In Safe Hands
Norfolk Wildlife Services
The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (NERC Act) is the legislation that brought about Natural England, the new integrated body for the countryside, wildlife and communities. The Act is also important for strengthening the UK commitment to conserving biological diversity. It extends the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) to include local authorities, local planning authorities, and parish councils, as well as National Park authorities.
The UK commitment to conserving biological diversity arises from a key document signed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, known as the Convention on Biological Diversity. This landmark treaty calls for international parties to conserve species and ecosystems, promote sustainable use of biological resource and share the benefits of genetic resources. The Convention has a current target to halt loss of biodiversity by 2010.
The UK response to the Convention was to publish the UK Biodiversity Action Plan in 1994. This identifies priorities for species and habitats urgently requiring conservation action, and outlines actions to be taken.
Achieving these actions requires the involvement of a wide range of organisations, from national government to local groups as well as the private and voluntary sectors. There have been some real successes, such as the increase in bittern males from just 11 in 1997 to over 50 in 2004 by expansion and improved management of reedbed habitat. However, much remains to be done.
A recent revision of the Biodiversity Action Plan say the addition of over 500 species and 20 habitats as priorities for conservation action. Those BAPs of particular interest in Norfolk are ponds, traditional orchards and a new focus for hedgerows, as well as the inclusion of all British reptile species, the Broadland speciality dragonfly – the Norfolk hawker and Breckland plant rarities fingered and spring speedwells.
The NERC Act requires that, in determining planning applications, the local planning authority must have regard to Biodiversity Action Plans and assess the impact of a development on relevant habitats and species. Assessment can range from a baseline survey to determine presence/absence of priority habitats and species on a site, through to a fully documented Ecological Impact Assessment. By taking account of priority species and habitats in determining planning applications, there is now greater protection, but also opportunities for enhancement, hereby making a contribution to the achievement of biodiversity action plan targets.
For further BAP information see www.ukbap.org.uk and for local action plans www.norfolkbiodiversity.org