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Headlines from Week Beginning 19 March 2012

 

A round up of the top stories as chosen by the CJS Team.

 

Monday 19 March

What will Wednesday's budget hold for wildlife and the countryside?

The first pre-budget statements:

Chancellor, a healthy economy needs a healthy environment - RSPB

The following statement is issued jointly by Avon Wildlife Trust, Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, Somerset Wildlife Trust, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Devon Wildlife Trust, and the RSPB

Wildlife charities with a combined membership of over a quarter of a million people in the south west have today called on the Chancellor, George Osborne MP, to put the region’s rich and iconic nature at the heart of economic development in the run up to what could be one of the most important budgets for the environment in decades.  

In his Autumn Statement 2011, the Chancellor George Osborne announced a review of the way that two important pieces of European wildlife law are put into practice in England.  A weakening of these laws could see such iconic landscapes as Salisbury Plain, the Lizard, Dartmoor, the Severn Estuary and Poole Harbour, and the rich wildlife they support, at risk from inappropriate development. 

The Habitats and Birds Directives have provided valuable protection for Europe's most threatened habitats and species for over 30 years; they are arguably the two most important mechanisms for embedding the value of nature in decision-making.  

 

And from the Wildlife Trusts: Society has spoken out repeatedly against policies that put short-term profit ahead of our countryside and wildlife, eroding our natural capital and quality of life. The budget next week (21 March 2012) will show whether the Government has chosen to listen.

It will test whether the Government is still at odds with itself as it was in the pre budget statement. We are unclear which side of its personality it will express.
On the one hand its Natural Environment White Paper (June 2011) states that it “wants this to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited”, a statement which we wholeheartedly support. This point is further reinforced by the National Ecosystem Assessment, (also June 2011), which states that “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.”

These economic benefits include supporting the natural processes we rely on, such as flood management, cleaning our water, storing carbon and regenerating urban areas. Management of sites provides jobs, and the tourists they attract can boost local economies. Further benefits to people include recreational opportunities, with studies consistently showing access to nature improves health and wellbeing.
On the other hand Government is pressing forward with new road building and priming the scene for more development with less planning control and even fewer environmental regulations, all in the name of growth. Comments made in the Autumn Statement on the Habitats Regulations, the ‘red-tape challenge’ and the ill-conceived planning reforms, show an out-of-date approach casting regulation and the environment as enemies to growth.

Since the Chancellor suggested ‘gold plating’ of European Regulations is hindering development, we have had to devote considerable charitable resources to participating in the review of the implementation of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives. 

 

People’s views sought on future governance of national parks  - Peak District National Park

The Government is proposing changes to the way national park authorities are governed in order to increase local accountability – and it wants to hear people’s views.

At present, the Peak District National Park Authority is governed by 30 members, 16 of whom are councillors appointed by all the local authorities within the national park. Six are parish councillors elected by their peers but officially appointed by the Secretary of State, and eight are appointed directly by the Secretary of State for their specialist knowledge of national park issues.

The proposals from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) would involve changes in the law to: 

  • make it possible for national park authorities to include some directly elected members
  • remove the need for the Secretary of State to appoint the parish members
  • relax the political balance requirement on local authorities when appointing their members to a national park authority
  • make it possible to allow parishes in subsequently specified national parks to choose non-councillors for their seats
  • apply a maximum length of service for members of eight years.

Peak District National Park Authority chief executive Jim Dixon said: “These would be important changes in the way decisions are made about the national park and I hope as many local people as possible will take advantage of the consultation to give their views.”

 

Read more on the defra site here: Changes to National Park governance

Consultation start: 8 March 2012 and end: 31 May 2012

The Government’s commitment to “…review the governance arrangements of National Parks in order to increase local accountability” was honoured by a public consultation which closed on 1 February 2011. The outcome of the review was a wide range of improvements in the way that National Park authorities operate.

This consultation invites views on the proposed amendment of primary legislation, through use of a Public Bodies Act Order, to implement five specific changes.

 

Fish, birds, water voles and newts could all face damaging drought impacts – says Environment Agency.

The traditional summer scene of dragonflies skimming over a glistening stream could be a rare sight in parts of England this year as the widespread drought begins to take its toll on the nation’s wildlife. Dragonflies, warns the Environment Agency, are just one of the species that will be severely affected if the drought continues - along with water voles, great crested newts, and wading birds such as curlews and lapwings.

