Half of the animals in the world have disappeared since 1970 because of uncontrollable human expansion, shocking new figures have shown.
A report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has found that populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined on average by 52 per cent in the last 40 years.
And for freshwater creatures the situation is even bleaker, with population collapse of more than three quarters over the same period.
Almost the entire decline is down to human activity, through habitat loss, deforestation, climate change, over-fishing and hunting.
Anyone born in in 1970 or before would have lived in a world teeming with animals compared to life today.
In Britain, the turtle dove has declined by 95 per cent, while seals, toads, red squirrels, moths, dormice, hedgehogs and hares are also suffering.
The WWF said the report was a ‘wake-up call’ and urged people to cut down on consumption.
“It’s certainly very concerning,” said Mike Barrett, Director of Science and Policy at the WWF, “And if it carries on at the present rate we will continue to lose even more animals.
“People in Britain need to realise they are not just impacting their own country. The footprint of western societies is seen in every other part of the world.
“But we are not despairing, because we are able to say why we are losing these animals; we are seeing a loss of their habitats. We know what the problem and we are perfectly capable of putting it right.
“We need political agreement so a global climate deal can be reached and policies which take account of natural capital. And we need to start thinking about our own consumption.”
The WWF’s Living Planet Report looked at 10,380 populations of 3,038 species across the globe.
The situation is worst in low-income countries, where wildlife populations have declined by 58 per cent on average between 1970 and 2010. Latin American has the biggest declines, with 83 per cent of animals lost in 40 years.
Examples of wildlife that are suffering serious population collapse include forest elephants in Africa, which are facing habitat loss and poaching for ivory and could become extinct within our lifetime, and marine turtles which have seen an 80 per cent drop in numbers.
African Elephants are under threat from poaching and habitat destruction (ALAMY)
In the UK farmland birds have been badly hit by habitat degradation, with major declines in species such as corn buntings and grey partridge. However there is better news for red kites and otters which have seen numbers increase with conservation efforts, experts said.
The Living Planet Report also warned that human activity is outstripping the resources the Earth can provide, cutting down forests too quickly, overfishing and putting out more carbon dioxide than the planet can absorb, leading to climate change.
It is estimated Earth would need to 1.5 times larger to soak up the damage caused by man.
An estimated 110 tigers are killed every year for trade (ALAMY)
Professor Ken Norris, director of science of the Zoological Society of London, which updates the species database, said: “The scale of biodiversity loss and damage to the very ecosystems that are essential to our existence is alarming.
“This damage is not inevitable, but a consequence of the way we choose to live. Although the report shows the situation is critical, there is still hope. Protecting nature needs focused conservation action, political will and support from businesses.
“We need to explain to the public that what they do is directly behind the trends we are seeing.
“There is an enormous disconnect between going to the supermarket and putting fuel in your car and the global statistics we’re talking about here.”
The report calls on consumers to change shopping habits and only buy sustainable products such as fish with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and timber with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifications.
2.7 billion people live in river basins that experience severe water shortages at least one month a year (ALAMY)
The WWF also advises ditching the car in favour of public transport, increasing recycling and reducing consumption of meat and dairy products to cut down on the amount of land being deforested for farming.
And the charity is calling for measures including expanding protected areas, scaling up renewable energy production, and diverting investment from damaging activities, making consumption patterns more sustainable – all the more necessary as the human population grows.
David Nussbaum, chief executive of the WWF in the UK said: “The scale of destruction highlighted in this report should be a wake-up call to us all.
“We all, politicians, businesses and people, have an interest, and a responsibility, to act to ensure we protect what we all value: a healthy future for both people and nature.”
Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation programmes at ZSL, said people should think about everything they do, from recycling to putting pressure on political and industry leaders, supporting sustainable businesses and getting their children outside to reconnect with nature.
By Sarah Knapton, Science Correspondent, The Telegraph