Nature Improvement Areas show promising start

Wednesday 27th February 2013

Northern Devon NIA cpt Pete BirgessNorthern Devon NIA cpt Pete Burgess

On the first anniversary of 12 ambitious schemes to restore important habitats in England being unveiled, The Wildlife Trusts are calling again for greater urgency in rolling out the concept across the country.

The 12 Nature Improvement Areas are large-scale partnership projects which aim to put wildlife-rich areas, such as wetlands and woodlands, back on the map. 

These schemes will contribute towards a more joined-up ecological network in England[1].  This network will help to improve the health of the natural environment, support food production, address habitat fragmentation, improve water quality, help with flood risk management, stimulate the local economy and prevent species loss.

Local partnerships are now poised to identify further NIAs, but need more than just fine words from Government if this is to happen

The 12 areas, from northern Devon up to the Humberhead Levels in Lincolnshire, were chosen following a competition which received more than 70 applications.  All were based on the recommendations of local people and aim to create a step-change in the recovery of the natural environment to benefit people, the local economy and wildlife.

The Wildlife Trusts strongly urge the Government to support local authorities and Local Nature Partnerships to identify local ecological networks, including NIAs, wherever they need to be across England.

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

“These 12 Nature Improvement Areas should just be the start.  Local partnerships are now poised to identify further NIAs, but need more than just fine words from Government if this is to happen.

“These 12 schemes have made good progress in their first year.  All are demonstrating that partnership working is the best way to help restore nature on a large scale.  However, if we are ever to rebuild a national ecological network in England we need many more NIAs to be rolled out across the country, and not just be restricted to these 12 areas.

“The large number of applications for the competition demonstrated a real appetite for putting nature back after decades of decline.  The Government should recognise this enthusiasm by actively supporting local partnerships to roll out the concept, building links to Local Enterprise Partnerships and securing resources to make a major difference on the ground.

“We now know much more about the true value of nature, and how it underpins human well-being and the economy,.  We need to act urgently to ensure that, over the next few years, we see serious signs of nature’s recovery.  NIAs must play a critical part in making this happen.”

As an organisation, The Wildlife Trusts has long known 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 more than 100 Living Landscape schemes around the UK.  As a result, The Wildlife Trusts will continue to work with farmers, landowners, local authorities and other partners to develop these ideas and look to Government to reaffirm its commitment to driving forward this policy.

The 12 Nature Improvement Areas:
1Birmingham and the Black Country Living Landscape
Dark Peak
Dearne Valley Green Heart
Greater Thames Marshes
1Humberhead Levels
Marlborough Downs
1Meres and Mosses of the Marches
Morecambe Bay Limestones and Wetlands
1Nene Valley
1Northern Devon
South Downs Way Ahead
Wild Purbeck

Nature Improvement Areas (NIA)

The Natural Environment White Paper made a commitment to establish Nature Improvement Areas.   This was based on TWT’s idea of Ecological Restoration Zones, included in the report Making Space for Nature.   This was very clear about the role of ERZ in contributing to the ecological network: “Establishing a coherent and resilient ecological network requires careful planning to ensure the contributions made by existing network components are maximised and new components, such as planned restoration areas, corridors and buffers, are in effective places, thereby ensuring we use precious resources and land in the most efficient ways.”

NIAs 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

The Government adopted the idea of starting with 12 pilot areas and Defra allocated £7.5 million to support them over three years.  A panel short-listed more than 70 applications to 15.  The final 12 NIAs were announced on Mon 27 Feb 2012.

Tagged with: Living Landscapes