The Environment Agency will this week announce new measures to help protect nationally important wildlife sites. They will help wetland managers to maintain water levels in nationally important wetland sites during drought while protecting other licence holders. They include provisions to extend the licence season, make use of unused licensed water, or allowing higher pumping rates to capture water during any rainfall periods that occur.

Some parts of the country have seen the driest 18 months since records began, and in drought affected areas it is likely that some streams, ponds and shallow lakes will be completely dry before aquatic insects like dragonflies are fully formed, and the insects will consequently perish. Newly hatched tadpoles from toads and frogs, as well as from protected great crested newts, face a similar fate. 

Birds will also suffer as suitable wetland breeding sites for wading birds dry up. Waders such as Snipe, Redshank, Lapwing, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit all need moist soils to probe with their long bills to extract food such as worms to feed themselves and their young. These species have declined rapidly in much of England in recent decades and this spring drought could be the final straw in some of the smaller breeding sites.
The Environment Agency has already seen a number of fish deaths this year caused by dry weather, and is stepping up river monitoring and increasing its supplies of water aeration and fish rescue equipment in order to respond quickly to reports of distressed fish.

 

Woodland Carbon Code is a million-tonne winner - Forestry Commission

Efforts to boost British forests’ contribution to tackling climate change reached a key milestone this week. The amount of carbon dioxide predicted to be removed from the atmosphere by woodland planting projects registered under the new Woodland Carbon Code has passed 1 million tonnes.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most common of the greenhouse gases causing the atmospheric warming that is changing the Earth’s climate. Growing trees sequester, or remove, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and this has encouraged increasing numbers of people and organisations to seek opportunities to plant trees as a contribution to tackling climate change.

This demand has stimulated a commercial interest in promoting ‘carbon forestry’ projects, and the Woodland Carbon Code is a set of standards to ensure that such projects really do deliver the carbon benefits that their promoters claim.

 

Woodland Trust halfway to creating England's largest new native forest

Saturday 17 March saw the 300,000th tree planted at the Woodland Trust's Heartwood Forest in Hertfordshire. Several hundred volunteers turned up to mark the halfway point of the tree planting programme at what will become England's largest new native woodland, covering over 850 acres.

Every single tree being planted on site is being done so by a volunteer, with over 25,000 people having already helped out during the course of the last two and a half years since planting began. Volunteers have included local people, companies such as Disney Store UK, HRH Princess Beatrice and the Woodland Trust President Clive Anderson.
Louise Neicho, site manager for Heartwood Forest said: "To plant 300,000 trees is a phenomenal achievement, even more so when all of them are being planted by volunteers. To be a part of creating such a huge woodland which will hopefully be around for centuries to come is something everyone can feel proud of. The Woodland Trust's aim is to double native woodland cover across the UK and projects such as this highlight the scale of what we can achieve with public support."
Clive Anderson, Woodland Trust President added: "I have visited Heartwood Forest on several occasions and planted trees myself there in the company of a wide range of community groups and enthusiasts. So I have witnessed the transformation that is taking place on Heartwood’s many acres. A project of this stature shows the scale of the Woodland Trust's ambition and achievement."

  

Tuesday 20 March

Environment protected and business boosted by cutting unnecessary red tape - defra

Environmental regulations will be made simpler and more effective while remaining as strong as ever following a review of red tape, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced today.

Simpler and smarter environment regulations will provide savings to businesses of more than £1billion over five years and protect the environment by being cheaper and easier for companies to follow while enforcement will be targeted at companies that are not abiding by the rules.

Announcing the results of the Government’s Red Tape Challenge environment theme, Mrs Spelman said: “I want to be very clear that this is not about rolling back environmental safeguards, nor is it just about cutting regulation to stimulate growth. We’ve always said that we were going to keep the vitally important protection our environment needs. This was about getting better rules, not weaker ones. The results of the Red Tape Challenge will be good for the environment and good for business, because as well as upholding environmental protection we will remove unnecessary bureaucracy to allow businesses to free up resources to invest in growth. We’re making it easier for people to do the right thing, by making rules clearer and by getting rid of old, unworkable regulations. This is a prime example of how we can help grow a green economy whilst looking after our natural resources.”

Download the proposal document here (pdf). 

 

Or look at the Environment landing page on the Red Tape Challenge website.  Submit your comments here.

