Last week I attended a stakeholder consultation group for the development of the new England Biodiversity Strategy http://www.ukbap.org.uk/EBG/england_biodiversity_strategy.asp. The new EBS is due to be published in April and this was a chance for a small group of stakeholders-people form conservation NGOS, farming and countryside groups and professional ecologists-to offer their views on parts of the strategy development. The old UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) expired in 2010 under the cloud of failure having met hardly any of its targets. But the UK wasn’t alone in this: across the globe signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity have resoundly failed to meet 2010 targets for conservation http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10092320  With 2010, the old UK BAP has come to an end and individual countries are busy forming new strategies for the conservation of biodiversity. Working for a conservation NGO, I have been involved in a key component of the old strategy, the Biodiversity Action Plans (http://www.ukbap.org.uk/) which set targets for 1150 species and 65 habitats of conservation concern. Working with hedgerows and dormice I have been lucky enough to sit on the steering groups for the Hedgerows Habitat Action Plan (HAP) (http://www.jncc.gov.uk/_ukbap/UKBAP_BAPHabitats-17-Hedgerows.doc) and the hazel dormice species action plan (SAP) (http://www.ukbap.org.uk/UKPrioritySpecies.aspx). The dormice SAP had 3 major targets to maintain current populations of dormice, to increase suitability of habitat where it exists, and to reintroduce dormice to counties where they once were found. We know now that HAPS and SAPS and the steering groups that guide them are no longer part of the ongoing biodiversity strategy, although DEFRA are keen to harness the technical expertise found in these groups. Currently we don’t know how that will work though.

A new strategy for England is now being designed based on the global vision and mission statements from the new Convention on Biological Diversity Strategic Plan http://www.cbd.int/ signed at Ngoya last year. The vision of this Strategic Plan is a world of “Living in harmony with nature” where “By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.” The mission of the Strategic Plan is to “take effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity in order to ensure that by 2020 ecosystems are resilient and continue to provide essential services, thereby securing the planet’s variety of life, and contributing to human well-being, and poverty eradication. To ensure this, pressures on biodiversity are reduced, ecosystems are restored, biological resources are sustainably used and benefits arising out of utilization of genetic resources are shared in a fair and equitable manner; adequate financial resources are provided, capacities are enhanced, biodiversity issues and values mainstreamed, appropriate policies are effectively implemented, and decision-making is based on sound science and the precautionary approach.” Pasted from Due out in April the new EBG will follow after the governments White Paper on the Natural Environment http://ww2.defra.gov.uk/environment/natural/whitepaper/ .

Importantly the new strategy seems to be driven at its heart by Professor John Lawtons report Making Space for Nature. http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/biodiversity/documents/201009space-for-nature.pdf  As an ecologist I thoroughly support the findings of the Lawton Review which has an overarching aim to see that ” Compared to the situation in 2000, biodiversity is enhanced and the diversity, functioning and resilience of ecosystems re-established in a network of spaces for nature that can sustain these levels into the future, even given continuing environmental change and human pressures.”

Lawton recommends this be underpinned by three objectives: (1) To restore species and habitats appropriate to England’s physical and geographical context to levels that are sustainable in a changing climate, and enhanced in comparison with those in 2000. (2) To restore and secure the long-term sustainability of the ecological and physical processes that underpin the way ecosystems work, thereby enhancing the capacity of our natural environment to provide ecosystem services such as clean water, climate regulation and crop pollination, as well as providing habitats for wildlife. (3) To provide accessible natural environments rich in wildlife for people to enjoy and experience.

The mechanism for bringing this vision to life will be based on the governments localism agenda, The Big Society http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/resources/building-big-society_0.pdf  As we know, the coalition government are determined to make governments touch on society as light as possible, so it seems setting targets at a national level which was at the heart of the old UKBAP will be avoided as much as possible in the new strategy. There is a determination to put people back at the heart of conservation, and allow targets and priorities to be set locally. At the workshop there was a general consensus that the 2010 agenda had failed because unlike climate change, biodiversity conservation is still a background issue. To achieve greater gains for conservation, the issue needs to become mainstream, by putting it at the heart of every government department but perhaps even more importantly making people aware of the costs and benefits for wildlife in everyday choices.

I applaud any resources put towards mainstreaming biodiversity issues but many people at the workshop were still worried about getting over concepts- what for instance does biodiversity really mean to most people and how do you highlight the fact that consumer choices might impact on something like the coherence of ecological networks when even professionals disagree on what the term might mean. For what its worth my opinion is that good lines of communication need to be open between DEFRA’s strategic plan for biodiversity conservation and implementation at the local level. Its not enough to set a vision and leave a completely free reign in interpretation and delivery. People need support in understanding the sometimes complex pathways that lead to conservation decision making. It can be seen by the recent 38 Degrees petition http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/save-our-forests and Save our Woodlands http://saveourwoods.co.uk/ how much we love trees in this country and I can imagine that driven by a local agenda without proper support and education and where no national targets exist, that habitats like heathland will disappear because no-one really likes to see trees cut down. People need to make choices that are pro-biodiversity and to do that they need to be well informed about how their choices effect diversity. The agenda for valuing ecosystem services (see http://www.teebweb.org/ ) will have a profound effect on how we view the natural world because in the end it may cost us more. But on the other hand, if people recognise the value of biodiversity, then it may mean it becomes a commodity invested in at the local level. Perhaps doctors, in charge of their own budgets, might invest in parks, green spaces because of the proven benefits to health (mental and physical) of an environment enriched by wildlife. Wildlife will keep hospital waiting lists down.

BUT I would argue that their needs to be a strategic plan for the delivery of biodiversity in the UK that sets out the evidence baseline and works out a roadmap to a more ecologically coherent landscape. How this is achieved should be in the hands of local people, but not solely left up to local people. Their needs to be good lines of communication from the EBS delivery team with a delivery organisation informed by the best scientific research . Lets not forget that we know how to manage biodiversity because of evidence based conservation research building our knowledge of ecological principles and how to apply this for sustainable outcomes, although much more work needs to be done on this. Research needs to be disseminated to practitioners at a local level, who then translate it into locally appropriate strategies. And there also needs to be a feedback loop from the local level back to research and policy. Monitoring needs to be in place to tell us what works and what doesn’t. There is no point in implementing measures at any level without monitoring to evaluate the outcomes. Writing a national biodiversity strategy and then handing it over for interpretation with no support or guidance would be wrong.

So there are new challenges ahead and we need to make sure the coalition governments agenda for localism is tempered with well thought through evidence based mechanisms for the conservation of biodiversity at all scales from the global to the local

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