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Best-loved landscapes 'threatened by cuts'

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Some of the UK’s best-loved landscapes are under threat from likely spending cuts, conservationists have warned.

The RSPB said the availability of public funding for conservation was shrinking, just as the need to look after nature became more acute.

The wildlife charity urged the government to play an active role alongside the “Big Society” in protecting the countryside and wildlife amid the current financial pressures.

A report by the RSPB suggested a number of innovative funding measures, including environmental taxes on products such as peat and pesticides, private sector funding and payments for natural services, for example restoring uplands to ensure clean water supplies.

According to the charity, a recent study commissioned by the environment department estimated there was a £273m annual shortfall in funding for conservation measures.

And with the announcement on how spending will be slashed to rein in the deficit due on 20 October, conservationists fear the situation will worsen.

The RSPB said the future of landscapes including the South Downs, the Broads, the Somerset Levels and Moors, the Shropshire Hills and the Peak District was hanging in the balance.

The health of the landscapes and their wildlife depends in large part on land management and maintenance provided by farmers, and each area receives millions of pounds a year in environmental stewardship schemes.

RSPB chief executive Mike Clarke, left, said: “Government, business and charities need to start thinking creatively now when it comes to ensuring the future of our native wildlife.”

He added: “We won’t give up on nature just to balance the books.

“We want to help find solutions with UK governments and business to achieve economic stability without sacrificing the species we share our countryside with.”

Green subsidies which pay farmers and other landowners to manage their land in environmentally-friendly ways are among the funding which could be cut in the spending review.

A Defra spokesman said: “Improving and protecting our many species and habitats is one of Defra’s key priorities.

“We have already started work on the Natural Environment White Paper, to be published in spring 2011, which will outline how we propose to protect and enhance biodiversity to benefit future generations.

“Defra welcomes suggestions about what the white paper should include.”

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