The Wildlife Trusts voice exasperation at George Osborne's Autumn budget statement which includes plans to review the rules which protect some of the most important wildlife sites in England.
“It seems that the Chancellor is not content with the massive shake-up of the planning system that is already under way, and which initially failed to recognise Local Wildlife Sites . Now sites and species of European importance face an uncertain future in England. When will the Government recognise that our natural resources are finite?” asked The Wildlife Trusts’ Chief Executive Stephanie Hilborne OBE.
The Government’s own National Ecosystem Assessment  and Natural Environment White Paper , both published in June this year, promised us much more than this. They were to herald a step change in nature’s fortunes. And Special Areas of Conservation (SACs ) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs ) are a key part of the foundation upon which nature’s recovery across England will depend. Yet taking England’s much depleted wildlife into a more positive future is clearly far from the Chancellor’s agenda.
“To go down in history as the Government that kick-started nature’s recovery means maintaining the long fought for protection for England’s richest wildlife sites ” Stephanie continues.
Chief Executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Brendan Joyce commented: “The Wildlife Trusts, Norfolk included, are well known for taking a pragmatic and constructive stance in its dealings with developers and local authorities on the ground and with the national Government. Now we have lost patience with the Treasury. The wrong outcome from this review risks driving a wedge between developers and conservationists at time when we ought to be co-operating more than ever.
“At a time of recession we should look to the long-term. The coalition Government during the Second World War placed nature at the centre of post-war reconstruction.
“We understand the need to find ways of kick-starting the economy, which is an international problem, and to create new jobs. But it seems all the lessons of past environmental damage have been thrown out in favour of short term thinking. We are not anti-development, but we are against destroying hard won protection for what little remains of our wildlife heritage. The HABITATS DIRECTIVE has for example been vital for many of Norfolk’s most treasured nature reserves and wildlife sites, which cannot simply be moved or recreated elsewhere. This could be disastrous in the long term for wildlife and habitats that are already under pressure.”
Special Areas of Conservation were established under the EU HABITATS DIRECTIVE and Special Protection Areas established under the EU Birds Directive. Such sites are the very foundation of environmental protection on land and at sea in England. They are key to our quality of life and to the future of iconic places  in a densely populated country like our own.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape, added: “We are deeply concerned that Government is considering reviewing the implementation of both the EU Birds and HABITATS DIRECTIVEs in England, in an attempt to ease the way for major developments on land and on our coasts.”
The chairs and chief executives of the 47 Wildlife Trusts met last week and heard from the New Economics Foundation about the urgent need for a fundamentally different economic model that takes into account that our natural resources are being rapidly depleted. Only such a dramatic shift will secure a society that can thrive whilst addressing climate change and reversing the loss of biodiversity.
Brendan Joyce concluded: “Economic growth should not be achieved at the cost of our natural life support systems.”
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).
2 The UK National Ecosystem Assessment states: “The natural world, its biodiversity and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to our well-being and economic prosperity, but are consistently undervalued in conventional economic analyses and decision-making.”
3 The Natural Environment White Paper (chapter three paragraph 3.6) states “The Government is committed to putting the value of natural capital at the heart of our economic thinking.”
4 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)
SACs are areas which have been given special protection under the European Union’s Habitats Directive. They provide increased protection to a variety of wild animals, plants and habitats and are a vital part of global efforts to conserve the world’s biodiversity. Find out more about them on http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/designatedareas/sac/default.aspx
5 Special Protection Areas (SPAs)
SPAs are areas which have been identified as being of international importance for the breeding, feeding, wintering or the migration of rare and vulnerable species of birds found within European Union countries. They are European designated sites, classified under the ‘Birds Directive 1979’ which provides enhanced protection given by the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status all SPAs also hold. Find out more about them on http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/conservation/designatedareas/spa/default.aspx
6 The campaign to protect nature’s wildlife sites began in 1912 with Charles Rothschild.
7 Sites with European protection include key forests like Epping (Essex), Ashdown (Sussex), the Chiltern Beechwoods (Bucks, Oxon etc) and the New Forest (Hants). Other much-loved areas include Cannock Chase (Staffs), Rutland Water, the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, North Pennine Dales and Moors, and the Stiperstones (Shrops). Coastal and marine sites include Flamborough Head (Yorks), Dawlish Warren (Devon), Tintagel-Marsland-Clovelly coast (Cornwall), the Farne Islands (Northumberland), Chesil Beach, Lyme Bay and Lizard Point in the South West, and Morecombe Bay (Lancs). Famous rivers benefiting from protection include the Tweed (Northumberland borders), and the Itchen (Hants).