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|Important issues affecting the
countryside have been overlooked because of the focus on the
problems of climate change, campaigners have said.
The battle against global warming which has dominated the
Government's environment policy has taken place against a backdrop
of a "piecemeal degradation" of rural Britain, which ministers are
now promising to address.
During the last Government major legislation was introduced to cut
carbon emissions in order to tackle global warming.
However Britain continued to lose important wildlife like farmland
birds, flower rich meadows and bees.
In a change of direction, the new Coalition Government has promised
to bring the focus back onto endangered animals, cleaner water and
other aspects of the natural environment.
The first environmental paper to be launched by the Department for
the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 20 years will
focus on protecting the countryside.
Helen Meech, assistant director of external affairs at the National
Trust, said some “great legislation” was introduced by the last
Government to cut greenhouse gases by 80 per cent on 1990 levels by
But now there is a need to introduce new laws to protect the
environment that is suffering right now. Honey bees are in crisis,
97 per cent of flower rich meadows have been lost since 1930 and
house sparrow numbers have decline by 10 million in the last 25
“The environment agenda has been very dominated by climate change
and this discussion is an opportunity to bring the natural
environment back up the agenda,” she said.
"We've lost sight of the benefits the natural world provides because
they are not accountable within markets and everyone takes them for
"Now is the time we need to start valuing all the benefits we get
for free because they are being degraded."
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, is due to launch a
discussion paper at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.
She is calling on every area of society to contribute ideas to how
Britain can stop the extinction of species on our own doorstep.
“We want everyone to contribute their views on the natural
environment - whether they’re concerned at the plight of the
songbirds in their garden, the quality of air in their town,
flooding problems worsened by people paving over their gardens or
the fate of our wider countryside,” she said.
“We have the opportunity to be the generation that puts a stop to
the piecemeal degradation of our natural environment”
Ideas that are likely to be accepted by the new Government when the
white paper is published next spring include introducing a new
system of ‘conservation credits’. The ‘bio-banking’ system, as it is
also known, means developers have to compensate for building on
wildlife habitats by supporting conservation projects elsewhere.
The Government is also expected to consider a new designation for
green spaces in towns and cities that will protect urban parks and
nature reserves from development.
The NHS and schools will be asked to introduce ‘green exercise’ and
‘outdoor lessons’ as part of their statutory requirements.
Farmers will have to do more to protect the environment in order to
continue receiving subsidies as part of possible reforms to
Nature reserves that exist will be protected by ‘wildlife corridors’
and new protected areas will be set up.
More radical suggestions submitted to the discussion paper may
include reintroducing species like the wolf or beaver and a ban on
factory farming in England.
Conservation groups including the RSPB, Woodland Trust and the
Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) will all be putting in
Stephanie Hilborne, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said it
could transform the landscape of the UK.
"This White Paper is potentially as meaningful as the build-up to
the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act,” she
"Back then we were reconstructing a nation and, although money was
very short, nature was seen as a key part of our future.
"Nature is not a luxury. With the UK facing unprecedented economic
uncertainty and pressures for energy generation, food production and
housing, there is a risk we overlook the very basis of our economy
and our society; the natural environment upon which this all