Natural England
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Green Belts: more than lines on a map

The first major survey of the environmental state of Green Belt land and the benefits it provides for people and wildlife is published today in Green Belts: a Greener Future - a joint report produced by Natural England and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

Helen Phillips, Natural England’s Chief Executive, said: “By containing urban sprawl, the Green Belt has been a great success story of post-war planning. We need to look at ways in which it can expand on its success to date and play a full role in supporting England’s wider network of protected areas and open spaces. The Green Belt is an important environmental resource that, managed effectively, can help tackle climate change, support wildlife and provide health and leisure opportunities for millions to enjoy.”

Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of CPRE, said: “This report confirms that the countryside around our largest and most historic towns and cities is a vital, but fragile, environmental asset. We must continue to strengthen our Green Belts and make full use of the opportunities they provide to allow people to appreciate their local countryside. Where Green Belt land is underused, or in poor condition, the answer is to improve its quality, not to build on it.”

30 million people live in or next to Green Belts which cover 13% of the land surface of England. The new research presented in this report - and set out in the accompanying factsheets ‘Green Belts in England’ (3) - indicates that Green Belts:

  • Have been effective in protecting the countryside from urban sprawl. The rate of development on the edge of towns and cities in Green Belts is at least one third lower than in comparable non-Green Belt areas (4);

  • Provide a valuable resource for people to exercise and enjoy peace and quiet, having 44% of England’s country parks, and on average 20% more public rights of way than the national average (5);

  • Maintain a large area of distinctive, rural landscape within easy access of our largest towns and cities - 95% of the public living in the Green Belt value these landscapes for their beauty and 58% of England’s population have visited the Green Belt for leisure in the 12 months;

  • Contain more than 260,000 hectares of high quality agricultural land (6) and have the potential to be an important source of locally-grown food (7);

  • Contain 33% of England’s local nature reserves and are of great importance in enabling people to connect with wildlife and the natural environment;

  • But the character of many Green Belt landscapes has continued to change in recent decades (8) and the Green Belt of the 21st century faces a number of challenges, including pressure from development and rising population.

Green Belts: a Greener Future highlights the need for positive land management to ensure that this extraordinary resource delivers wider benefits for the natural environment and for the millions of people who live in and around the Green Belt. A number of actions would help to achieve this:

1. Recognise and protect the Green Belt.

While enforcement of existing planning policy to restrict new development is central to the Green Belt’s future, the Green Belt needs to be viewed as much more than a planning designation and a focus on active management of the land is vitally important. Better and more co-ordinated land management would help the Green Belt to deliver vital environmental services - from attractive landscapes, wildlife rich habitats, places for recreation, healthy soils, fresh water, woodland and improved air quality.

2. Invest in and improve the Green Belt.

Recreational resources, production of local food, fuel and fibre, environmentally sensitive land management and renewable energy production can all be increased, while protecting the Green Belt’s open, rural character.

3. Connect and network the Green Belt.

More can be done to maintain Green Belts as part of an ecological network between urban areas, the wider countryside, and nationally important landscapes and nature reserves. Linking the land designated as Green Belt to areas designated for their environmental importance, to urban green spaces and to the wider countryside can help form ecological networks and green recreation networks – helping to tackle the challenges of a changing climate and improving our health.

For copies of the report:
Copies of the Summary and Full Report of Green Belts: a Greener Future, plus Regional Factsheets can be obtained from:

  • Natural England’s Press Office - press@naturalengland.org.uk; tel: 0845 6039953

  • Claire Norman. Press Officer, CPRE. E-mail: clairen@cpre.org.uk. Tel: 020 7981 2819; 07739 332 796 (out of hours press mobile); 020 7981 2800 (switchboard)

From 28th January 2010, copies of the Full Report and Summary will be available to download from Natural England’s website and CPRE’s website.

For further information, contact:

  • Natural England: Julian Lloyd, Media Relations Manager – Tel: 0300 060 0243; Mobile: 07500 992116;
    e-mail: julian.lloyd@naturalengland.org.uk or Natural England’s Press Office on 0845 6039953

  • CPRE: Paul Miner, Senior Planning Campaigner - Tel: 020 7981 2830 (office), 020 7981 2800 (switchboard), 07795 614238 (mobile); e-mail Paulm@cpre.org.uk

Case Studies: Where green belts are leading the way to a greener future

Green Belts: a Greener Future includes information on a series of case studies about the following innovative projects within the Green Belt.

