Conservation in the UK
Although deforestation is no longer an extensive problem here in the UK, our history has seen a considerable percentage of our natural forests destroyed. In the year 1086 AD when the Domesday Book was created, the amount of countryside with natural tree cover was reckoned to be 15%. At the opening of the 20th century, this figure had dropped to just 5%. The UK now has considerably less woodland than other countries across Europe which enjoy an average of 25% to 37% of their total area as woodland. Fortunately, successive governments have realised the importance of preserving these natural environments and have put finances and effort into not only protecting the remaining wooded areas but expanding them. It is believed that the total land area of the UK that will be covered by trees in 2060 will once more have increased and will be around 12%.
Many of our woodlands were deforested in the past because of the growing population in the UK. In 1100 AD the number of inhabitants was only 3,250,000 however by 1900 the figure had exploded to 30,072,180. This vast increase, as in Madagascar, led to a need for more homes and farms to feed the extra people. Despite legal protection for our UK woodlands today there is still an increased need for food and housing with ever-increasing population numbers – in 2013 there were 64.1 million people living in the country.
Here in the UK we also suffer from threats to our native species. Although the wildlife here is not as unusual or exciting as some of the creatures found on Madagascar’s endangered list, there are still 1150 native animals and plants listed as a priority for conservation action on the United Kingdom’s Biodiversity Action Plan. Insects, mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians are all on the list for reasons varying from threat from introduced alien species to altered farming practices. During the last two centuries alone, the UK has lost 500 of its native species.
The water vole and red squirrel are two of the creatures that are now facing extinction due to the introduction of species from elsewhere in the world. The grey squirrel, which was brought into the UK from America, carries a viral disease which they are immune to but which kills their red cousins. Minks, introduced to the country because of their prized fur which was used for making coats, are predators to the water vole and have hunted them to near extinction. As in the case of the tilapia in Madagascar, alien species pose a huge threat to the endemic wildlife here in the UK
The natterjack toad, marsh fritillary butterfly and blue ground beetle are all suffering from loss of their natural habitat and find it more and more difficult to find places to live and reproduce. Changes to farming methods have led to a 10% decrease in 30 years of the number of skylarks and declining numbers of shrill carder bees.
Although the native species of the UK are not in demand, as those in Madagascar, by international markets as pets, there is still illegal harvesting of Scotland’s freshwater pearl mussels because there is money to be made from their pearls. Police and Scottish Natural Heritage are now clamping down on this trade and are hoping to stop the practice.
As in Madagascar, the government in the UK realised the need to preserve and increase remaining areas of woodland and begin to protect the natural habitats of the endemic wildlife. However in the UK, this realisation took place in 1919 whereas in Madagascar, change in policy has been more recent. In 1919, the Forestry Commission was set up to plant new trees to replace those that have been cut down and ensure sustainable harvesting of wood from public forests. They are responsible for managing 900,000 hectares of land including some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. Two thirds of this land is within National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The Forestry Commission are charged with protecting trees from felling by issuing licences and from diseases by inspecting imported wood. It is also part of their remit to improve natural habitats, protect species and safeguard the national tree collections while restoring degraded