In the Government’s recently released White Paper “The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature”, one of the most notable proposals was for the introduction of Nature Improvement Areas. Due to the fact that the natural surroundings are different across the country, not all Nature Improvement Areas will be the same, although there are common characteristics. They will all be designed to deliver ecological networks, facilitate partnerships between different groups in society, improve and expand wildlife sites, use land in a way that improves ecosystems and capitalise on society’s passion for the natural world. The plan is that Defra and associated agencies will provide £7.5 million of funding for these areas.
The aims in the White Paper state that the ecological network should be enhanced by improving management and connectivity between different sites, creating wildlife corridors as well as increasing the size and number of wildlife sites. Each Nature Improvement Area should contain these components: core areas, the creation or restoration of stepping stones and corridors, restoration areas, buffer zones and sustainable use areas.
There are many organisations who are concerned that the government will initiate these plans but not do enough to enforce and regulate them to ensure they do not slow down or even stagnate. The government are simultaneously working on different policies areas such as economic growth. It is natural to wonder whether they can implement all these plans at the same time, without one having a negative effect on the other. Additionally, a number of organisations are already concerned that these plans may fail before they have even gathered any momentum, particularly in light of local authority cuts affecting those with responsibility for enhancing biodiversity throughout the country.
However, many environmental organisations and individuals have welcomed the Government’s ambitious White Paper, which is the first in 20 years. If the plans are followed through, they could potentially help us to strengthen biodiversity networks and contribute to the Nations commitments with respect to improving spaces for society and reducing impacts of climate change.
Defra has set up a competition for the first twelve Nature Improvement Area applications, which will be assessed by a panel chaired by Sir John Lawton. The aim is to ascertain which of the projects will be most beneficial to the environment and the community. Work on the twelve chosen applications is expected to have started by 2012.
In our view, these plans have much potential, but the government must follow up on them to ensure they keep moving forward and targets are met and benefits to biodiversity monitored.