 

The Biodiversity, wildlife management, landscape, countryside and recreation specific section

These regulations aim to conserve vulnerable or rare species, habitats and wildlife sites. They also control access to footpaths and national parks.

They include provisions on fishing activities; invasive non-native species; protection of native species; traps; trade in endangered species; zoo licensing; dangerous wild animals; game; selling dead wild birds; registering and ringing captive birds; wildfowling restrictions; national park authorities; common land; rights of way; areas of outstanding beauty; and pest control.

You can find all 163 regulations that relate to biodiversity, wildlife management, landscape, countryside and recreation via this page.

 

Reaction: Govt red tape slashing is an attack on the countryside - Ramblers warn

Today’s (19 March) government announcement to cut environmental ‘red tape’ is another attack on the countryside and people’s ability to access and enjoy it – says Ramblers.

The Ramblers fears that today’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’ announcement will mean that people will be charged for trying to open up footpaths for the public to enjoy, make it easier for people to build on, fence off or dig up common land and dampen the dream of an English coastal path.

The government is scrapping or simplifying a swathe of environmental regulations under the banner of cutting ‘red tape’ – including laws designed to protect the countryside. By introducing costs for people who wish to open up a footpath, the government will prohibit normal people from being able to protect access to the countryside and the places they love to walk. Proposals to ‘deregulate’ the works allowed on common land would put more than 400,000 hectares¹ of English countryside at risk, including some of our most treasured communal green spaces such as Mitcham Common, Cambridge’s Midsummer Common and commons in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Ramblers is hugely concerned that today’s announcement, coupled with the proposed changes in planning laws, shifts the balance from protecting the countryside to one in favour of development. At a time when the public has shown it’s appreciation of our green and pleasant land, today’s announcement threatens the very nature of the English countryside. 

 

Slashing of environment 'red tape' is far from over

Damian Carrington's blog on The Guardian: Almost three-quarters of green regulation is affected by the cuts confirmed on Monday, but work is underway on a further 'significant rationalisation of guidance'

 

Review of the Scientific Evidence base for the Eradication of Bovine TB in Wales - Welsh Government

Environment Minister John Griffiths has announced a new Strategic Framework for Bovine TB Eradication covering the next 4 years. This includes a project to vaccinate badgers as part of its work to eradicate bovine TB from cattle in Wales. 

Extract from the Minister's statement:

 The report of the review of the evidence base regarding the eradication of bovine TB in Wales, together with a considerable amount of work led by my Chief Veterinary Officer, has led to this Strategic Framework for Bovine TB Eradication covering the next 4 years.

The Strategy acknowledges that in building on the cattle control and biosecurity measures; we must deal with all sources of bovine TB, including in wildlife, if we are going to achieve our goal of eradicating this debilitating disease within the Intensive Action Area and from Wales.

For this reason, I have considered a range of options including whether culling or vaccination of badgers is appropriate.

After careful consideration I have decided to pursue a badger vaccination project.

I have asked my Chief Veterinary Officer to design the project to begin in the Intensive Action Area this summer and continue for five years. I have also asked her to consider other geographical areas where vaccination could also contribute to TB eradication. My intention is that the projects are developed to ensure that the potential effect can be monitored with a view to assessing impact.

Full statement (pdf)

 

 

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust given green light by Heritage Lottery Fund for restoring Spurn Spurn lighthouse - Credit Les Stubbslighthouse

Spurn lighthouse - Credit Les Stubbs

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has received initial support* from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the Spurn’s Communities Along the Sand project, it was announced today.

The project aims to restore and open to the public the Grade II listed lighthouse, and conserve and interpret, for the visitor and the local community alike, the biodiversity and habitats of Spurn National Nature Reserve.
Development funding of £68,600 has also been awarded to help Yorkshire Wildlife Trust progress their plans to apply for a full grant at a later date.
The project will reveal the historic heritage of the National Nature Reserve and its close links to the Spurn, Kilnsea and Easington community.  A new Heritage Officer will be appointed this year for a 9 month period, who will set up workshops open to the public.  These will explore the sensitivity and richness of Spurn’s habitats and history, in the context of rising sea levels and a warming climate, and will show how the UK plans to mitigate the effects of climate change, with the help of renewable energy and the replacement of coal by natural gas, two very important local industries.

