England's coastland, rivers, farms, and environmentally sensitive land are reaping the results of action to safeguard and improve England's wildlife and countryside, according to scientific data released last week.

Biodiversity Minister Jim Knight said that the new data indicated a positive start to the first few years of implementing the England Biodiversity Strategy, which aims to make the changes necessary to conserve, enhance, and work with the grain of nature and ecosystems, rather than against them.

"These statistics show that the policies implemented by the Government and programmes funded and delivered by Defra, like the agri-environment schemes that now cover over 1.2 million hectares, are having an encouraging effect on biodiversity in England," he said. "However, there is plenty of work still to be done. We have not yet reached our targets in any of these areas, and we cannot afford to relax our efforts to ensure that England's wildlife is safeguarded and improved for future generations.

"We need to keep working to improve the health of our natural environment through strategies like a co-ordinated, balanced approach to wildlife management, encouraging environmental stewardship, and getting more people involved in looking after the countryside."

Mr Knight said the government was committed to basing its environmental policies on hard evidence and constantly measuring their progress and effectiveness in reaching objectives. The new data include positive trends in the condition of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in coastal and urban areas, and SSSIs owned or managed by local authorities and companies.

"The new data show that 67.4 per cent of ecologically-sensitive SSSI land is in favourable condition - up from 56.9 per cent in March 2003," Mr Knight said. "We have also seen an improvement in the amounts of hazardous substances entering our marine environment, and an steady increase in the biological health of our rivers." Mr Knight paid tribute the many people, including volunteers, who collected and collated local data for the study. "Without the army of volunteers who give so generously of their time and energy to help safeguard our natural environment, we would not have been able to achieve this," he said. Nineteen of the indicators used to measure the progress of the England Biodiversity Strategy have been updated.