  • East of England - major environmental restoration and improvement is taking place at Rainham Marshes and at Cambridge, and 600,000 trees are being planted at St. Albans by the Woodland Trust.

  • East Midlands - the Green Belt is home to the National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepont, Nottingham.

  • London - the Green Belt is a major resource of parkland and open space (particularly at Chobham Common, Lee Valley and Epping Forest); but also a growing range of businesses and facilities such as the care farm for rehabilitation of offenders at Chigwell and local food growing at Colne Valley Regional Park.

  • North East - The return of red kites to Gateshead's Green Belt has involved local schools and encouraged participation in walking for fitness programmes.

  • North West - The Unicorn Grocery (Manchester and St Helens) links city residents to food produced in the Green Belt. At Crosby Beach litter has been tackled, and visitors attracted through art (Anthony Gormley's “Another Place”).

  • South East - The Oxford Green Belt Way allows city residents to walk the Green Belt and get there and back by public transport.

  • South West - the Bristol and Bath Railway Path provides an accessible link between cities and the Green Belt.

  • West Midlands - regional planners are investigating further ways in which the Green Belt's environmental benefits can be increased.

  • Yorkshire and the Humber - the Dearne Valley has been transformed from a post-industrial landscape of coal tips to a network of green spaces, farmland and wetlands.

More details about each of these cases are available in the full report. We also have a series of factsheets about the current state of each of England's 14 Green Belts, available from the press offices of Natural England and CPRE.

Notes to Editors

1. CPRE, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, is a charity which promotes the beauty, tranquillity and diversity of rural England. We advocate positive solutions for the long-term future of the countryside. Founded in 1926, we have 60,000 supporters and a branch in every county. President: Bill Bryson. Patron: Her Majesty The Queen. www.cpre.org.uk.

2. Natural England is the government’s independent advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.

  • We establish and care for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.

  • We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.

  • We run England’s Environmental Stewardship green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.

3. Fact sheets for all the fourteen individual Green Belts in England (London Metropolitan); Avon; Burton-upon-Trent; Cambridge; Gloucester & Cheltenham; North West (Greater Manchester/Merseyside); Nottingham/Derby; Oxford; South West Hampshire/ South East Dorset; South & West Yorkshire; Stoke-on-Trent; Tyne & Wear; West Midlands; and York), are also available from the press offices of Natural England and CPRE.

4. According to statistics produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG), 79% of all new dwellings were built on previously developed ‘brownfield’ land in 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available. The Government target of building 60% of all new dwellings on brownfield land has been achieved in every year since 2000.

5. Green Belts have 18 metres of public rights of way for every hectare of land, compared to the national average of 14 metres per hectare.

6. The 260,000 hectares comprise land graded ‘1’ or ‘2’. These are included in the Government definition of ‘best and most versatile land’ along with Grade 3a land. A breakdown of the specific amount of Grade 3a land in the Green Belt is not available.

7. A recent CPRE survey has confirmed that eight out of ten people living within the Green Belt would prefer to buy food produced there than elsewhere

8. According to analysis carried out as part of the Countryside Quality Counts project (conducted by Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales and agencies now forming part of Natural England), in 39% of the Green Belt area landscape quality is being ‘maintained’ or sustained, 37% ‘diverging’ (eroding or transforming to a new character) and 18% is being ‘neglected’ or eroded. The analysis covers the environmental condition of, amongst other things, historic features, trees and woodland, and rivers. In non-Green Belt areas 51% of landscape quality is classed as “maintained”; 29% as changing and 20% as neglected.

9. The Green Belt has five official purposes:

  • to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;

  • to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another;

  • to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;

  • to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and

  • to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

Once Green Belts have been defined, the use of land in them has a positive role to play in fulfilling the following six objectives:

  • to provide opportunities for access to the open countryside for the urban population;

  • to provide opportunities for outdoor sport and outdoor recreation near urban areas;

  • to retain attractive landscapes, and enhance landscapes, near to where people live;

  • to improve damaged and derelict land around towns;

  • to secure nature conservation interest; and

  • to retain land in agricultural, forestry and related uses.

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