140 Nature reserves to be rescued by wardens

Posted by Cain Blythe - CEnv MIEMA MIEEM MSc BSc (Hons) on 18/02/2011

A company may soon be created that has the purpose of saving the "wildlife jewels in the crown" i.e. from the consequences to be expected if the reserves are disposed of by Government plans. In a controversial move, the Government is looking to lose all responsibility for the running of the official nature reserves system. Clearly, as with the ongoing Government plans to sell-off public forests, the proposition has received much criticism. The official nature reserves system has been in place for 60 years, and currently holds some of England's most precious wildlife locations.

Over recent months, ministers and other Government officials have been holding talks with various wildlife charities, including the RSPB and National Trust, in an effort to transfer responsibility for the reserves. The reserves are currently managed by Natural England – the Government's wildlife agency, and include locations as far apart as Lindisfarne in Northumberland to The Lizard in Cornwall. The size of the reserves also varies, from 0.1 hectares, up to over 8,000 hectares in some areas.

However, the charities involved in the discussions have indicated that they are unwilling to take responsibility of the reserves unless their management was fully funded, in a joint policy statement. In effect, this means that the Government would still have to pay a cost of approximately £10m to the charities for annual running costs, and this is unlikely to happen. In response, Natural England wardens and site managers are looking into various options for the formation of rescue plans, with the purpose of creating a mutual “social interest” company. Any such company would be run for the benefit of the reserves, and not for profit.

If the plans come into fruition, the Government would continue with the initial funding, but would gradually phase it out so that savings of up to 30% could be made, while the newly-formed mutual company started to raise their own funding. It is thought that funding would not be raised by charging for admission, but could be generated using a combination of ideas, including the sale of digital data, and perhaps even traditional wildlife tours or gift/coffee shops. Natural England have given the idea their backing, and it is also hoped to attract substantial government support.

The plans could benefit conservation greatly, meaning the retention of nature reserves in their current state. Certainly, the plans are backed by Professor Sir John Lawton, the chairman of the soon-to-be-defunct Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. In the review he performed on wildlife sites last year - "Making Space for Nature" – he said that a step change was required to stop the recent decline of many species characteristic to England. Professor Lawton said; "The real advantage of this idea is that it would keep the series of national nature reserves as a coherent national network”.