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England’s wildlife in the global decade of biodiversity

Biodiversity 2020, a new strategy for England’s wildlife and environmental resources, was published last month and is of critical importance for our natural environment.

September 13 2011

This was a rare opportunity to set out a clear agenda for all sectors of society to work together to understand and value our relationship with the natural world, and to change the fortunes of England’s dwindling wildlife - from plants and fungi to insects, birds, and other wildlife.

The strategy is England’s contribution to the UN decade of biodiversity, a worldwide environment programme which recognises the intimate links between a healthy environment, economic development and human well-being. Whether the Government has really got to the heart of the matter in publishing this strategy is what concerns us now - has Government finally understood that our plants and animals are what put the life into wildlife and the world around us?

The recent White Paper on the natural environment included a number of ambitions which we applaud and are central to ‘Biodiversity 2020’, such as improving the condition of 90% of priority wildlife habitats and restoring or creating 200,000 hectares more. A glaring omission from the White Paper, however, is the lack of focus on species and, in particular, our most vulnerable and threatened species. Biodiversity 2020 goes some way to addressing this omission with a statement on the need to prevent human-induced extinctions and an action to take targeted action for species (where the main emphasis on habitat conservation is failing). However, with nearly 1000 species in England listed by the NERC Act 2006 as ‘of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England’, of which more than half are plant and fungi species, this may not go far enough.

Our vision for the future, shared by the millions of nature lovers and others who work or play in the great outdoors, is one bursting with colour, movement and sound coming from the flowers, butterflies, beetles, birds and animals around us. A measure of all these elements is an indication of how alive and healthy our environment is and, in turn, its ability to provide us with essential services such as clean air, water and plain simple enjoyment. The National Ecosystem Assessment report published in June showed that plants and fungi deliver more value to the UK than any other wildlife groups. We know from experience that to save our most vulnerable wildlife, retain diversity and keep providing essential services, as well as making best use of our limited resources, we need tailor-made habitat and landscape conservation for the right species in the right places. Whether the new strategy embeds this principle in all decision-making is the key test.

Plantlife is calling on Government to:

  • Ensure that the public funds awarded through the Nature Improvement Area competition are given out to those areas with the greatest potential to conserve a wide range of declining specie.
  • See the emerging Local Nature Partnerships champion both the local characteristics of their natural environment, with emphasis on those element of national importance.
  • Ensure that the new planning agenda for England works for wildlife, not against it.

Plantlife, the RSPB, Butterfly Conservation and Buglife have made a joint call on Government to ensure the England Biodiversity Strategy is a springboard for taking co-ordinated, targeted action for wildlife. Chief executives from the four organisations have offered to work with Defra to ensure the strategy sets out a clear recovery plan for England’s wildlife.