 

New disease threat to sweet chestnut trees found in orchards - Forestry Commission

The Forestry Commission and The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) are working to eradicate outbreaks  of a serious new disease affecting sweet chestnut trees in southern and central England.

Chestnut blight, caused by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica (C. parasitica), has been confirmed by Forestry Commission scientists in two small orchards of European sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) sourced from the same nursery in France. The sites in Warwickshire and East Sussex are the first findings in Britain, although the disease has spread throughout much of Europe since it was first discovered in Italy in the 1930s.

Dr John Morgan, Head of the Forestry Commission’s Plant Health Service, said,

“It is very disappointing to discover this disease has been introduced into these orchards in England. It represents a serious threat to our sweet chestnut woodlands, so we are taking steps to eradicate it before it spreads into woodland trees or other plantations.

 

Wednesday 22 March

First budget responses, more to follow:

Budget response: misguided planning rhetoric and a potential airport disaster - CPRE

Responding to today's Budget statement CPRE condemned the Chancellor's rhetoric on planning as misguided and dangerous. The group also expressed deep concerns about the Government’s transport strategy and the suggestion that it is going soft on airport expansion in the South East.
Planning: Adam Royle, spokesman for CPRE, says: “We heard yet more of the Chancellor's misguided and dangerous rhetoric on planning today. If the Government undermines sound planning, it will put sustainable economic growth at risk. Countries like Germany show that good economic performance and strong planning systems can go hand in hand.  We will have to wait until next Tuesday when the final planning framework is to be published to see if the voices of reason in Government will yet win out."

Transport: Ralph Smyth, Senior Transport Campaigner at CPRE, Says: “The Government seems to be attempting to disguise a major u-turn on South East airport expansion as an economic aside. After responding to public opinion by pulling the plug on a third runway at Heathrow, the Government needs to hold its nerve against the turbulence of vociferous lobbying of the aviation industry."

 

From the Press:

The Guardian: Budget 2012: green measures at a glance

George Osborne's budget was more positive on pro-environmental rhetoric, but critics call it a polluters' charter

 

BBC overview: Green Measures

Government to seek "major savings" in the administrative cost of the Carbon Reduction Commitment, and bring forward an alternative environment tax this autumn if such savings cannot be found. 

 

Other news today (yes, there really are things other than the Budget!)

Over £1.8million to be invested into conservation and celebration of special Staffordshire landscape - Staffordshire Wildlife Trust

Over £1.8million is to be invested into a project to conserve a spectacular landscape in the Staffordshire Moorlands and bring a host of long-term environmental, social and economic benefits.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is awarding the £1.89 million grant to the Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership (CVLLP), towards an ambitious £3 million programme to protect, enhance and celebrate an area of over 49,000 acres fringing the Peak District.

Over the last 18 months, the Partnership has produced a Landscape Conservation Action Plan for the area which consists of long-term aspirations for the environment and heritage, together with a four-year plan of community and practical projects.

The partnership will bring a fantastic range benefits such as better habitat for lapwings and brown hares through wildflower meadow creation. Woodland will be managed for the benefit of woodland birds, and the wood will be used to start up a local woodfuel economy. Bridges, and adjacent towpaths on the Uttoxeter Canal will be restored. Work to restore the platform and signal box at Leek Brook on the North Staffordshire Railway will also be a priority. The project will offer much-needed training opportunities such as rural apprenticeships for disadvantaged young people, diversification support for businesses and the establishment of a network of walking trails.

Guy Corbett-Marshall, chairman of CVLLP and chief executive of lead partner Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, said: “We are absolutely thrilled at this fantastic news. With its flower-rich farmland, plunging wooded valleys, wild rivers and fascinating industrial heritage, the Churnet Valley Living Landscape area is an extremely special part of Staffordshire and it should be protected and celebrated. 

 

Male hen harrier in flight, with preyHidden benefits of peatlands revealed by new inquiry - RSPB

The enormous importance of our peatlands for people and wildlife was revealed at Parliament Buildings today (20 March 2012) during the launch of the findings of the IUCN UK Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands.  

Peatlands are areas of land formed over thousands of years from carbon-rich dead and decaying plants in water-logged conditions. This ‘Cinderella’ habitat – overlooked and undervalued – covers less than 3% of the land surface of the Earth, but contains twice as much carbon as the world’s forests. Far from the hostile, barren wastelands that peatlands are often seen as, these stunning landscapes provide irreplaceable ecosystem services.  

