Giving nature a place in planning

Wednesday 21st September 2011

Stephanie Hilborne OBE

Areas of critical importance for wildlife are overlooked in the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), say The Wildlife Trusts.

The Wildlife Trusts are concerned that under the proposed reforms Local Wildlife Sites will be left bereft of the protection they currently have. 

The current planning system is the principal means of protection for Local Wildlife Sites, which are not protected by law.  There are more than 40,000 Local Wildlife Sites in England.  All play a critical conservation role by providing wildlife refuges, protecting threatened species and habitats, and acting as links and corridors between designated sites.

It is crucial that any changes to the planning system continue to protect Local Wildlife Sites.  However, they are not formally recognised in the draft NPPF. The Wildlife Trusts want the recognition of Local Wildlife Sites in national planning policy strengthened, as recommended in the report Making Space For Nature which reviewed England’s ecological networks.

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts said:

“The proposed planning reforms leave Local Wildlife Sites without sufficient safeguards.  It is imperative that the importance of protecting these sites is recognised.  There is a real need to retain and strengthen the protection afforded to Local Wildlife Sites.

The Wildlife Trusts are calling for the Government to make the following changes to its planning proposals:

• Provide greater recognition and protection to Local Wildlife Sites: there are more than 40,000 in England, an area 4.5 times the size of Greater London.  The protection for these sites needs to be maintained and strengthened.

• Require local plans to identify Nature Improvement Areas: The Natural Environment White Paper gave the go-ahead for these large areas where nature’s restoration would have greater priority.  Any planning framework will be critical to achieving Nature Improvement Areas and yet they have no mention in the draft NPPF.

The Wildlife Trusts believe the planning system should reflect the long-term interests of the public, as well as the commitment the Government made to protect our natural environment, in its Natural Environment White Paper.

There is a stated intention within the NPPF to enhance the natural environment which is welcomed.  However, specific recommendations on Local Wildlife Sites and Nature Improvement Areas have been omitted, both of which are recognised in the White Paper as key mechanisms for restoring the natural environment.

Stephanie Hilborne continued:

“The restoration of the natural environment is important to our long-term economic recovery and quality of life.  The draft NPPF’s strong focus on short-term economic growth raises serious concerns for us that the protection and restoration of the natural environment could be hindered.”

The Wildlife Trusts are urging the public to use the final weeks of a consultation period into the NPPF to voice their concerns for wildlife.  The consultation closes on Monday 17 October.

What you can do:

• Write to your local MP and councillor – tips can be found at wildlifetrusts.org/nppf.  You can find your MP or Councillors’ details at theyworkforyou.com or local.direct.gov.uk/LDGRedirect/index.jsp?LGSL=358&LGIL=8

• Provide a response to the Government's public consultation.

• Spread the word: encourage your friends and family to take action and share this link www.wildlifetrusts.org/nppf on social networking sites.

Notes for editors:

1. Local Wildlife Sites

There are more than 40,000 Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) in England which cover an area of at least 711,201 hectares; equating to an area 4.5 times the area of Greater London (assuming Greater London is 1,572km2).  The number of Local Wildlife Sites lost to, or damaged by, built development in England in 2010 was at least 172.  Of these, at least 25 were lost completely.  This figure could have been much higher without the degree of protection under the current planning system.  All 37 individual Wildlife Trusts in England are actively engaged in the planning system, reviewing more than 70,000 planning applications last year.

Collectively, Local Wildlife Sites play a critical conservation role by providing wildlife refuges, acting as stepping stones, corridors and buffer zones to link and protect nationally, and internationally, designated sites.  Together with statutory protected areas, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), they support locally, and often nationally, threatened species and habitats.  With SSSIs they are the starting point for Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs).

LWS partnerships select all sites which meet the Local Wildlife Site selection criteria, whereas SSSIs are a representative sample of sites which meet the national standard.  Consequently many sites of SSSI quality are not designated and instead are selected as Local Wildlife Sites.  For some counties, they represent some of the best sites for biodiversity and provide important links to other core areas.  In Wiltshire, 75% of broadleaved, mixed and yew woodland is found in LWS, compared with just 10% in SSSIs. In Nottinghamshire SSSIs cover 1.5% of the county compared with LWS which cover 10%.  Similarly, in Birmingham, LWS account for 6.8% of land area compared with just 1.7% for SSSIs.

2. Current Planning Policy (PPS9)

PPS9 is the existing national planning policy guidance for biodiversity and geological conservation.  It describes Local Sites as having ‘a fundamental role to play in meeting overall national biodiversity targets; contributing to the quality of life and the well-being of the community; and in supporting research and education.’

The subsection on Local Sites states: ‘Criteria-based policies should be established in local development documents against which proposals for any development on, or affecting, such sites will be judged.  These policies should be distinguished from those applied to nationally important sites.’

The proposed NPPF omits any mention of Local Wildlife Sites from the body of the text.  Local Wildlife Sites are mentioned briefly in the glossary, but their value and importance is not recognised.  Those using the NPPF to interpret national policy for local plans and decisions are therefore unlikely to appreciate the significance of Local Wildlife Sites, leaving them extremely vulnerable.

3. Local Wildlife Sites in Making Space for Nature: A review of England’s Wildlife Sites and Ecological Network

Making Space for Nature, the recent independent review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological network, led by Professor Sir John Lawton, recommended that:

Planning policy and practice should:
continue to provide the strongest protection to internationally important sites and strong protection from inappropriate development to SSSIs.
provide greater protection to other priority habitats and features that form part of ecological networks, particularly Local Wildlife Sites, ancient woodland and other priority BAP habitats.

4. The Natural Environment White Paper
The Government’s White Paper, published in June 2011, emphasises the intrinsic, economic and social value of the natural environment.  It also endorses the need for a landscape-scale approach to securing nature’s recovery.

The Wildlife Trusts (TWT) wildlifetrusts.org
There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK and the Isle of Man and Alderney.  All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone.  We have more than 800,000 members including 150,000 members of our junior branch Wildlife Watch.  Our vision is to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas.  We manage around 2,300 nature reserves and every year we advise thousands of landowners and organisations on how to manage their land for wildlife.  Last year we reviewed more than 70,000 planning applications.  We also run marine conservation projects around the UK, collecting vital data on the state of our seas and celebrating our amazing marine wildlife.  Every year we work with thousands of schools and our nature reserves and visitor centres receive millions of visitors.  Each Wildlife Trust is working within its local communities to inspire people about the future of their area: their own Living Landscapes and Living Seas.