Leading article: How to safeguard our natural heritage

Related Topics

As any walker will know, it is often necessary to climb to higher ground to get a true impression of the lie of the land. The same applies in the field of conservation. We can chart the decline or resurgence of a single species of insect, or wildflower, in exhaustive detail, but it is not until we examine such trends in relation to each other that the bigger picture comes into focus. Natural England has sought the higher ground with its first comprehensive survey of plant and wildlife in England. And the snapshot it has taken of the English countryside should alarm us all.

By drawing together a wide range of research and evidence, the Government's conservation agency has found that the natural environment is far less rich than it was half a century ago. There has been a marked decline in the population of adders, bumblebees, farmland birds and grassland flowers. Woodland butterflies have declined by 50 per cent. There have also been substantial decreases in the population of wading birds on unprotected grasslands. Moreover, pressure on the environment is building. Natural habitats across England, from salt marshes to grasslands, are deteriorating. As is the case around the world, the major threats to our natural environment are climate change and economic development.

This report is not a counsel for despair. It argues that where targeted conservation measures have been implemented, they have made a difference. For instance, the long-term decline in many farmland birds is slowing, thanks to more environmentally-friendly farming. The report notes that species such as the red kite have been successfully re-introduced. And the designation of "sites of special scientific interest" has improved the biodiversity of several habitats.

Natural England proposes reconnecting fragmented wildlife-rich areas through the creation of "wildlife superhighways". Among the other suggestions are a new national park around the length of England's coastline and improved use of public funding for farmers to deliver a better natural environment. The last idea is actually already in progress thanks to reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which has undermined the link between production and subsidy. But Natural England is right to argue that this process needs to happen a good deal faster.

There is also a strong message here for ministers, as they step up the pressure for the creation of a host of "eco-towns". There is a social case for new developments to ease the chronic shortage of housing supply in the south of the country. But these towns must be truly environmentally-friendly. Any developer who has merely dusted off an old proposal for a dormitory town, while lazily adding on a few token "environmental" features, must be given short shrift. Any hint of "greenwash" must be rejected. These communities need to be truly sustainable and sensitive to the surrounding natural environment.

Another impressive aspect of this report is that it has resisted a knee-jerk opposition to all future development. Natural England is aware of the need to balance immediate environment concerns with the longer-term imperative to boost England's renewable energy production. To this end, it helpfully intends to identify suitable locations for onshore wind farms.

The report's proposal for a "landscape-scale" approach to conservation and development is sensible. Instead of fighting individual conservation battles, we need to take a more holistic approach. Care for the natural environment should be a determining factor in all building projects, from wind farms to eco-towns. If we are to preserve our natural heritage, we need to change our perspective.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary