Making space for nature

Do England’s wildlife sites comprise a coherent and resilient ecological network? If not, what needs to be done?  These were the questions addressed by the Lawton Review, which was set up by former Secretary of State at DEFRA, Hilary Benn, and subsequently encouraged by the new Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman.  The broad thrust of the final report resonates with our own approach, suggesting that the overall aim for an ecological network should be underpinned by three objectives:

  • To restore appropriate species and habitats to levels that are sustainable in a changing climate
  • To restore and secure the long-term sustainability of ecological processes thereby enhancing provision of ecosystem processes
  • To provide access for people to enjoy wildlife-rich environments.

Lawton presents compelling evidence that England’s wildlife sites are generally too small and too isolated, and that climate change will lead to further loss of biodiversity. It sets out prioritised ecological solutions, and recommendations for practical action, which are united by five themes:

  1. Continuing to improve the management of SSSIs.
  2. Properly planning ecological networks. Restoration needing to take place throughout England but requiring formal recognition of Ecological Restoration Zones where the scale of delivery and benefits for wildlife and people will be very high.
  3. Improving protection and management of wildlife habitats outside SSSIs, including ancient woodland, mostly through incentives rather than designation.
  4. Deriving multiple benefits from our environment helped by better valuing of ecosystem services.
  5. Gaining society’s acceptance that a step-change in nature conservation is necessary, desirable, and achievable through strong leadership from government and collaboration at all levels within society.

The Woodland Trust believes that irrespective of climate change, it’s clear our highly fragmented landscapes can’t sustain our wildlife.  Society can’t afford to continue divorcing itself from the situation and to leave it to conservation organisations to make amends. Creating areas set aside for nature conservation can’t come close to delivering the scale or type of action required. We all rely on the same landscapes that are failing our wildlife to help sustain our own existence.

Planting native trees is a good example of a genuinely cost-effective  way to help bridge the gap. Native trees are not only great for wildlife, they store carbon, clean our air and rivers, help prevent  flooding and soil erosion, harbour insects that pollinate our crops, and provide shade in towns and cities, shelter for crops and livestock – as well as provide sustainable fuel. We can’t possibly invent ways of performing all these functions ourselves, yet we’ve marginalised nature in our countryside as much as our cities, and now – shamefully – the UK has one of the lowest levels of tree cover in Europe.

The Lawton Review offers an important stimulus to put the coalition government’s Big Society into action. Let’s all plant native trees in our gardens, down our streets, in hedges, on farms, in school  grounds and public spaces; everyone can play their part.

Richard Smithers, Senior Conservation Adviser


About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
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2 Responses to Making space for nature

  1. I agree with your statements that “Society can’t afford… to leave it to conservation organisations to make amends. Creating areas set aside for nature conservation can’t come close to delivering the scale or type of action required.”

    Schemes to plant more native trees, however, though necessary and a useful device for involving communities, are not an adequate solution in my view. It is true that woodland is disappearing at an alarming rate, but the same can be said for hedgerows. I have seen many new building projects that have taken out old hedgerows, but hardly any that have taken steps to replace them. Planting new trees is an easier option for developers, who I think are probably obliged to do this anyway by planning conditions. New builds generally use wooden fencing as dividers; cheap and convenient but not helpful in creating new wildlife corridors. As well as being destroyed by local authorities and developers, hedgerows have also suffered at the hands of Network Rail, who have been overzealous of late in clearing away much of the wildlife corridors that border the rail network in the name of Health and Safety. Taken together, all of these measures have served to further marginalise nature, and to threaten the survival of our native wildlife.

  2. Pingback: Rooting for hope in woods around the world «

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