Friday 10 February 2012

Natural environment white paper – progress

We were very pleased with the publication of the Natural Environment White Paper last June and quite a lot has happened since then to take it forward in Sussex. This is good stuff and I feel that we are working through some of the concerns I had when it first came out.

Two of the initiatives from the White Paper were “Local Nature partnerships” and “Nature Improvement Areas”.

Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs) were supposed to be the development of new or existing partnerships to champion nature and the environment in an area. I had some major concerns about the lack of resources, demanding timescales and rather broad guidance but we have been fortunate in getting funding to develop the idea in Sussex. We are now talking to a wide range of partners with the idea of developing our current Biodiversity Partnership into an LNP. We will not be able to apply for LNP status until later in the year but we hope that this background work will bare fruit.

One activity of a LNP must be to try to embed the value of nature into our economic decision making. Government therefore wants LNPs to have good links with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). This is good, but I not sure anyone has mentioned this to the LEPs. One early job, therefore, will be to try to build better links with the business community.

So, in a few months time, we should have an LNP for Sussex. More of what that might mean another time.

A Nature Improvement Area (NIA) has also been developed in Sussex by the National Park Authority for the South Downs ridge. A very professional bid has been put forward and we know it has got through to the last 15 (12 will be granted NIA status and receive funding to support its objectives). The National park Authority, with the support from a South Downs farmer, did a presentation to the selection panel this week. I am confident that they will have made a good pitch so good luck to them. We will know very soon whether the South Downs bid has been successful.

Since the publication of the White Paper, however, I have always been worried that these 12 “pilot” NIAs will end up as the only ones. The NIA concept is good but these large scale initiatives should be found all over the country, not just in 12 places. In practice I could think of very good arguments for more than 12 NIAs in Sussex alone. It does seem, however, that government does not intend to limit ecological networks to the lucky 12 pilot NIAs. Minsters have now said that they want to see NIAs wherever the opportunities or benefits are greatest, driven by the knowledge and vision of local partners. I am not sure how much, or whether, funding will be available for a proper network of NIAs but the idea that the UK’s failing ecological network will be fixed by just 12 NIAs should now have disappeared.

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