PRIVATE AND PUBLIC FUNDS TO SAVE SPECIES

NICHOLAS SCHOON REPORTS ON PLANS TO SAVE 116 TYPES OF FLORA AND FAUNA

Would you like to save a rare and rapidly declining but beautiful butterfly, the high brown fritillary? It'll cost just pounds 21,000 a year.

Or guarantee a future for the water vole, Ratty in The Wind in the Willows? The bill is pounds 150,000. Feeling seriously rich? Around pounds 3m a year would save the shrinking and increasingly scraggy hedgerows of Britain.

The figures come from a two-volume, 400-page report not-so-snappily entitled Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report, which costs a mere pounds 56. It may be written in leaden, official prose but its importance cannot be denied - which is why organisations like the Wildlife Trusts treat it as if it were the Bible. The report is the fruit of long and unprecedented collaboration between the Government and the nation's conservation charities, large and small.

The story of this co-operation begins with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro five years ago. There, presidents and prime ministers (including John Major) from 150 countries signed a UN treaty aimed at conserving biodiversity - the planet's fantastic wealth of plant and animal species. Writing the report and then implementing what it calls for will be Britain's most important act in fulfilling its treaty obligations.

The British document was drawn up by a group which included representatives from the National Farmers' Union, the Country Landowners Association, research institutes and local councils as well as senior civil servants and people from the Wildlife Trusts, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - in other words, people from the organisations that matter most in conserving Britain's flora and fauna.

It was published at the end of 1995. In May 1996 the Environment Secretary, John Gummer, made a formal, written response saying that Government accepted the main proposals. They are now official policy and it seems highly unlikely that Tony Blair's administration - which has promised to put environment at the heart of Government - will go back on them.

The core of the report consists of action plans for 116 key species and 14 types of habitat. Some, like the otter and dormouse, are well known and loved; others like the Norfolk flapwort (a small aquatic plant) are not. All are very rare or in rapid decline and many legally protected.

Each plan comes with targets and price tags attached. If they are carried out then each species and habitat will be stabilised and guaranteed a future. (There are one or two exceptions; a few species which have disappeared from Britain altogether or which are so rare, obscure and little understood that no one yet knows how to go about saving them.)

Most of the species action plans demand more research on where the animal or plant in question is distributed, what its habitat requirements are, and on spreading advice to landowners on how to manage their acres in a way which favours it. Both the species and the habitat plans call for improved management with subsidies to landowners for doing this. For the 116 species, the extra costs involved (over and above what is being spent on conservation now) are put at around pounds 3m a year up to 2010. As for the habitat action plans, the extra costs are put at pounds 13m this year rising to pounds 37m in 2010.

To date the conservation charities have picked up about half of the bill for implementing the species plans, with the Government funding the rest. If that funding split was to continue, then the Government's share of the entire programme for 116 species and 14 habitats would work out at a maximum of about pounds 1 per adult British citizen a year - not a high price for a huge nature conservation gain in the UK.

But it now seems pretty unlikely that any new Government money will be found to meet the bill. Instead, existing "green" spending may be diverted into the plans and there are hopes that some of the money for rescuing the 14 key habitats will come through reforms in the EU Common Agricultural Policy farm subsidies.

Work is now under way on turning some of the action plans into action. For each species, a conservation charity or a Government body such as English Nature has taken responsibility for leading the work. The Wildlife Trusts are taking the lead in plans for a dozen species including the dormouse, the otter, four insects (two of them ants), two fungi and four plants, including that obscure flapwort.

"We're starting to see action on the ground now - the plan is making a difference,'' said Sara Hawkswell, a conservation officer with the Wildlife Trusts. There used to be seven or eight experts and various organisations around the country working separately on the conservation of the dormouse. "Now we've got a shared commitment and we're using that to focus our work.'' Meanwhile, work has begun on writing action plans for another 286 species and 24 habitats which the report identified as the next most deserving cases.

The Government had hoped that private-sector sponsorship would play a major part with companies identified as "wildlife champions" providing money for individual action plans. But after a year only one has been found - ICI will sponsor two butterfly species. The problem with this idea is that the most charismatic, appealing species - like the dormouse and the red squirrel - already have at least one private-sector sponsor involved in existing conservation projects. Meanwhile, companies are not exactly queuing up to sponsor small and obscure species like the depressed river mussel. With no new Government funding forthcoming, and the wildlife charities having only limited funds, progress on many of the 116 current species plans - let alone the 286 forthcoming ones - is in danger of ceasing.

Progress on implementing the habitat action plans has also been disappointingly slow. Considering the much larger scale and expense of the task, that is hardly surprising. "The habitat action plans are really just sitting there, with people stepping cautiously around the edges,'' said Ms Hawkswell.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people Ex-wife of John Lennon has died at her home in Spain
News
Lavigne performing in Seoul at the beginning of last year
people
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - London - £40K plus benefits - Salary negotiable

£38000 - £40000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: A leading consu...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?