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GREATER RESPONSIBILITY FOR LOCAL AUTHORITIES TO PROTECT WILDLIFE SITES

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The Wildlife Trusts welcome Defra's report on local wildlife sites but call for essential resources to implement th...
The Wildlife Trusts welcome Defra's report on local wildlife sites but call for essential resources to implement the recommendations.

The Wildlife Trusts welcome the publication of Defra's guidance on 'Local Sites Systems' (see below). This provides recommendations for best practice in selecting and managing local wildlife sites to consistent minimum standards.

However, The Wildlife Trusts believe that the guidance alone is not good enough. Government investment is needed to ensure that the 36,000 local wildlife sites1 across England are managed and protected to form the bedrock of our wildlife resource.

The Wildlife Trusts believe that Local Wildlife Sites, which range from small ponds to much larger areas of habitat such as ancient woodlands, heaths and wetlands, are of increasingly important conservation value in the face of relentless pressure from housing development and road building. Evidence available to The Wildlife Trusts indicates that many sites are vulnerable and are being lost or damaged at an alarming rate2. Their protection relies on efficient partnership working rather than statutory legislation and Rachel Hackett, biodiversity manager for The Wildlife Trusts says: 'These important havens provide the wildlife fabric of our towns and countryside and collectively the 36,000 sites form a substantial area that is essential in meeting the UK's biodiversity targets and in the fight against climate change.'

Defra's report is designed to strengthen the working arrangements between local authorities, landowners and voluntary organisations such as The Wildlife Trusts in order to raise awareness of the ecological importance of local wildlife sites and to give them greater protection.

Commenting on the report, Ms Hackett, goes on to say: 'We very much support Defra's recommendations for strengthening partnerships on the ground - the protection of many of these valuable sites has depended on the efforts of voluntary organisations like ourselves and we welcome local authorities taking greater responsibility for their protection.

A commitment to more 'joined up thinking' will however only go part of the way to guaranteeing a secure future for these natural sanctuaries. Dedicated resources are needed to back the words. You cannot just rely on the goodwill of voluntary organisations and the generosity of their supporters to preserve the UK's natural heritage.'

Wildlife trusts throughout England will now be working with their counterparts in local authorities and with other partners to ensure that Defra's recommendations are implemented and that wherever possible, funding is secured to back the proposals.

'We regard these recommendations, together with those recently published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister3, as being a real test of the government's green credentials and of other public bodies' commitment to the new biodiversity responsibility contained in the Natural Environment & Rural Communities Act,' says Ms Hackett.

If you would like a copy of The Wildlife Trusts booklet on Local Wildlife Sites, please call: 0870 036 7711or email enquiry@wildlifetrusts.org

Notes

The Wildlife Trusts is a partnership of 47 Wildlife Trusts across the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney. Our vision is 'an environment rich in wildlife for everyone' and we are the largest UK organisation dedicated exclusively to conserving all our habitats and species, with a membership of more than 600,000 people including 100,000 junior members.

We campaign for the protection of wildlife and invest in the future by helping people of all ages to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of wildlife. Collectively, we manage more than 2,200 nature reserves spanning over 80,000 hectares. For further information about The Wildlife Trusts visit www.wildlifetrusts.org.

1/ Local Wildlife Sites are areas of substantive nature conservation value. They are selected using locally defined criteria based on the most important, distinctive and threatened species and habitats within the local, regional and national context.

2/ The results of The Wildlife Trusts' 2005 status of Local Site systems survey, indicate that local authorities are participating in at least 88 per cent of system partnerships and providing the lead for at least 40 per cent. This suggests that public authorities are recognising the importance and role that local sites play in meeting local and national conservation obligations.

However results from various studies across England show that Local Wildlife Sites are being lost and damaged at an alarming rate. For example: Between 1975 and 2000 - 75% of Worcestershire's Local Wildlife Site's quality grasslands were seriously degraded or destroyed; 35% of Nottinghamshire's local wildlife sites were severely degraded or lost between 1994 and 2004 and in 2005 a sample monitoring project across England highlighted that 41% of the 105 local wildlife sites visited had declined in quality or been partially lost since their initial selection.

3/ For further information on the publication: 'Planning for Biodiversity and Geological Conservation: A Guide to Good Practice' visit: www.odpm.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1164839 and: www.odpm.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1143832

4/ Further information on the publication 'Local Sites: Guidance on their Identification, Selection and Management' may be found on the Defra website: www.defra.gov.uk

Successful Case Study Example

Horsford Rifle Range is a heathland Local Wildlife Site in Norfolk that supports a colony of silver studded blue butterflies. Five years ago the heathland and associated fauna were deteriorating significantly through under-management.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust, working with other Local Site partners helped to ensure the site was brought back into appropriate management through an English Nature grant and a Countryside Stewardship agreement. As well as this essential injection of resources Norfolk Wildlife Trust took proactive steps to engage and advise the tenant, enlist the advice of Butterfly Conservation and appoint the practical skills of a local countryside project.

The site is now in excellent condition, but it is unlikely that without the Local Wildlife Site status and the associated proactive advice and actions of local partners that the outcome would have been so positive.

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

NEW GUIDANCE WILL PROTECT AND PROMOTE LOCAL SITES

The way Local Wildlife and Geological Sites in England are identified, selected and managed will be made easier through a more transparent and consistent approach promoted by new guidance published by Defra today.

In most areas, local authorities, working with other local partners, have set up systems of non-statutory local sites, which make a vital contribution to delivering both UK and Local Biodiversity and Geodiversity Action Plan targets and maintaining local natural character and distinctiveness.

Traditionally, partnerships supporting Local Sites systems have organised themselves in a number of different ways. This guidance draws together best practice while accommodating the strengths of existing systems. The aim is to create a more consistent sense of the value and importance of Local Sites by securing broader awareness and support for their protection.

Biodiversity minister Jim Knight said:

'Our wildlife, habitats and geological heritage are under ever-increasing pressure, and we need to make sure we are looking at protecting these jewels in our landscape in a consistent, integrated way. Local authorities, interest groups and local communities are absolutely fundamental to this approach, and already make an enormous contribution to local sites.

This guidance will support existing partnerships and encourage others to fill gaps to protect our most valuable local wildlife and geological heritage. This will help to raise and consolidate knowledge and understanding of local sites, which are so vital to protecting our natural heritage in this country.'

Andy Clements, director of science, evidence and policy at Natural England, said:

'Local sites present people the opportunity to experience the best of England's natural environment close to where they live. Local authorities and conservation bodies have done much to identify and protect these special places. We believe this new national guidance will contribute to more effective protection, management and enjoyment of local places of importance for their wildlife and geological features.'

Stephanie Hilborne, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said:

'We welcome the guidance and very much support Defra's recommendations for strengthening partnerships on the ground. The guidance and commitment to more 'joined-up thinking' should raise the profile of local sites and also go some way to securing their future.'

The guidance is available on Defra's website.

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