Leading article: How to safeguard our natural heritage

Share
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

Scrum Master (Agile, Java, team recruitment)

£45000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Scrum M...

Junior Asset Manager

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Junior As...

Investment Analyst

£33000 - £40000 Per Annum Discretionary profit share: The Green Recruitment Co...

Supply teachers required in Cambridge

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers requi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jennifer Aniston has said it's 'not fair' to place the pressure of motherhood on women  

Like Jennifer Aniston, I am no less of a woman because I am childless

Rachael Lloyd
 

i Editor's Letter: The persistence of a privately educated elite

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?