mixed flocks of seed-eating birds such as finches, buntings and sparrows.
The yellowhammer population was relatively stable until the mid-1980s at a time when many other farmland species showed marked declines. Declines accelerated in the late 1980s and early 1990s so the yellowhammer is now on the UK Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern. The decline is linked to agricultural intensification, such as the indirect effects of pesticides (causing the loss of seed and insect food) and the loss of over-winter stubble fields.
Championed by Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)View Champion