Countdown for Wildlife – Act Swiftly!

Tuesday 24th April 2018

Rare chance to reverse the decline of nature in England

Nature-friendly farmers, planners, local authorities, wildlife experts and people who care about nature are being urged to seize an opportunity for new national farming and planning policies to reverse the decline of English wildlife. Suffolk Wildlife Trust is asking everyone who wants to see nature’s fortunes improve to act swiftly and respond to government consultations on farming and planning which end in early May.

The two consultations present a very rare opportunity to influence the future of both national farming and planning policy and how these impact on nature in England. Precious wild places and the species that depend on them have suffered catastrophic declines over the past 70 years – intensive farming and urbanisation have been major causes.* Now the public has a chance to call for a visionary approach to the environment – one that means planning rules and farm support and regulation both work towards the recovery of our nature and wildlife.

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“There’s never been a better time to stand up for wildlife and make our voices heard. Decisions about housing and farming are fundamental to the future of wildlife in this country. They will determine whether we are able to lead the world in nature’s recovery by creating a Nature Recovery Network** or whether we will keep losing wildlife every day.”

“So please write to the government at this critical moment and before 8 May to ask for wildlife to be taken more seriously in planning decisions – not least to call for protection for Local Wildlife Sites to be reinstated; and please have your say on agricultural policy because farmers deserve to be rewarded by the tax payer if their work benefits our society as a whole.”

The consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework is here; it closes on 10th May.

The rules that guide planning for development will shape the future of housing. About 36 square miles of land are used by new developments every year and so the outcome of this consultation is hugely important for wildlife. The Wildlife Trusts want to see rules that:

  • Protect wildlife and secure recognition of Local Wildlife Sites (which lose protection under the current proposals)
  • Integrate wildlife habitats into new developments – for wildlife and people
  • Commit to an improvement for wild species and habitats from all development (‘net biodiversity gain’)
  • Require that new developments contribute to a national ‘Nature Recovery Network’ by including this in local planning strategies

In Suffolk, Local Wildlife Sites (referred to locally as County Wildlife Sites - CWS) make up 5% of the county’s land coverage with 925 individual locations. Local authorities, land owners and environmental organisations have long recognised the wildlife and cultural value of these sites and Suffolk Wildlife Trust is concerned that their omission from the planning policy framework proposals could make it easier for future erosion of CWS and development encroachment. County Wildlife Sites range from small parcels of private land, designated for a particular species or type of habitat to well-known and loved sites including Ipswich’s Christchurch, Holywells and Chantry parks. Senior Conservation Planner at Suffolk Wildlife Trust James Meyer, said:

“Local authorities in Suffolk understand the importance of County Wildlife Sites and have effectively used planning policy to protect them for many years. If reference to these sites is no longer included in national planning policy then, as local plans are reviewed, the requirement to translate this protection to a local level will be lost and sites will be irrevocably damaged.”

The consultation on the future for food, farming and the environment is here; it closes on 8th May. It asks where public money, in the form of subsidies to farmers, should be spent in the future. It will also help to establish how the rules and standards for land management should be set and enforced. Farming practices are one of the key reasons for wildlife decline in the countryside, so if we want nature’s recovery we need a revolution in the way that farmland is managed. What works for wildlife will be good for people, too. Farmers need healthy soils and large populations of pollinators, like bees, to grow crops. We need clean, healthy water running into our rivers. We need a wildlife-rich countryside to relax in. To ensure this, The Wildlife Trusts want to see rules that:

  • Reward farmers and land managers for the benefits they provide for society, like clean water, healthy soils and a wildlife-rich countryside
  • Replace the Common Agricultural Policy with a system that supports public benefits and environmental outcomes for society
  • Changes the culture of regulation, making it easier for farmers to help nature without being weighed down by paperwork, inspections and bureaucracy***

Julian Roughton, CEO of Suffolk Wildlife Trust said:

“This is an opportunity to influence the future of our countryside. We want farmers to be supported to create a Living Landscape with wildlife, clean water and healthy soils at its heart. Let’s seize this chance to ensure the natural environment lies at the heart of future agricultural policy - the future of wildlife in the wider countryside depends upon it.”

Suffolk Wildlife Trust will be responding to both consultations.

More information and guidance to help respond to both consultations can be found at www.wildlifetrusts.org/actswiftly. Follow the campaign online using #ActSwiftly

 


 

*For information about wildlife decline see the latest State of Nature report, 2016. It shows more clearly than ever before that nature is in serious decline across the UK. Over the last 50 years, 56% of species have declined, while 15% are at risk of disappearing from our shores altogether. For the main drivers of decline turn to pp 12 & 13 of the actual report pdf here.

** A nature recovery network is a plan for wildlife and the environment. It is a map which sets out the key sites that need to be protected and the key areas where there should be healthier habitats and more wildlife. The Wildlife Trusts believe that without a plan like this, there will be no real progress.

*** Further information about The Wildlife Trusts’ vision for farming in England can be found in this recently published policy briefing: What’s next for Farming? A future policy for land in England: Investing in our natural assets

Swifts

Swifts arrive back to the UK in late April and early May. The swift is a bird that needs towns and the countryside to nest and feed in; it is emblematic of the need for wildlife-rich habitats in rural and urban environments.

Breeding
Swifts traditionally nested in hollow trees, caves, and rocky crevices. Now they have mostly become reliant on buildings, nesting under the eaves. Swifts are monogamous, pairing for life, and will return to the same nest site each year. You could have the same pair of swifts nesting under your eaves for over a decade.

Threats
IUCN cites as the major threat: building renovation, re-roofing or demolition which leads to a loss of nest sites. The design of modern buildings often leaves no space in which they can nest. Nest boxes can be added to (or even built in to) buildings to provide a nesting space for swifts. Swifts are insectivorous, requiring a large volume of flying insects. The use of pesticides (or any other actions reducing insect volume) therefore presents a serious threat.

Status
Amber conservation status in UK which means that they have suffered declines and need help. It’s hard to assess the extent of decline, but BTO data (from Breeding Bird Survey) shows a 51% decline between 1995 and 2015.

Save our Suffolk Swifts
, a partnership between Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Suffolk Ornithologists’ Group is working across the county to record swift activity and encourage individuals and businesses to provide nest boxes