Why we need new maps of important local wildlife spaces to protect nature

hedgehog.pngThis post is by Stephanie Hilborne OBE, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts

Most people agree that wildlife and wild places are valuable for their own sake. We now know from research across the globe that a healthy, wildlife-rich natural world is essential for our wellbeing and prosperity. But wildlife has been getting less and less common, on land and at sea, for decades. Wild places are more scarce, smaller and more isolated. There is less nature and greenery in the places where we live and work. And not everyone has equal access to nature or the benefits it brings.

Responding to that challenge, Towards a wilder Britain – creating a Nature Recovery Network is a new report published by The Wildlife Trusts that shows how a Nature Recovery Network could help bring wildlife back across our towns and countryside.

Better access to nature is good for everyone
The network would be created by mapping existing important places for wildlife to be protected, as well as key areas where habitats should be restored to create a more joined up landscape for wildlife. This would also help to create greener places for people to live and work and deliver benefits to society. The report explains why The Wildlife Trusts believe new laws are needed – an Environment Act – to help put this in place.

These are critical times for our environment with decisions imminent on both the future of agriculture and land use planning in England. With these two key government consultations live, decisions taken now will have a profound impact on the future of wildlife. If we get it right these two policies could work together to set nature on the path to recovery and help more people draw health benefits through better access to nature. This can be achieved if both are working towards the same ecological plan – the building of a Nature Recovery Network – mapped out locally, but joining up to a bigger picture.

Local authority maps would be a foundation for future policy
We propose that local authorities could be required by law to produce these maps which, by drawing on the best available ecological information, would identify priority areas for nature restoration in their locality. By working at the local level, the creation of space for nature could be integrated with other areas of government, like healthcare and land use planning. A locally driven nature mapping process could be at the foundation of future farming and planning policy, guiding habitat creation by farmers and housing developers to ensure it achieves government targets for wildlife’s recovery.

It’s more important than ever to keep our sights on a future richer in wildlife and to put forward ideas for how we can get there. Unfortunately, we are still fighting a rearguard action to retain the wildlife sites we have saved so far. In the draft National Planning Policy Framework, currently being consulted on by the government, protection for Local Wildlife Sites – vital havens for wildlife that are supposed to be recognised in planning policy – has been dropped. This means that 42,000 special wildlife sites are more vulnerable to development than before. Local Wildlife Sites are a core wildlife resource for our country and the heart of our future Nature Recovery Network.

You can support our campaign to reinstate them to national planning guidance here: www.wildlifetrusts.org/unprotectedsites

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