The announcement of 12 new Nature Improvement Areas reflects a rare thing: the Government actually taking an expert report seriously and following it up. It is 18 months since a committee chaired by Sir John Lawton called for "a step change in wildlife conservation". That was followed by a White Paper and a competition to nominate the first NIAs, which will be run by wildlife charities, councils and local groups.
As it stands so far, the scheme leaves much to be desired. The first 12 areas make up but a small part of the much bigger network that is needed. The money is very much at the lower end of what Sir John's report estimated would be needed. At a time of general cutbacks, however, it is a contribution, and the NIAs themselves represent a new approach to the environment, which is not just about conserving but restoring natural habitats. The beginnings may be modest, but a start is far better than doing nothing.