In celebration of the United Nations (UN) International Day for Biological Diversity we are looking at Natural England’s ongoing work to conserve and protect England’s natural environment, biodiversity and landscapes, and how these contribute to social health and economic well-being.
This year’s theme for the day is ‘Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health’, and the focus is on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems as the foundation for food and good health which, as the UN has made clear, the variety of species, genetics, ecosystems and habitats on Earth is in decline, both on a global and national scale, and this is due to human activity such as habitat destruction, pollution, overharvesting and the introduction of unsuitable invasive plants and animals.
At Natural England, we are working with people across society including land managers, ecologists planners and developers to are on the ground protecting and enhancing our rich variety of life. Their work supports the important goods and services our biodiverse ecosystems provides such as food and clean water and carbon storage, but also the provision of education, recreation and heritage, some of which form part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – all needed for good health and well-being.
Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper said:
“Globally, and on our doorstep, we need to work together to halt the loss of animals, plants and ecosystems. Our planet’s unique web of life is absolutely critical for our future health and prosperity.
“The good news is it is not too late. The 25-Year Environment Plan provides a blueprint for action, restoring habitats at a landscape scale to reverse species decline while providing solutions to some of the climate change challenges we face.
“I've seen first-hand the enthusiasm farmers and landowners have for conserving and restoring the natural environment. My ambition at Natural England is to work with them, and others, to deliver this 25-year vision and achieve the change we, and our natural world, so urgently need.”
It is widely accepted that spending time in the natural environment improves our mental health and well-being by reducing stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression. Recent data from our Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey shows that local greenspace, including urban parks, recreation grounds and playgrounds, are important for experience of the natural world and play, and although 70 per cent of all children in England under the ages of 16 and 64 per cent of all young people aged 16 – 24 are spending time outdoors at least once a week, those in lower income areas are visiting the natural environment at a lower rate.
We want people to enjoy the societal and cultural services a biodiverse environment can provide. One of the ways we are helping to increase access to the natural environment is through the England Coast Path. Once completed in 2020, it will be one of the longest stretches of coast path in the world covering a distance of 2,700 miles and will give the public access to some of the most beautiful beaches, cliffs, dunes and foreshores in England. We are also leading on the Government’s Children and Nature Programme to help support children to experience nature locally within care farms, woodlands and community forests.
We have also increased public access to the natural environment through Nature Recovery Network which aims to create 50,000 hectares of new green space in cities and the countryside to help improve health and well-being. Over the last year the Government has invested over £5 million to improve, expand and create National Nature Reserves. Here at Natural England we are committed to ensuring the future of these nationally important wildlife sites and have worked with partners to identify 80 additional priority landscapes across the country, which as they are developed, will form part of a new Nature Recovery Network of connected wildlife-rich habitats.
We are working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and partners, to increase and preserve our biodiversity through ‘Biodiversity 2020’, a strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services, and the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan which highlights our commitment to maintaining healthy and resilient ecosystems, protect endangered and threatened species – to help leave the environment in a better condition for the next generation.
Agricultural diversity is largely supported and maintained by human activity and sustainable management practices. A biodiverse agricultural ecosystem contributes to the provision of food, rich flow of nutrient cycling, pest and disease regulation, pollination, sediment regulation, the maintenance of our hydrological system, removal of carbon from the atmosphere and the regulation of our climate – all essential to sustain agriculture, health and wellbeing.
Through the future Environmental Land Management approach, Environmental Stewardship, Catchment Sensitive Farming techniques and Environmental Impact Assessments, we are supporting farmers to successfully integrate the management of biodiversity and conservation on their farms to deliver multiple benefits for water, air quality, soils and wildlife. The new Environmental Land Management system, due to be introduced 2024/2025 supported by natural capital, will contribute to delivering against many of the key outcomes set within the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and Clean Growth Strategy. These include clean air, clean and plentiful water, thriving plants and wildlife, reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards, enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement of the natural environment, including mitigation and adaptation to climate change.
Over the recent years our work on biodiversity has been given greater drive by the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan which we help to focus on continued conservation and recovery of species, and restoration of habitats. We have also been working hand to enhance and expand Sites of Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserves, and support environmentally friendly farming techniques both now and following our departure from the EU.
Through the conservation of nature, landscape and environmental management, over recent years we have:
- Helped farmers to successfully integrate the management of biodiversity and conservation of the environment into farm business through Catchment Sensitive Farming methods, Environmental Impact Assessments and the Environmental Stewardship Scheme, as well as through the restoration and creation of habitats such as woodlands and species-rich grasslands, and the protection of water, soil and air quality.
- Continued to ensure the notification of Sites of Special Scientific Interest to conserve the natural environment, and extend those existing to protect our most important areas of biodiversity and geodiversity. This included the new introduction of the Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast SSSI to protect the coastal wildlife of the Tees Estuary and the introduction of SSSIs in Dorset and Halesowen to protect the fungi and grassland.
- Continued to manage around two thirds of National Nature Reserves in England, vital to the conservation of biodiversity and home to some of the most important sites for wildlife and geology in England such as Woodwalton Fen.
- Delivered restoration of over 4,000 hectares of rare lowland raised bog and associated habitats from funding from Defra and the EU’s LIFE+ programme such as Bolton Fell Moss.
- Helped to protect marine biodiversity and a ‘blue belt’ of marine protected areas around England such as our most recent proposals to strengthen the protection for the Isles of Scilly home to over 8,000 pairs of 13 different seabird species and pre-consultation advice to Defra on proposed Marine Conservation Zones.
- Saved 20 species from extinction and helped put more than 100 more species on the road to recovering in support of our ‘Back from the Brink’ partnership programme.
- Created a new award winning approach to protect great crested newt populations and support sustainable development by both creating and restoring better and more joined up habitat ahead of development to increase health and resilience.
Find out about how you can get involved in nature and biodiversity conservation online.