Wildlife Trusts warn of effects from neglected reserves and species loss, to fly-tipping and illegal shooting
While lockdown has allowed some a greater appreciation of spring and the fun of seeing goats, sheep and deer foraying into urban landscapes, Covid-19 is wreaking havoc with UK biodiversity as vital conservation projects are put on hold.
On Friday conservationists warned of “desperate times” with an explosion in invasive non-native species during prolific spring growth and the deterioration of rare and historic wildlife meadows that could take years to restore.
The potential loss of species, such as dormice, from some areas, was another threat due to stalled projects, said the Wildlife Trusts, which represents 46 UK nature charities caring for 2,300 reserves.
A combination of furloughed staff, depleted funds through the closure of visitor centres, and cancellation of fundraisers, and the difficulty of working amid social distancing guidelines, had profound implications for UK biodiversity, it said.
Invasive bracken control on reserves, including sites run by the Alderney Wildlife Trust in the Channel Islands, has stopped, causing detriment to the Dartford warbler, slow worm, and plant life including heather, and pyramid, green-winged, and bee orchids. The bracken, which smothers competitors, has already started growing again and would have been cut back this week.
Himalayan balsam is also a concern. The ecologically damaging flower can grow up to a height of three metres (10ft) in one spring and summer season. But annual “balsam bashing” events by staff and volunteers have been halted.
Five years of intensive work to clear brambles and scrub from two historic wildflower meadows at Cwm Colhuw nature reserve in Wales could now be undone. A spokesperson said: “If no management is continued on this site then very quickly, within 12 months, we will see scrub and brambles taking over once again and a decline of wildlife.”
Precious heathland in Surrey reserves cannot be grazed, due to social distancing and movement restrictions. Managed grazing by livestock can benefit heathland, creating a mosaic of differing habitats. Without that complexity, various creatures will be put at risk, including birds such as the nightjar and woodlark, and reptiles including smooth snakes and sand lizards.
“Restoring nature in the UK – one of the most nature depleted countries in the world – has become harder than ever during the pandemic,” said the Wildlife Trusts. “At the same time, people are seeking solace in nature.”