Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Natural Environment White Paper 5

The third of the main drivers behind the forthcoming White Paper is the “Making Space for Nature: a review of England’s Wildlife Sites and Ecological Network”, chaired by Professor Sir John Lawton. This was published last week and, after getting a sneak preview of earlier drafts it is interesting to see how this has turned out.

You can look at the whole document, or the summary on the defra website (under "making space for nature") at:

I would thoroughly recommend that you at least look through the summary. You can then draw your own conclusions on the scale of the changes that might be needed to address its conclusions.

In my mind this review should be absolutely fundamental. I’ve talked about ecosystem services and so far much of the discussion is at an international scale (with The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) or national scale (with the National Ecosystem Assessment). These are good but it will all only start to mean something when we get down to how areas/places that we know are actually doing as functioning ecosystems – “do England’s wildlife sites comprise a coherent and resilient ecological network”.

Basically the review asks whether our current approach is going to deliver an environment that conserves healthy, functioning ecosystems that maintain biodiversity and provide us with all the ecosystem services that we need. If we look out of the window, will what we see deliver what we need. Unsurprisingly the answer is “no”.

The review gives the aim of an ecological network as one where:
“compared to 2000, biodiversity is enhanced and the diversity, functioning and resilience of ecosystems re-established in a network of spaces for nature that can sustain these levels into the future, even given continuing environmental change and human pressure.”

Underpinning this are three objectives:

  • To restore species and habitats to levels better than in 2000 and that are sustainable in a changing climate.

  • To restore the ecological and physical processes that underpin ecosystems, thereby enhancing the capacity to provide ecosystem services.

  • To provide accessible, wildlife rich, natural environments for people to enjoy and experience

The review then looked at the current situation to see whether our existing approach works. To do this it tested against 5 attributes:

  1. Does the network support the full range of biodiversity?

  2. Is the network of adequate size?

  3. Do the network sites receive long-term protection and appropriate management?

  4. Are there sufficient ecological connections to enable species movement?

  5. Are sites valued by and accessible to people?

The review essentially concluded that our current scatter of wildlife sites does not comprise a coherent and resilient ecological network. Indeed of the 5 tests above it is only the first that is substantially met. I know any one of us could have told government this but it is highly significant that a government commission, drawing on a wide range of evidence and expert opinion came to this inevitable conclusion.

From my brief overview, I would say that this is a good review. It says a lot that we have been saying as part of our Living Landscape approach. It also seems to come to similar conclusions about what is needed to reverse the situation and deliver a coherent ecological network. More of that in future blog posts.

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