Following an 18 month inquiry involving over 300 individuals and 50 organisations the findings present clear evidence of the importance of the UK’s peatlands as a huge carbon store locking up over 3 billion tonnes in the peat.  Peatlands are also found at the source of around 70% of the UK’s drinking water and they provide internationally important habitat for many rare and threatened animals and plants.  The great importance of peatlands as an historic archive is demonstrated in the discovery of Bronze aged preserved bodies and their unique record of past climate change. 

The Inquiry found that much of the UK’s peatlands have been damaged, largely due to the way they have been managed, and as a result a significant amount of carbon is leaking into the atmosphere.   

 

Further reactions to yesterday's announcement by the Welsh Government to cancel plans to cull badgers to try to control bTB

Badger cull in Wales shelved in favour of vaccination - RSPCA

Adult badger at night © Andrew Forsyth / RSPCA Photolibrary'We are absolutely delighted about this decision'  

We are delighted that the Welsh Government has decided not to proceed with plans put forward by the previous government for a badger cull in the Intensive Action Area and opted for a five-year vaccination programme instead.
The cull had been on hold since June after the Environment Minister announced that an independent Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) Science Review Panel would review the scientific evidence.
Whilst recognising that bovine TB is a very real issue in some areas, we support the conclusion of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) that 'badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain'. We believe that there are other measures that could be used to control bovine TB, including the vaccination programme chosen along with increased cattle control.

RSPCA head of communication, David Bowles, said: We are absolutely delighted about this decision.  We have long believed that a vaccination programme rather than a badger cull is the right step forward for controlling bovine TB in cattle both in Wales and in England, and only hope that the Westminster government is paying close attention to what is happening across the border."

 

Badger vaccination to take place in Wales - Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales

Image credit: Jon BowenImage credit: Jon Bowen

The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales welcomes today’s decision by Welsh Environment Minister John Griffiths to pursue vaccination of badgers in the control of bovine TB this summer.

This decision is supported by the long-term research from the Independent Scientific Group that identified the culling of badgers would not make a meaningful contribution in the management of bovine TB.

State funded vaccination of badgers is a progressive approach to disease control and will be a leading example to the rest of Britain on how this terrible disease can be eradicated.

Whilst appreciating that some farmers have been through an appalling experience, The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales feels that vaccination of badgers alongside movement control and appropriate management will see the end of this awful disease.

One of the main reserves for the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, Teifi Marshes, was within the area identified for culling where there are buffalo on the reserve which are subject to TB testing. The Trust is keen to engage with the Welsh Government’s vaccination programme and will assist in the implementation of this.

 

Thursday 22 March

Top Story today:  The Government published the report in to the Review of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives

Government announces action to improve implementation of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives - defra

A new cross-Government unit is to be set up to help developers deliver large infrastructure projects that promote sustainable development by supporting growth and protecting our most valued habitats and species, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced today.

The new Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit is one of the key recommendations to emerge from a review into the way the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives are being applied in England.

There will also be new guidance published which will explain in much clearer terms what needs to be done to comply with the Directives. The new streamlined guidance will be easier for both developers and regulators to follow.

The Review focused on the processes within the Directives that most affect businesses. It made recommendations which will reduce the burden on business while maintaining, and where possible, enhancing the environmental benefits.

Commenting on the publication of the Review report, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: “I strongly support the aims of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, and I have said all along that I want them to continue to be effective in protecting important wildlife sites. Central to that is ensuring that we maintain their integrity, and the best way of doing that is to make it as simple as possible for people to comply with them. What the Review has shown us is that the Directives have been working well to provide the vital protection nature needs, but that there are cases where problems arise and delays occur, which is not good for business, the environment or local communities."

In brief: Findings of the Review

The Review found that in the large majority of cases the implementation of the Directives is working well, allowing both development of key infrastructure  and ensuring that a high level of environmental protection is maintained.

However, some cases do encounter delays, although the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives may only be one contributory factor.

From the evidence received and analysis undertaken, the Review identified four key areas where change will improve the implementation of the Directives for the benefit of both the economy and the environment:

Facilitating nationally significant infrastructure projects

Improving implementation processes and streamlining guidance

Improving the quality, quantity and sharing of data

Improving the customer experience

In the longer term, the Review commits to assessing how we can move towards a broader ecosystems approach; for example by examining its role in helping to make strategic choices about mitigation and compensation where a number of projects are impacting on the same area.

