Suffolk: TV naturalist Chris Packham praises county’s vision for future of wildlife and landscapes

The launch of Suffolk's Nature Strategy at RSPB Minsmere. The launch of Suffolk's Nature Strategy at RSPB Minsmere.

EXCLUSIVE
John Grant Environment correspondent
john.grant@archant.co.uk
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
11:42 AM

A landmark document that places Suffolk’s virtually unrivalled wildlife and landscapes at the centre of decision-making in the county’s life for the next six years has been launched by a high-powered collaboration of environmental organisations.

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The launch of Suffolk's Nature Strategy at RSPB Minsmere.The launch of Suffolk's Nature Strategy at RSPB Minsmere.

Suffolk’s Nature Strategy, hailed as a “2020 vision” for the county’s natural environment, has been painstakingly formulated over many months by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, the National Trust and Suffolk County Council. The quartet of organisations has been advised by other highly influential bodies - Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission England in collaboration with WildAnglia.

The strategy aims to show that “the importance of the natural environment goes far beyond its beauty.” It sets out a swathe of challenging recommendations and actions, and places responsibility primarily on the leaders of public, private and voluntary sector organisations to deliver natural environment conservation and enhancement. It emphasises that Suffolk’s wildlife and landscapes are “important building blocks for our economic growth and health and wellbeing” - and it says delivery of strategy aims will “enhance the environment of Suffolk itself, as well as our ability to derive both economic and social benefits from it.”

Thought to be the first strategy document of its kind in the UK, it says: “The natural environment of the county is one of its key strengths, providing us with enviable natural capital on which to improve health and wellbeing and to grow our economy.

“Whether a tourism business, a farmer growing crops, a Suffolk brewer or an international port, the environment is central to our economic growth and should be considered part of Suffolk’s business capital.”

The 40-page document splits recommendations and actions across three sections - natural environment, economic growth and health and wellbeing. Its says its recommendations “are set out as challenges for others to deliver” and are aimed at leaders in a range of sectors including businesses, health and education. Its actions were “challenges we have set ourselves” and were “mostly new areas of work”.

Included in 12 recommendations under the heading “our natural environment priorities” is a call for at least half of Suffolk’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest to be in what is officially termed “favourable condition” by 2020, while maintaining at least 95% in “favourable or recovering condition”.

Where development was proposed in protected landscapes, such as Sizewell C, partnerships should strive to ensure they were “of the highest quality as ‘environmental exemplars”.

In addition, there should be an “overall improvement in the status of our wildlife and for further degradation to have been halted” and developers should include design elements that protect and enhance wildlife in new developments, and new Local Nature Reserves should be designated in urban and rural areas.

On agri-environmental schemes, the strategy says their contribution should be “maximised towards the multiple benefits of ecological restoration at a landscape scale”. In a section headed “Suffolk’s changing climate” it says a further 500 hectares of priority habitat should be created in Suffolk by 2020”.

In 10 recommendations under a heading of “A foundation for economic growth” there is a key demand. It says: “Given the importance of our natural capital to growth, by 2018 we would expect to see public and private sector decision-makers increasingly reflect its value in all future growth plans for the area.” The advantage Suffolk’s natural environment offered in terms of the county’s competitiveness “should be a strong feature of inward investment plans for the area.”

Tourism leaders should “promote the quality of our natural environment to potential visitors and play a key role in its conservation and enhancement.”

On “Food, drink and agriculture” the strategy says: “By 2020 a Suffolk brand will have been developed and linked to conservation of the natural environment. This will help the sector to market strong credentials for environmental conservation.” The strategy partners would “engage with farmers across Suffolk to promote wildlife-friendly farming within profitable, modern, farming businesses.”

In six recommendations under the “Our health and wellbeing” heading, it says: “The benefits of people being able to enjoy our natural environment should be embedded in Suffolk’s health and wellbeing agenda by 2016.”

It adds: “Community leaders and senior public health officials should champion the role the environment can play in prevention, cure and recovery. We would like to see a significant increase in GPs’ use of ‘green care’ referrals, such as Health Walks or Care Farms.”

Suffolk’s Nature Strategy can be viewed in full here.

Suffolk’s Nature Strategy earned high praise and was given a ringing endorsement by TV naturalist Chris Packham at the document’s launch event at RSPB Minsmere.

Packham said the document, with its collaborative approach and its combination of environmental priorities, its attitude to economic growth and its signposting of the natural environment’s value to health and wellbeing, represented a “highly intelligent route forward.”

One of the leading voices on the current environmental scene, Packham is one of the presenters of BBC’s Springwatch, which Minsmere is hosting. But his support for the strategy was unrelated to the programme - and was deeply personal.

He told launch event guests his beloved Minsmere nature reserve was a “manscape” - a “sculpted laboratory” where the RSPB had used its expertise to create an area of such habitat and wildlife diversity that it was “pretty much perfect”. Such a venture, he said, showed what could be done if there was the will to do so.

He said economic growth had to be “very carefully controlled” and society was now beginning to understand the value the natural environment brought to our lives in terms of health and wellbeing. On the latter point, he told guests: “You are extremely fortunate to live in Suffolk.”

He added: “In Suffolk’s Nature Strategy we can see that much can be achieved locally and there is a design here for progress.”

The strategy had emerged through close co-operation and communication between many organisations who shared objectives.

“It has got to be delivered and that is the task,” he said. “These are exciting times. We have the capacity, with the advancement of technology and the combination of our ideas and energy, to deliver. You have got a plan and that is much better than other people have got - and you have got something very valuable to look after.”

In his foreword for the strategy document, Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee says the county’s natural environment is “one of the golden threads holding together what makes this county great” and adds “we must not overlook the importance of Suffolk’s landscapes and wildlife to our society.”

Suffolk’s “natural capital” was the “foundation of many businesses, particularly in the tourism and farming sectors, and it is strongly associated with physical and mental wellbeing.”

Delivering the recommendations and actions in the strategy “will not be without its challenges” and there would inevitably be “difficult decisions to make and tough choices always require tough trade-offs.”

Mr Bee added: “Conserving and enhancing our natural environment is in all our interests and this document is an important step in that endeavour and we must all now show leadership and work together to deliver its vision.”

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