On the 19th August, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), led by Caroline Spelman (Secretary of State), published 'Biodiversity 2020', a document which sets out the strategy for halting biodiversity decline in England over the next decade. The most recent analysis for the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) indicated that over 40% of priority habitats and 30% of priority species were declining. Biodiversity loss is a matter of international concern; indeed this strategy is largely the result of last year's Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Nagoya, Japan. Preventing further biodiversity decline is vital to maintaining the services that ecosystems provide which make human existence possible and enhance quality of life. So is the strategy adequate, and is it likely to be achieved?
One of the key announcements is the creation of Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs). Initially, £7.5 million of funding will be made available for twelve areas in the period between 2011 to 2015. Previously there has been little provision for the designation of areas which need improving because the focus has rightly been on protecting areas which have high biodiversity, scientific value or special ecological importance. It will be interesting to see how these are implemented over the next few years.
The strategy also includes some key pledges, some of which are new. These include ensuring at 90% of priority habitats are in favourable or recovering condition, maintaining at least 50% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in favourable condition and an increase in the overall extent of priority habitats by 200,000 hectares. There are also commitments in marine environmental management, for example there is a target to be managing and harvesting fish sustainably by 2020. Some of the goals identified in the strategy are ambitious, so it is important that appropriate indicators are developed and that data collection and monitoring is undertaken to produce evidence of progress.
Is the strategy adequate?
This type of strategy will only be effective if its aims are not undermined by other legislation, in particular planning policy. The government recently published the draft National Planning Policy Framework, which contains a core presumption that the default answer to any proposed development will be 'yes'. This could lead to biodiversity loss and seems to contradict the aims of 'Biodiversity 2020'. Population growth was identified in the National Ecosystem Assessment as being one of the most significant threats to England's biodiversity, as it will necessitate the building of new homes and infrastructure. Therefore planning policy must take biodiversity into consideration.
One of the criticisms levelled at the strategy is that it is vague, however in response it can be argued that as a framework strategy it fulfils its purpose of outlining the overall approach to halting biodiversity loss. Defra will produce a delivery plan in conjunction with Natural England, and this will detail the actions to be taken at ground level.
Another source of scepticism of the strategy is in the funding mechanisms, which are crucial to delivering the goals and targets which the UK is committed to under the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Lately, there have been several reported cases of successful nature conservation, most notably in the resurging numbers of otters across England. Successes such as this could help to motivate further efforts and shows that funding is justified.
An important theme throughout the strategy is that conservation efforts will need to be integrated and coordinated at the national level, but implemented on the local level with stakeholders, the public, local authorities and conservation organisations sharing responsibility. Caroline Spelman states in her foreword to the strategy that "achieving our aims will be a big challenge. Government will play an important role but can't deliver this strategy alone." This is true - there must be good working partnerships between all of the key players in conservation, as well as links with industry and scientific research bodies.
Overall, it is difficult to say whether the goals identified in the strategy are likely to be met, but they seem to be appropriate and wide-ranging enough to give suitable scope for biodiversity conservation over the coming decade.
Top Image Credit: Dawn On The Jurassic Coast, Dorset © ET - Xrrr