Read the full report (54 pages, make sure the coffee pot is full!) here

 

First reactions

Joan Edwards examines the outcome of the review of EU Habitats regulations. - Wildlife Trusts

Over the last few months The Wildlife Trusts have appreciated the openness of the Defra review of the Habitats regulations: we have been pleased to have had the opportunity to participate fully and constructively. We have devoted considerable resources to the process because we believe that full implementation of the Habitats and Birds Directives underpins nature conservation in England. Any weakening would jeopardise our ability to fulfil our country’s stated intention to halt overall biodiversity loss and be contrary to the thrust of the Natural Environment White Paper and England Biodiversity Strategy which emphasise the need for more coherent and resilient ecological networks.

During this review it became apparent that very few developments are actually prevented because of the regulations. But it must be understood that there are occasions when a European feature which is extremely rare and as delicate as Maerl, a calcified sea weed found in the Fal estuary, that development just cannot be allowed.
Joan Edwards is Head of Living Seas for The Wildlife Trusts

 

Osborne completely wrong on Habitats Regulations - WWF

Responding to the publication of the Habitats Regulations review by Defra today, WWF said that George Osborne was completely wrong to describe the regulations as a ‘burden on business’.

Carol Day, solicitor at WWF-UK, said: "In his Autumn Statement George Osborne issued an unjustified attack on the European laws protecting our most precious species and habitats. Not only were his claims that environmental regulations are a burden on business unhelpful, they were completely wrong. We are pleased to see that Caroline Spelman stood her ground and strongly defended the principles and purpose of these Directives. If we are to stop EU and UK biodiversity from continuing to disappear at unprecedented rates, this package must be adequately resourced and endorsed across Government."

 

Environmental safeguards are 'no brake on development' - RSPBView across ponds on edge of Burrowes Pit, Dungeness RSPB reserve
European directives provide protection for sites of international importance, such as Dungeness, in Kent

The RSPB has welcomed the findings of Defra’s review of the Habitats Regulations as a victory for facts over political rhetoric.

The Directives and regulations are the most important mechanisms for protecting our internationally important wildlife sites – those for which England has a global responsibility. The Government's review, published today, restates the Government’s support for the Birds and Habitats Directives, and demonstrates that these vital environmental safeguards do not act as a brake on economic development.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, said: “We are pleased that the regulations have stood up to scrutiny, just as we always knew they would.  No evidence was found to back up the suggestion made by the Chancellor, George Osborne, in his Autumn Budget Statement that the regulations are “a ridiculous cost on British business”. The Government’s own review has shown that these comments were misleading rhetoric, with no factual basis”.

The review confirms that the regulations only contributed to delays in English planning decisions when there were gaps in data, or when important areas for wildlife, especially at sea, were not protected.

Martin Harper continued: “We welcome their acknowledgement that these information gaps are a problem. The RSPB has been saying this for more than a decade. But the Government must recognise that tackling this issue will require investment in surveys, and we remain concerned that the review does not outline any plans to do this."

The RSPB also gave a cautious welcome to the proposed creation of a Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit. The purpose of this Unit is to prevent delays to nationally important projects, by helping developers to integrate these Directives into their planning in a positive way."

 

Habitats Directives Review  - Bat Conservation Trust

Julia Hanmer, Chief Executive, welcomes some of the results of a government review of the legislation that protects wildlife habitats, which has taken on board many of the Bat Conservation Trusts recommendations. In this blog, Julia explores the Review highlights, and considers how to build on our hard work as we await critical decisions on planning rules.

Caroline Spellman, Secretary of State for the Environment, announced today the results of the Habitats Directives Review. The Chancellor’s original announcement of the Review in his Pre-Budget statement last autumn caused huge concern at the rhetoric used to attack this important legislation. So I am really pleased to see that the results of the review take account of the widespread evidence we put forward to demonstrate that the Habitats Directive, far from being a burden to business, is a vital element of the mix of approaches needed to achieve sustainable development.

