Will the 'Colchester Declaration' help our struggling wildlife?
PUBLISHED: 10:29 03 July 2019 | UPDATED: 10:32 03 July 2019
Delegates due to meet at a national environmental conference in north Essex next week are expected to make a "milestone" commitment to improving conditions for wildlife and the climate crisis.
Around 130 representatives of the 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), environmental and farming organisations and Government bodies are set to descend on the University of Essex in Colchester to attend the Landscapes for Life 2019 event - a conference organised by the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (NAAONB) and the local AONB team.
It is hoped the three-day event will culminate with a pledge by all AONBs to boost biodiversity, enhance landscape and mitigate the impacts of climate change in their designated areas - an undertaking that is being dubbed the 'Colchester Declaration'.
Simon Amstutz, manager at the Suffolk Coast and Heaths and Dedham Vale AONBs, which are hosting the conference, said bearing in mind the Environment and Agriculture Bills are due soon and the Government's recent 25-Year Environment Plan, which lays out wide-ranging aspirations to improve the environment, there has never been a more important time to demonstrate the contribution of designated landscapes.
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"The 'Colchester Declaration' will be a milestone moment," he said.
"It will be a statement of intent to improve biodiversity across the AONB network and comes as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, which paved the way for designated landscapes."
AONBs cover 15% of England's land area, and just under one-fifth of the English coast is in an AONB, so bringing the national AONB conference to East Anglia is a coup for the region's AONB team, who will host tours of some the best landscapes in Suffolk and Essex.
The conference will also include an impressive speaker programme, featuring Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defra, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, and Julian Glover, chairman of the current Designated Landscapes Review Panel.
Mr Glover's comments will be listened to with interest. He is expected to report in the autumn on the review, which has a number of objectives, including how to align the role of the National Parks and AONBs in England with the goals set out in the 25-Year Plan for the Environment. The review has also been tasked with making recommendations on extending and creating new designated areas - a point of particular interest in this region, where there are aspirations to extend the boundaries of the Dedham Vale AONB westwards towards Sudbury. Traditionally, decisions around changes to AONB boundaries have taken many years and it is hoped the Glover review will result in judgements being made more quickly.
Speaking to the EADT at the recent Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Forum, chairman Robert Erith said: "I hope the Glover Commission speeds things up".
"I have always felt that the existing AONB boundary was stopped in the wrong place and actually over the last 30 years, the area - places like Lamarsh, Henny and Twinstead - has become more beautiful, as farmers and landowners have put back hedges and removed unnecessary electricity poles."