The Power of Partnership - Richard Benyon

The Natural Environment White Paper 

Richard Benyon

We have made huge strides since we launched the Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) 13 months ago thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment shown by business, landowners, local authorities and environmental organisations.

I have been hugely encouraged and inspired by the vision and energy shown by The Wildlife Trusts to work with us in helping improve the quality of life in our towns, cities and the countryside, as well as the health of the natural environment – and I would like to share some thoughts on our progress since the publication of the NEWP.

Nature Improvement Areas

I would like to thank The Wildlife Trusts for their enthusiasm and commitment to taking forward the Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships.

In February this year, we launched 12 new Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs). I have already had the pleasure of visiting the Marlborough Downs and Morecambe Bay NIAs, met with many others and cannot wait to see the exciting work of the other ten.

Nature Improvement Areas will enhance the benefits that nature provides to people, by delivering improvements across a wide range of landscapes, transforming post-industrial landscapes and creating corridors for habitats and wildlife to thrive. Most importantly, all of this is being driven by local partnerships involving farmers, local businesses, conservation organisations, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and community groups, who understand the benefits of this approach.

As part of our ongoing commitment to NIAs, we are putting in a further £750,000 over the next three years to help support the eight unsuccessful short-listed finalists, which all put in extremely good final bids earlier this year.

In developing the NEWP, partners gave us a very clear message: “Effective action to benefit nature, people and the economy locally happens when the right people come together in partnership.” We responded by inviting local areas to form Local Nature Partnerships.

Local Nature Partnerships

At the heart of these partnerships are the people and we are fortunate to have so many passionate, energetic volunteers

We will announce the first successful group of LNPs very shortly. I believe this new way of working offers enormous possibilities for restoring the natural environment and recognising nature’s fundamental contribution to local economies and communities.

These initiatives – alongside the biodiversity offsetting trials that are currently taking place in six pilot areas and the ongoing Green Infrastructure Partnership – will contribute to a more joined up approach to planning for nature as well as encouraging greener design in our towns and cities.

But for these local partnerships to be successful, they need information. I am delighted to announce that Natural England is today publishing fact files for England’s 159 landscape character areas – the first phase in a project to provide local communities with the tools to understand the natural and cultural features that shape our landscapes.

At the heart of these partnerships are the people and we are fortunate to have so many passionate, energetic volunteers – so much so that our environmental organisations can sometimes be overwhelmed. The Government recognises this and is providing £200,000 to help volunteering organisations build capacity to provide more opportunities for environmental volunteering through our Muck In4Life scheme.

I would like to thank The Wildlife Trusts for their enthusiasm and commitment to taking forward the Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships.

Gardening, food production and economy

We want to grow our green economy

I have also been deeply impressed with the winning entries of the Big Wildlife Garden Competition, so ably run over the past year by The Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Horticultural Society. The winners all displayed considerable passion for and knowledge of the wildlife on their doorsteps.

My Ministerial colleague Jim Paice last week announced a major new study into how Britain’s entire food system must change to keep food affordable without destroying nature.

The Green Food project is a really solid example of the power of partnership. It sets out the first steps to using less energy and water in food production, increasing crop yields, introducing more innovative technology, improving conservation management and boosting the number of young people starting out in the food industry.

We have also been working with the farming community and conservationists to make our agri-environment schemes more effective. The new Entry Level Stewardship scheme will include new options for winter and spring food for farmland birds.

We want to grow our green economy and I am really pleased with the progress of the Ecosystems Markets Task Force, which is looking at ways for British businesses to find opportunities through goods and services which value nature. It is important that right across Government the Natural Capital Committee can provide advice on when, where and how our natural assets are being used unsustainably. The committee will advise Government on how it should prioritise our natural resources so that action is taken where it will have the greatest impact on improving wellbeing in our society.

The next generation

The White Paper called for every child in England to be given the opportunity to experience and learn about the natural environment.

It is vital that the value of nature is understood by the next generation. Recent surveys show that most of our children are rapidly losing connection with their local natural environments. The pace of change is profound: the likelihood of children visiting their local green space has fallen from 40 per cent to ten per cent in a generation, which will not help childhood obesity levels and lead to a generation of people unaware of the huge benefits of nature.

The White Paper called for every child in England to be given the opportunity to experience and learn about the natural environment. Our Natural Connections Demonstration project is part of the answer. The University of Plymouth has been selected, subject to contract, to lead a range of partners to deliver a three year £500,000 project which will support schools to help get children outside and learning about nature.

It will target schools that currently provide little or no learning in natural environments – often schools from deprived areas and will support volunteers to help communities and schools form partnerships.
Partnerships are pivotal to the success of the White Paper. Only in partnership can we really succeed in valuing, protecting and enhancing our natural environment.

 - Richard Benyon, July 2012
 

More about the Natural Environment White Paper