Wildlife Trusts want greater protection for Local Wildlife Sites
“Local Wildlife Sites are the Cinderella of the natural environment,” says Trust Director
Dec 23rd 2014
The Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB have drawn up proposals for a ‘Nature and Wellbeing Act’ which they want the next government to bring to parliament. This follows a series of assessments of England’s Local Wildlife Sites which the Wildlife Trusts carry out every three years. The latest assessment was published yesterday (December 22nd). According to the report, a site survey found that 11% of the 6,590 Local Wildlife Sites monitored were reported as lost or damaged by development or neglect in the five years between 2009 and 2013. The report says that the figure of 717 sites reported as lost or damaged could just be the tip of the iceberg as lack of resources mean that only 15% of England’s 42,865 Local Wildlife Sites have been checked within the last five years.
The Director of the Wildlife Trusts for England, Stephen Trotter, said that if this trend is allowed to continue, more of the nation’s most valuable and treasured wildlife places will be lost forever. “There is a real and pressing need for Local Wildlife Sites – one of England’s largest natural assets – to receive the recognition of their true value to society. In some counties they are the best places for wildlife but they continue to slip through our fingers like sand. Local Wildlife Sites are the Cinderella of the natural environment,” he said.
Local Wildlife Sites are selected for designation as such by Local Wildlife Site partnerships, which comprise local authorities, conservation bodies, local record centres, ecologists and local nature experts. Each partnership is responsible for surveying, assessing and selecting sites using scientifically determined criteria and detailed ecological surveys of the area. The Wildlife Trusts say that “together with statutory protected areas, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Local Wildlife Sites support locally, and often nationally, threatened species and habitats. Although recognised within the planning system, Local Wildlife Sites are not protected by law.”
Most Local Wildlife Sites are in private ownership and the Wildlife Trusts say it is ultimately the landowners and farmers, often with the support of nature conservationists, who secure their ongoing existence “through sensitive habitat management and sheer commitment.” Once sites are selected, partners can advise landowners on grants and land management. They should also periodically monitor the sites to assess their status and the effectiveness of the advice given.
According to the report, however, most sites are not visited on a regular basis due to lack of resources. The survey also found that site management in some cases was inappropriate, inadequate or non-existent, and the danger is that deterioration and loss of species can lead to Local Wildlife Sites being ‘deselected’ and losing their protection and status within the planning system.
45 of the 48 partnerships in the 2014 survey said they urgently needed more resources “to ensure the effective identification, management and protection of Local Wildlife Sites in their area and to combat the causes of neglect, inappropriate management and development pressures that threaten these sites.” Changes to farm environment schemes, which have reduced incentives for owners to gain support for Local Wildlife Site management, also threaten the management of publicly-owned Local Wildlife Sites, says the report.
The report calls for greater recognition and protection for Local Wildlife Sites and argues that local authorities should incorporate ecological networks into their local plans. It also calls for better support for volunteers and targeted funding to improve site management, through Countryside Stewardship and other schemes.
For further information on the report, see “Local Wildlife Sites 2014”.
For further information on the Nature and Wellbeing Act proposals, see “Nature and Wellbeing Act”.
Photograph: House Sparrow by gardenbirdwatching.com. Licensed under Creative Commons. The House Sparrow has an RSPB red status, meaning it has the highest conservation priority and needs urgent action. The RSPB says that monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, recently estimated as dropping by 71% between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations.