England's wildlife 'needs £1bn protection fund'

The losses to England's wildlife and the threat of climate change are now so serious that a new strategy worth £1bn a year is needed to tackle the problems, a report warns today.

Research commissioned by the previous government notes that England's collection of wildlife sites is not a "coherent or resilient" network, and cannot cope with existing pressures, let alone the extra problems brought by a changing climate.

The report, described as a "repair manual" for nature, calls for improved protection and management of wildlife sites and the restoration of the natural environment. It urges investment in measures that deliver benefits for people at the same time as improving habitats – by creating salt marshes and wetlands which can prevent flooding, for instance.

The study, led by Professor Sir John Lawton, urges ministers to maintain funding for wildlife-friendly farming schemes, thought to be under threat from the forthcoming government spending review. It also recommends that "ecological restoration zones" are put in place by coalitions of councils, landowners, communities and businesses, to improve existing wildlife sites and restore natural habitats.

The report called for a competition providing resources for 12 such zones to be created in the next three years, with £27m needed over five years to support them. The annual cost of the measures outlined in the review is estimated at between £600m and £1.1bn.

The report acknowledges that in the current financial climate, money is unlikely to be forthcoming in the next few years and that not all the costs should be met by the Government.