We are delighted at the inclusion of our recommendation that mitigations made to replace habitats lost through development be monitored and evaluated to ensure their effectiveness. There are positive measures to increase data sharing, and to achieve evidence-based implementation of the Directives. The recognition of the need for industry agreed standards is also welcomed. However, it is important that mechanisms are introduced to endorse and enforce standards effectively, particularly given the introduction of broarder class licences, otherwise we are in for a bumpy ride which could trigger further complaints about the Habitats Directives. The news that this consultation will continue over the next 12 months is encouraging, and I look forward to continuing to engage with this process as there is still much more to be done to ensure smooth implementation.

 

Government gives backing to strong wildlife regulations - Friends of the Earth

Responding to the Government's review of wildlife and habitat regulations today (Thursday 22 March 2012), Friends of the Earth's Executive Director Andy Atkins said: "This review shows that protecting our precious wildlife sites is a key ingredient for a healthy and wealthy future - despite George Osborne's misleading spin about environmental protection being bad for business."

 

Press coverage, The Guardian: Conservation rules put no burden on business – government review

The result of a review ordered by George Osborne contradicts his view that wildlife protection rules place 'ridiculous costs' on businesses

 

More reactions to yesterday's budget

Bluebell in bloom, Wood of CreeBudget 2012: Environment is key to our economic future - RSPB

In his Budget speech today, Chancellor George Osborne continued the UK along an economic path which locks us into unsustainable, high-carbon, short-term growth.

Responding to the speech Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: 'While the Chancellor waves the flag for carbon reduction initiatives and green investment with one hand, he is pushing through tax incentives for oil and gas drilling off the coast of Scotland with the other.

'His plan for growth clearly involves building more infrastructure, more roads and more runways, but this must be compatible with the green economy we have been promised so many times by this Government.

 

Telegraph reports: Budget 2012: Global firms take jobs overseas because of planning red tape, claims George Osborne

 

 

Confusion over the badger cull in England: 

English badger cull in doubt after Wales scraps plans - says the Telegraph

The badger cull in England is in doubt after the Welsh government dropped its plans to kill the woodland mammals in favour of a vaccination programme.

 

Defra: Badger cull is the right way forward for England - reports Farmers Guardian

DEFRA has reiterated the Government’s determination to proceed with a badger cull in England, following the Welsh decision to shun a cull in favour of a badger vaccination programme.  

The Department has made it clear the Welsh announcement has no bearing on its plans to commence pilot badger culls in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset this autumn.

  

Other news: Better Woods for Nature - Forestry Commission Scotland

Forestry Commission Scotland ‘s latest update on its Biodiversity Programme (Woods for Nature) shows that three years of work has resulted in good progress on 39 of 42 objectives.

The update report gives an in-depth picture of the Commission’s wide ranging action for biodiversity on the National Forest Estate (NFE) and which it supports in other woodlands throughout the country.

Some of the key highlights in the latest report include:

• In 2010/11, nearly 7500ha of native woodlands were brought into management and 37,000 hectares of private forest was brought into long term forest plans;
• Almost two-thirds (38,000ha) of our most damaged ancient woodland sites are now under management plans aiming to secure and enhance their biodiversity value;
• 97% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest on the national forest estate are in good or improving condition;
• Over 3,400 ha of new native woodlands were created in 2010/11, helping to build habitat networks;
• FCS spent £760k on the national forest estate in 2010/11 on action for 6 key species (capercaillie, black grouse, red squirrel, the pearl-bordered fritillary and chequered skipper butterflies and juniper), including nearly 10,000 hectares of habitat improvement work;
• FCS are carrying out a complete inventory of Scottish native and ancient woodlands, which will be the biggest habitat survey ever carried out in Scotland, and we are on track to complete it by 2013. 

The Woods for Nature- next steps document sets out what FCS expect to do to continue the programme up to spring 2014.

  

Activity codes of conduct consultation starts - CCW

The Countryside Council for Wales is eager for everyone interested in water related activities to comment on three newly drafted codes of conduct on angling, wild swimming and canoeing.

The Codes were drafted by CCW, in our capacity as advisers to the Welsh Government and in partnership with small working groups which involved user groups, landowners and others with expertise to contribute. The Codes are designed to advise people using Wales’s inland water on how to enjoy their activities without damaging the resource they are using, or disturbing the communities around them. The Consultation

The consultation period will be for 12 weeks, from the 1st of March to the 1st of June 2012. It’s open to anyone who wants to comment. The responses will be collated and presented to the working groups to guide the drafting of the final codes. 

 

Postponement of Windermere Canada geese cull - RSPCA

We’re delighted that the Geese Management Group have decided to postpone their proposed cull of Canada geese.

