The report of Professor Sir John Lawton and his distinguished group of experts was published last week. Set up by the last government it has been accepted and welcomed by the present Government. The report is entitled 'Making space for nature'. This blog describes the report's recommendations and responses to it. I will return at a later date to spell out some more of its implications.
My summary of the report is that it makes the case that where we are is not a good place, and we need to do more if we are to give future generations a land full of nature, which delivers those life-supporting services such as carbon storage and flood relief and those life-enhancing services such as the song of the skylark and autumn colours.
We need more, bigger, better and more connected areas for wildlife. But those areas can do lots of other things for us too - they may grow food, cleanse water and give us places to stretch our legs and fill our lungs.
All this will come at a cost - the report suggests a billion pounds but that includes much current spend so it isn't all new money. But not having nature around us has a cost too.
Sir John Lawton launched the report saying: 'There is compelling evidence that England’s collection of wildlife sites are generally too small and too isolated, leading to declines in many of England’s characteristic species. With climate change, the situation is likely to get worse. This is bad news for wildlife but also bad news for us, because the damage to nature also means our natural environment is less able to provide the many services upon which we depend. We need more space for nature. Our 24 recommendations in this report call for action which will benefit wildlife and people. They provide a repair manual to help re-build nature.'.
Hilary Benn, who set up the group, welcomed the report as follows: 'This is a landmark report. It shows that despite the progress that has been made, we now need to take a great leap forward to protect and enhance our natural environment. This will require leadership from Government but we know that big cuts are to be made in Defra's budget. The test for ministers is simple; warm words are easy - it's what you do that counts.'.
So what has Defra said that it will do? Mr Benn's successor, Caroline Spelman said: 'Sir John Lawton is right to challenge us over what it takes to address the loss of biodiversity but he is also clear this cannot be done by Government alone. Everyone from farmers, wildlife groups, landowners and individuals can play a role in helping to create, manage and improve these areas, so if ever there was a time for the Big Society to protect our natural environment, this is it.
'We must work together to find innovative ways to protect and enhance our wildlife habitats – particularly as we respond to the growing threat of climate change. I will be calling for international action in Nagoya next month as we look to set new targets to tackle the decline in our natural environment, and we will follow this through with the first Natural Environment White Paper for 20 years in the UK.'.
So we wait to see what action will follow - that's fair enough! But actions do have to follow these words and we still await the details of Defra's plans after the announcement of the Comprehensive Spending review in about three weeks time. And you will notice, as I hope the Secretary of State has, that the report has many mentions of the importance of wildlife-friendly farming grants in stemming the losses of nature around us - the Higher Level Stewardship scheme gets a lot of mentions - see, particularly, Recommendation 15 below.
Here are the 24 recommendations of the group - though I recommend reading the report in full - I will be carrying it around with me for quite a while and dipping into it frequently:
Recommendation 1. Local authorities should ensure that ecological networks, including areas for restoration, are identified and protected through local planning. Government should support local authorities in this role by clarifying that their biodiversity duty includes planning coherent and resilient ecological networks.
Recommendation 2. Planning policy and practice should: continue to provide the strongest protection to internationally important sites and strong protection from inappropriate development to SSSIs. provide greater protection to other priority habitats and features that form part of ecological networks, particularly Local Wildlife Sites, ancient woodland and other priority BAP habitats.
Recommendation 3. Ecological Restoration Zones (ERZs) need to be established that operate over large, discrete areas within which significant enhancements of ecological networks are achieved, by enhancing existing wildlife sites, improving ecological connections and restoring ecological processes. We further recommend: ERZs should be proposed and implemented by consortia of local authorities, local communities and landowners, the private sector and voluntary conservation organisations, supported by national agencies. To start and support this process, and recognising current financial constraints, we also recommend resources be provided, which can be accessed through a competition, to implement 12 ERZs in the next three years.
Recommendation 4. Public bodies and statutory undertakers planning the management of water resources should: make space for water and wildlife along rivers and around wetlands; restore natural processes in river catchments, including in ways that support climate change adaptation and mitigation; and accelerate the programme to reduce nutrient overload, particularly from diffuse pollution.
Recommendation 5. Authorities responsible for measures to reduce the risks from coastal erosion and flooding should do so in ways that enhance ecological networks where possible. This can be achieved by taking full account of the natural dynamism and functioning of the coast, thereby allowing wildlife and habitats to move and evolve.
Recommendation 6: Government should produce a strategy to ensure that we protect and secure multiple benefits from our carbon-rich soils and peatlands, and maximise their contribution to ecological networks. Recommendation 10. When determining the boundaries of designated sites, responsible authorities should take better account of the need to support underpinning ecological processes and of anticipated environmental change.
Recommendation 7. Responsible authorities should take greater steps to reconnect people to nature by enhancing ecological networks within urban environments, including wildlife-friendly management of green spaces, and by embedding biodiversity considerations in the need to adapt to climate change.
