UK wildlife sites improving, says government

Posted: 23 November 2006

The UK government says that it is on track to achieve 95 per cent of nationally important wildlife sites in a favourable or recovering condition by 2010.

A report issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)says that 73 per cent of England's Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI's) in England are in favourable or recovering condition, compared to 60 per cent in 2003.

Generally, it says, there are more positive signs of progress within the country's declining species and habitats under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP):

  • 22 per cent of habitats and 11 per cent of priority species were increasing

  • 38 per cent of habitats and 27 per cent of priority species are declining but the decline is slowing for a quarter of all habitats and 10 per cent of all species.
More priority species are showing improved trends than in both 1999 and 2002, the government says. Notable successes in species include: the lesser horseshoe bat, the bittern and the Deptford Pink; and in habitats success has been achieved in: cereal field margins and lowland calcareous grassland. But certain species and habitats continue to be a cause for concern: there is both continuing and accelerating declines in a number of marine/ coastal habitats.

The report says that reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in 2003 reduced the environmental impact of agriculture. Farmers have been given support to change their farming methods to conserve biodiversity through Environmental Stewardship. Farmland birds are among the species benefiting from this scheme so far. There has also been a 'substantial increase' in the investment into the management of water and wetland sites. Future priorities include continued improvements of water quality in rivers, canals and lakes; and a common framework for wetland restoration in the wider countryside. Enthusing people

June 2005 saw the launch of a new Government policy for Ancient and Native Woodlands in England, which places these woodlands at the heart of forestry policy. This is aimed to ensure that woodland, forests, trees and related open habitats make an increasing contribution to functional ecosystems and to the quality of peoples' lives. There has been a continued drive to place powers of decision making out towards local and regional Government, in order to halt the loss of biodiversity, the report says. The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC), which came into force in October 2006, highlights highlighted the duty that public and statutory bodies have to integrate biodiversity into all levels of decision making.

The government also emphasises the importance of enthusing people to conserve biodiversity and to make their local environment more wildlife-friendly. This has been encouraged through programmes such as the BBC's Breathing Places campaign. This aims to encourage a million more people to take action within their own local environment.

The full report 'Working with the grain of nature - taking it forward' presented by The England Biodiversity Group who work to put into practice the aims of the England Biodiversity Strategy can be seen at www.defra.gov.uk