Some of the biggest falls occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean © Seaphotoart /Alamy

The world’s animal population has fallen by more than two-thirds in the last 50 years, according to a new study of more than 4,000 species of mammal, fish, bird, reptile and amphibian.

The Living Planet Report published by WWF, the conservation group, highlighted the deterioration of animal life on the planet and revealed large declines in population numbers in the two years since the last report.

“This shows that the state of nature really is in freefall,” said Mike Barrett, head of science at WWF’s UK branch. “This is a rate of species loss not seen since the dinosaurs, which is why scientists suggest we are heading toward a sixth mass extinction event.”

The study, which covers the period from 1970 to 2016, found the greatest drops in animal numbers had occurred in Latin American and the Caribbean, where populations had declined by 94 per cent.

Mr Barrett said that agriculture and land use change were driving the depletion of animal populations, as natural habitats were converted into farmland.

“The available land for nature is just getting smaller and smaller,” he said. “Three-quarters of land globally has now been significantly altered by human activity. And half the habitable land on the planet is given over to agriculture.”

Climate change has also been a factor, according to the study. The report comes at a time when wildfires have swept across the US west coast, and fire seasons have increased in length in many areas, posing greater danger to animals.

Of the animals tracked, freshwater species such as fish and amphibians were among the most under threat, due to changes in river systems. The average abundance of the freshwater species tracked in the report has fallen by 84 per cent since 1970.

Sir David Attenborough wrote in an essay published alongside the report: “The Anthropocene could be the moment we achieve a balance with the rest of the natural world and become stewards of our planet.”

“Doing so will require systemic shifts in how we produce food, create energy, manage our oceans and use materials,” he added. “But above all it will require a change in perspective. A change from viewing nature as something that’s optional or ‘nice to have’ to the single greatest ally we have in restoring balance to our world.”

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