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Saturday 29th October 2011

Autumn stream cpt Steve WaterhouseAutumn stream cpt Steve Waterhouse

Nature Improvement Areas should be included in the new planning system and identified all over England, not just in 12 places, according to The Wildlife Trusts.

Of a shortlist of 20, announced this week, 12 Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) will receive funding from Defra.  The Wildlife Trusts believe that, as proposed in the recent Natural Environment White Paper, local authorities should identify NIAs in their Local Plans, as part of local ecological networks and plans for sustainable development in their area.  However, they are currently not included in the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and so this is important opportunity to make a step-change in action for the natural environment could be missed.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said:

There’s no doubt the creation of Nature Improvement Areas will help nature’s recovery.  However, we are concerned that the huge appetite for change, already demonstrated by more than 70 local partnership applications, and which we believe to be the tip of the iceberg, may be suppressed by the narrow focus on just 12 areas.

“If NIAs are included in the draft National Planning Policy Framework, planning authorities would be encouraged to take a more strategic and integrated approach to the natural environment.  Its restoration must take place across a much larger area than is currently proposed and with greater urgency.”

The Wildlife Trusts have long held that a partnership-led, landscape-scale approach to conservation is the only way to secure nature’s recovery.  It is being practiced and championed through 112 Living Landscape schemes around the UK.

Following the publication of the Natural Environment White Paper in June, Natural England established a competition to identify 12 pilot Nature Improvement Areas, where restoring the environment would have a priority.  Nature Improvement Areas will be in rural and urban England; bigger, better and more joined up areas of habitat to help wildlife populations thrive.  More than £7.5m has been allocated towards their set-up and enhancement.

Notes for editors:

Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs)
NIAs should contain all the components set out for an ecological network in the Making Space for Nature report (September 2010). They should enhance the ecological network by undertaking the following actions:
• Improving the management of existing wildlife sites
• Increasing the size of existing wildlife sites
• Increasing the number of wildlife sites
• Improving connectivity between sites
• Creating wildlife corridors

NIAs provide a key mechanism for restoring the natural environment across administrative boundaries to benefit people and wildlife. They could facilitate the local integration of a range of delivery mechanisms, policies and funding which affect the way land is used and managed. NIAs can help solve issues such as habitat fragmentation, water quality, flood risk management and species loss.

NIAs and the planning system
The Wildlife Trusts believe the NPPF must provide explicit guidance to planning authorities on taking a more strategic and integrated approach to the natural environment. It proposes the draft NPPF be amended to include the following:

‘Planning policies should:
‘Identify, map and safeguard components of local ecological networks, including: core areas (international, national and local sites of importance for biodiversity); buffers; features of the landscape that may act as corridors or stepping stones; and opportunities (including Nature Improvement Areas) for restoring the wildlife value of land and the recovery of priority species.’

The Wildlife Trusts (TWT)
There are 37 individual Wildlife Trusts in England. All are actively engaged in the planning system, promoting opportunities to promote the natural environment and reviewing more than 70,000 planning applications last year. The Wildlife Trusts have more than 740,000 members in England.

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. 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.