Recommendation 8. Public bodies owning land which includes components of England’s current or future ecological network should do more to realise its potential, in line with their biodiversity duty. Further, before disposal of any public land, the impact on the ecological network should be fully evaluated. Where such land is identified as having high wildlife value (existing or potential) it should not be disposed of unless its wildlife value is secured for the future.
Recommendation 9. The government should ensure that the remaining areas of high conservation value that currently are not well protected are effectively safeguarded.
Recommendation 10. When determining the boundaries of designated sites, responsible authorities should take better account of the need to support underpinning ecological processes and of anticipated environmental change.
Recommendation 11. The recent progress in improving the management of SSSIs must be sustained, with the aim of moving the condition of sites from ‘recovering’ to ‘favourable’. Investment in the management of the SSSI series must be maintained.
Recommendation 12. Local authorities should take responsibility for the identification and monitoring of Local Wildlife Sites and the management of LWS must be improved.
Recommendation 13. Responsible bodies should revise conservation objectives for SSSIs and other wildlife sites to respond to the effects of climate change - in particular by aiming to enhance habitat diversity and support underpinning ecological processes, whilst taking account of the requirements of current species and habitats.
Recommendation 14. In view of the opportunity presented by their existing statutory remits, in National Parks and AONBs: (a) favourable condition of SSSIs should be achieved as quickly as possible; (b) non-SSSI semi-natural habitat should be brought under management equivalent to SSSI standards; and (c) other land should be managed so as to enhance connectivity.
Recommendation 15. The Higher Level Scheme of Environmental Stewardship must be retained and properly resourced as the single most important tool for maintaining and expanding the most significant areas of priority habitat and populations of priority species. Consideration should be given to improving the quality of advice and putting longer term agreements in place to ensure sustained ecological benefits, while retaining the buy-in of land managers.
Recommendation 16. A new type of Environmental Stewardship scheme is needed, particularly to help buffer sites and establish stepping stones and ecological corridors. This should be simple to administer, be available in key areas, and provide support for high cost but relatively simple management measures.
Recommendation 17. The government should promote economic approaches that will favour conservation management by stimulating the creation of new markets and payment for ecosystem services, to ensure that the values of a wider range of ecosystem services are taken into account in decisions that affect the management and use of the natural environment.
Recommendation 18. Government needs to establish a consistent, integrated and long-term expectation of land managers to deliver parts of the ecological network. In doing so, consideration should be given to: providing more readily available, high quality advice; and developing the Defra Whole Farm Approach to provide an opportunity for those managing land to enter into a ‘Whole Farm Plan’ which integrates all aspects of a farm’s environmental and productive potential, simplifies regulation, increases transparency and gives long term commitments to both farmer and the public.
Recommendation 19. Habitat creation by government and its agencies, grant-giving trusts, businesses and the voluntary sector requires greater focus on the needs of ecological networks, in particular the need to contribute to Ecological Restoration Zones.
Recommendation 20. Government should consider extending tax incentives to encourage landowners to make long-term commitments to the creation of new wildlife habitats that benefit ecological networks.
Recommendation 21. Public bodies and other authorities responsible for canals, railways, roads, cycle ways and other linear features in the landscape, should ensure that they better achieve their potential to be wildlife corridors, thereby enhancing the connectivity of ecological networks, and improving opportunities for people to enjoy wildlife.
Recommendation 22. If a formal system of biodiversity offsets is to be introduced, pilot schemes should be established to test and refine its operation, to ensure it meets the conditions we have set out for a safe and effective system.
Recommendation 23. The design and delivery of the Entry Level Scheme of Environmental Stewardship needs to be improved, in particular to ensure key options are taken up in appropriate combinations over a sufficient area. Delivering a more effective ecological network may require refinements to the schemes, such as rewarding farmers who act cooperatively.
Recommendation 24. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should be advised on progress against recommendations in this report after two years, with a full evaluation of the outcomes for England’s ecological network after five years.
Hi Sooty - and to expand on your point - Does this review make the recommendation of educating the public and our kids in particular about the value of our wildlife and that it really matters for all our welfare? It should be part of the curriculum and as such probably wouldn't cost much but would probably make the most difference! I think you're right Sooty - the majority of people don't really see this as a priority at all when actually its probably the most important part of the quality of our existence..
What a lot of recommendations surely we could all contribute if only all groups such as all wildlife charities and groups,C L A,N F U,shooting groups and others all agreed to co-operate and do things to the benefit of wildlife.Personally find it a bit obscene that it comes over like we will not do anything unless someone like the tax payer gives us money.Do not think those farmers in the competition were so obsessed with money grabbing at every opportunity.Think we should just look at it as a bonus if grants paid out.Almost without exception we all have money and time to contribute to better wildlife,mostly just the will of almost 59million that says wildlife does not matter.
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