New policy for farming and planning ‘could end decline in wildlife’, says Suffolk Wildlife Trust

Christchurch Park, Ipswich, is one of Suffolk's 925 County Wildlife Sites. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Christchurch Park, Ipswich, is one of Suffolk's 925 County Wildlife Sites. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Wildlife experts fear important sites across Suffolk could be “irrevocably damaged” if they are not protected when planning laws are revised.

Areas known as Local Wildlife Sites are set to lose protection under the current proposals for the future of national farming and planning policy.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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.

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, says:

“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

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: 1.Reward farmers and land managers for the benefits they provide for society, like clean water, healthy soils and a wildlife-rich countryside

2.Replace the Common Agricultural Policy with a system that supports public benefits and environmental outcomes for society

3.Changes the culture of regulation, making it easier for farmers to help nature without being weighed down by paperwork, inspections and bureaucracy***

More information about The Wildlife Trusts’ #ActSwiftly campaign can be found here 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 both environments.

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