A new era for restoring the natural environment


The Wildlife Trusts believe the time is now for the Government to establish a vision for the restoration of the natural environment that will help society achieve its ambitions for nature. With scant existing legislation to encourage the restoration of the natural environment or the creation of new habitats on a significant scale, The Wildlife Trusts are looking for the Government to deliver real improvements.

The White Paper on the Natural Environment provides a real opportunity to lay the foundations of nature conservation for the 21st century. The Wildlife Trusts makes this statement following ahead of a public consultation, and sets out its recovery plans for the UK's wildlife and fragmented habitats on land and at sea.

Cley Marshes, Norfolk Wildlife Trust (Photo: Richard Bayldon)

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: "This White Paper is potentially as meaningful as the build-up to the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. Back then we were reconstructing a nation and, although money was very short, nature was seen as a key part of our future."

In the 1940s, The Wildlife Trusts' founders successfully pressed for laws to protect some of the most special habitats on land but these were emergency measures. They were refuges from which it was always hoped nature would re-emerge. Outside the terrestrial nature reserves, habitats were lost on an unprecedented scale. Since then, more than 95% of wildflower meadows have disappeared and 90% of heathland too.

Each of the local Wildlife Trusts is working within local communities to inspire people about the future of their area: their own Living Landscapes and Living Seas. Ahead of the recent election, The Wildlife Trusts lobbied for the new Government to introduce a White Paper on nature and ecological restoration so it reflected the needs now facing society by taking responsibility for this critical issue.

To ensure The Wildlife Trusts' visions for A Living Landscape and Living Seas can be achieved in our lifetime, the conservation organisation sets out what it believes needs to be the fundamental framework for the White Paper for Nature.

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On land it should:

  • Set out a new vision — be ambitious about the restoration and recovery of the natural environment and all the systems that underpin it.
  • Protect and enlarge 'core' wildlife-rich areas — value and conserve existing protected places such as Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), which lie at the heart of this new era for nature conservation. They cannot be allowed to be traded in or to erode
  • Put wildlife back on the map — map out priority areas for ecological restoration. To create connections between core areas in the form of corridors and stepping stones to provide both functional and physical connectivity for wildlife across a landscape.
  • Give wildlife room to manoeuvre — set out policies and incentives that allow the protection and value of areas already rich in wildlife. Expand and buffer these areas and make the wider landscape more permeable.
  • Restore natural processes — such as flood protection, carbon absorption, crop pollination and water filtration, so they can operate to their full potential for people and wildlife. All are fundamental to our health, well-being and a successful economy.
  • Ensure there is wildlife everywhere — inspire every community to develop local solutions to the particular challenges for restoring nature in their area.
  • Inspire a new type of partnership — act together with central and local government, agencies, the private sector and voluntary bodies to inspire and enable cross-boundary co-operation. And support the voluntary sector in its delivery.

Potteric Carr, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (Photo: P Haigh)

At sea it should:

  • Contain Marine Protected Areas — to ensure wildlife is properly protected from the coast to the deep blue sea beyond.
  • Work to change for the better — reduce the UK's fishing industry impacts and bring it in harmony with Living Seas.
  • Avoid damage — through marine planning and sustainable development, make sure the marine industry avoids damage and makes a positive contribution to Living Seas.
  • Improve on legislation and policy — continue to make improvements to the laws and policies that set out how our seas are managed.

Handa Island, Scottish Wildlife Trust (Photo: Dean Eades)

Wildlife Trusts

Speaking about the potential for positive change, Stephanie Hilborne added: "The Wildlife Trusts believe the time is now for the Government to help society achieve its ambitions for nature by taking a look at the legislation, policies and funding mechanisms needed to restore wildlife on a landscape scale and in our seas."

"Nature is not a luxury. With the UK facing unprecedented economic uncertainty and pressures for energy generation, food production and housing, there is a risk we overlook the very basis of our economy and our society: the natural environment upon which this all depends."

There are 47 Wildlife Trusts across the UK, the Isle of Man and Alderney, working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone. With nearly 800,000 members, the Trusts are the largest UK voluntary organisation dedicated to conserving the full range of the UK's habitats and species, whether they be in the countryside, in cities or at sea. 150,000 of its members belong to its junior branch, Wildlife Watch. The Trusts manage 2,256 Nature Reserves covering more than 90,000 hectares, stand up for wildlife, inspire people about the natural world and foster sustainable living.

A Living Landscape report maps the way forward in countering climate change and restoring the UK's battered ecosystems, for wildlife and people, from inner cities to rural communities. The Wildlife Trusts have been campaigning for many years for comprehensive legislation to achieve better protection for marine wildlife and effective management of our seas, though the Living Seas initiative.

Written by: Wildlife Trusts