Our chief executive Gavin Grant said: "We're delighted that the Geese Management Group has listened to reason - there has always been a compelling argument to call off the cull. There are better ways of working with wildlife and culling should only ever be an absolute last resort. We are arranging to meet the Lake District National Park Authority as we believe efforts should be made to develop an effective and non-lethal alternative to solving any possible problems."

  

Friday 23 March

Nature in need: Half of world’s most important nature sites left unprotected - IUCN

The world’s governments have committed to increasing the coverage of protected areas by 2020 to address rapid rates of environmental destruction, however, a new study led by BirdLife International, with contributions from IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), shows that only half of the most important sites for wildlife have been fully protected. These findings highlight an urgent need for improved targeting of new and expanded protected areas in order to protect the planet’s wildlife.

“Protected areas are a cornerstone of conservation efforts, and cover nearly 13% of the world’s land surface,” says Dr. Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “In 2010, the world’s governments meeting committed to expanding this to 17% by 2020, with an emphasis on areas of particular importance for nature.”  

New research has found that only half of these important areas are currently protected. Researchers discovered this trend by analyzing the overlap between protected areas and two worldwide networks of important sites for wildlife: Important Bird Areas, which comprise more than 10,000 globally significant sites for conserving birds; and Alliance for Zero Extinction sites, which include 600 sites holding the last remaining population of highly threatened vertebrates and plants.  

“Shockingly, half of the most important sites for nature conservation have not yet been protected,” says Dr. Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Research and Indicators Coordinator

 

Ahead of next week's publication of the National Planning Policy Framework : Changing the planning system to favour business could be bad for wildlife and for people, blogs Dr David Counsell of The Wildlife Trusts

Proposed changes to the planning system in England, intended to make planning more business-friendly and remove constraints on economic development, have generated widespread concern within the environmental sector.  The countryside, including thousands of Local Wildlife Sites which rely on the planning system for protection, could be at greater risk than at any time in the last 70 years.

 

Migration picking up speed - BTO Migration blog

With a settled high pressure weather system over most of southern Europe, conditions have been looking ideal for migration to take place. It came as no surprise then, when migrants began to turn up. Chiffchaffs have been the most noticeable this week, with singing birds heard overlarge parts of the country. The BirdTrack map shows this nicely.

 

Blue alert! Bluebells on their way - and earlier than last year... - The Woodland Trust
Brede High WoodsThe Woodland Trust is calling for the public to find their nearest wood and record the first appearance of native bluebells, as it tracks the arrival of the flowers across the country this spring.
The conservation charity is assessing whether the mild winter and short, sharp cold spell in early February is affecting flowering dates. Just over 50 sightings have been reported to date, almost twice as many as this time last year - with sightings much further north too. The average flowering date for bluebells in 2011 was April 12, which coincided with the earliest spring recorded this century. However, with the freezing weather experienced in early February this year experts are interested to discover the effects on the flowering of spring species.
The charity, in partnership with the Forestry Commission, National Trust, Wildlife Trusts and RSPB, is asking the public to use the VisitWoods website, which hosts the largest online database of bluebell woods, find a nearby wood and keep an eye out for the appearance of bluebells.

 

Mild winter sees shuffle in pecking order for Big Schools' Birdwatch - RSPB

Male blackbirdThe Blackbird was top of the pecking order in this year's Big Schools Birdwatch

A relatively mild winter has seen a radical reshuffle in the results of a Scottish-wide survey into wildlife on schools grounds.

A record-breaking 390 schools, including over 12,700 pupils, participated in this year’s RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch, each spending one hour counting the birds in their school grounds between 16th January and 30th January.

This season’s warmer weather meant that school playing fields were once again decent feeding grounds, particularly for larger birds that stamp their feed on the short-cropped grass in order to bring invertebrates to the surface. The harsh winters of the last two years saw a dip in numbers for many of these larger birds, presumably due to heavy snow and ice preventing feeding on their favourite school sites.

Top of the league table again remained the blackbird, with an average of 5.5 spotted in over 82% of schools; it was followed by the carrion crow, which leapfrogged both the starling and black-headed gull into second place, with an average of 4 spotted at any one time. The house sparrow rose one place to complete the top five.

For the full UK-wide Big Schools’ Birdwatch results visit: www.rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch .

      

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