Defra outlines strategy to halt biodiversity loss
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The UK government has committed itself to protecting an extra 200,000 hectares of natural habitat and reforming the EU common fisheries policy in its plans to protect English ecosystems.
The new strategy, “Biodiversity 2020”, was published by Defra on Friday (19 August 2011) and is the first national approach to be announced following the commitments made by world leaders to tackle threats to global biodiversity in Nagoya last October.
Biodiversity 2020 sets out government priorities and actions to halt biodiversity loss by 2020 and fixes targets including ensuring 50% of sites of special scientific interest are in a favourable condition by 2020 and that at least 15% of very poor wildlife sites are restored and better able to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
The strategy calls on stakeholders including businesses, conservation charities, local government and community organisations to work together to tackle the threats to biodiversity and raise public awareness of the value and benefits of ecosystems.
Dr Pete Brotherton, Natural England’s head of biodiversity and one of the plan’s advisors, agreed: “Our wildlife and habitats depend on coordinated action to halt their loss and ultimately reverse their decline and this strategy will galvanise activity across government, environmental organisations, businesses, land owners and local communities.”
The paper highlights the need to reduce the pressure on natural resources from the agriculture, fishing, forestry and planning sectors and pledges to improve environmental outcomes from agriculture and marine activities while increasing food production and enabling growth in the green economy.
The majority of the actions outlined in Biodiversity 2020 had been proposed before the natural environment white paper, published in June. These include supporting offsetting biodiversity pilots and the creation of Local Nature Partnerships – groups of organisations from the public, private and third sectors that collaborate to raise awareness and protect the environment.
While the government’s commitment to tackling biodiversity has been welcomed, industry representatives have asked for more information about the proposals.
“We are keen to see the full details of the expected governance structure for the delivery of this new strategy, following a lack of joined-up thinking and cohesion in its predecessor,” said the National Farmers’ Union countryside adviser Dr Andrea Graham.
“We will also be looking for reassurance from Defra and its agencies that while this new strategy is understandably focused on biodiversity, we maintain a balance of activity between wildlife and habitats and other equally important challenges such as water quality, soil conservation and climate change mitigation.”
Meanwhile environmental groups warned the proposals in the strategy might be hampered by the positive approach to planning consent outlined in the government’s proposed national planning policy framework, currently in consultation.
“Delivery of the strategy will be frustrated, if not impossible, without a fundamental rethink of the government’s proposals for planning reform,” warned Neil Sinden, policy director for the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
“Recently published policies threaten large areas of countryside, which will make the desired landscape-scale approach to wildlife conservation very difficult to achieve.
“Defra recognises the vital role of the planning system, but it needs to work harder to get other parts of government, notably the Treasury, to understand this if this goal is to be achieved.”
Alongside the strategy Defra has launched a 12-week consultation on how it should track progress against its targets.
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