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England needs a new approach to conservation, says Natural England

Natural England publishes its first report into the state of the natural environment.

Natural England recently called for a new approach to managing our natural environment if it is to stand any chance of adapting to the next 50 years of unavoidable climate change and the modern pressures of development.

On launching its 'State of the Natural Environment' report, Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said:

"England needs a new approach to conservation if we are to tackle effectively the modern pressures on land created by climate change and development. The natural environment is increasingly under threat, both within and especially away from protected areas.

"We need to find ways to manage our landscape to create a mosaic of uses so that we can help wildlife survive - be it through a new 'national park' around the length of England's coastline, better use of the green belt or improved use of public funding for farmers to deliver a better natural environment.

"If we don't act, there's a real danger some of our most precious wildlife will be lost forever and our lives will be poorer for it," concluded Helen Phillips.

Key findings from the State of the Natural Environment report include:

  • The natural environment in England is much less rich than 50 years ago and remains under pressure from a significant range of threats: more intense use of the land and sea; continuing economic development and climate change.
  • Although we are broadly maintaining the character of England's landscapes, 20% still show signs of neglect but within our landscapes there are significant problems. For instance, lack of woodland management is causing a 50% decline of our native woodland butterflies - the wood is still there but the butterflies aren't.
  • Other habitats are also deteriorating - only 3% of our grasslands remain rich in native plants. We are seeing signs of stress from climate change, both on the coast, where habitats are being squeezed between our sea walls and the rising sea (25% saltmarsh loss from the south east of England), and on land, with a range of species moving northwards and upwards such as the mountain ringlet butterfly.
  • There have been major declines in populations of breeding wading birds on unprotected lowland wetland grasslands, notably the snipe which is down by 90% in some regions.
  • Where we target action we can make a difference. The long-term decline in many of our farmland birds is slowing thanks to more environmentally friendly farming.
  • The overall condition of our most important wildlife sites (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) has improved dramatically in the last 10 years.
  • Species such as the red kite are recolonising their former range after successful reintroduction, and heathland birds such as nightjars and woodlarks are increasing thanks to better management of our heathland.

The findings from the report have led Natural England to publish a 'Manifesto for the Natural Environment', which outlines what needs to be done to set the nation on a greener path by tackling difficult questions to help protect our future natural assets.

To play its part in finding solutions, Natural England has today committed to:

  • Helping find areas in England for renewable energy by publishing a map of suitable locations for onshore wind energy developments.
  • Using its statutory position to protect the natural environment at risk from planning and transport proposals.
  • Better targeting of the £2.9 billion of taxpayers' money it manages through green land management schemes to help people and nature adapt to climate change by: storing carbon in peat; soaking up excess rainwater to prevent flooding and connecting existing wildlife sites by creating 'wildlife super highways'.
  • Transforming selected National Nature Reserves into first class visitor destinations to reconnect the public with nature.
  • Demonstrating that significant cuts in carbon are achievable over the short-term by reducing the carbon footprint of Natural England estates and business travel by 50% by the end of 2010. It will do this without relying on carbon offsetting, passing on emissions to staff, suppliers or customers or compromising customer service.

Notes to Editors

For interviews with Natural England's experts, copies of the report and accompanying photographs, please contact the Natural England Press Office on 0845 603 9953,
press@naturalengland.org.uk, out of hours 07970 098005. For further information about Natural England please visit: www.naturalengland.org.uk

Natural England works for people, places and nature to conserve and enhance biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas. We conserve and enhance the natural environment for its intrinsic value, the wellbeing and enjoyment of people, and the economic prosperity it brings.

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