The recent State of Nature reports have shown a worrying decline in many of our species groups, with 41% of those species studied having shown a moderate or strong decreased in abundance. 15% of the studied species are actually at risk of extinction, while 2% are already believed to be extinct. Often, habitat degradation, destruction or fragmentation is the main cause. For this reason, sites which support Priority Species (i.e. rare or scarce species, or those in decline) should be given a higher value.
People tend to place a sentimental value on a species if they are told it is rare, even if they have never seen it. For example, ask an average person if they care whether or not pandas go extinct and they will probably tell you that they do care. They may even give money to prevent their extinction, despite the fact that they may never actually see a living panda in their entire life. It is enough to know that they exist and are being protected. However, people will generally care more for an approachable species like the panda than for a nondescript invertebrate with no common name, even if it is equally threatened with extinction.
When assessing a site for its species value, we considered the general abundance of species as well as the diversity of Priority Species and the presence of certain ‘iconic’ species as selected by an opinion survey. It is important to note that we rely heavily on local volunteer recorders to inform us of the presence of species at any location in the county. Inevitably, there will be some sites that are more popular to recorders and therefore more regularly surveyed, making them subject to ‘recorder bias’. Although such sites are often more popular because they are the most diverse or contain rare species, other sites may be just as diverse but get less attention due to being less accessible or well-known.
The highest-scoring sites will be well-recorded and support a good range of Priority and iconic species, and may contain a designation relating to species (e.g. Important Bird Area). Low-scoring sites may not necessarily be devoid of biodiversity, but may simply be under-recorded. It may still support key species that have not yet been discovered here.