Herefordshire Wildlife Trust urges public to seize opportunity to reverse the decline of nature in our county with new policies on planning and farming.

Monday 16th April 2018

As the government opens consultations on both the National Planning Policy Framework and the future for food, farming and the environment, the Trust highlights the importance of both consultations on the county’s wildlife and calls for the public to support the #ActSwiftly campaign.

With 16,500 new homes planned for the county by 2031† – and the associated infrastructure to support this – pressure on Herefordshire’s green spaces has never been greater. Chief Executive Evan Bowen Jones comments: “It is imperative that the National Planning Policy Framework recognises the need for developments which avoids damage to protected sites, and works with the natural surroundings to create gains for nature, and better health and well-being for residents. The proposed Southern Link Road exemplifies this need. Any development on this scale taking place needs extensive and effective mitigation measures in place.

“We know from our thousands of members and supporters how valued Herefordshire’s wildlife is and we encourage all those who care about making space for nature in our landscapes to contribute to this consultation to ensure Herefordshire’s voice is heard.”

Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Living Landscapes Director, Helen Stace, continues: “The reviews of our national farming and planning policies are hugely pertinent to Herefordshire. Our countryside is largely agricultural land so it is incredibly important that as much of it as possible is managed in a way that is sensitive to wildlife and allows natural processes to function as much as possible. The majority of landowners in the county want to see wildlife flourish on their farms but they need support to make this a reality. We want to see the Common Agricultural Policy replaced with a system that rewards farmers for the work they do improving their land for wildlife.
“We also strongly support the call for Local Wildlife Sites to retain protected status – and for their protection to be strengthened. We have had several recent cases reported to us where Local Wildlife Sites such as traditional orchards and species-rich grassland have been damaged or lost through ignorance or development.”

The consultations present a very rare opportunity – the first in living memory – 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 work together 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.

† As set out in Herefordshire's Local Plan Core Strategy
*For information about wildlife decline see the latest State of Nature report, 2016. It shows more clearly than ever before that nature is in serious decline across the UK. Over the last 50 years, 56% of species have declined, while 15% are at risk of disappearing from our shores altogether. For the main drivers of decline turn to pp 12 & 13 of the actual report pdf here.

** A nature recovery network is a plan for wildlife and the environment. It is a map which sets out the key sites that need to be protected and the key areas where there should be healthier habitats and more wildlife. The Wildlife Trusts believe that without a plan like this, there will be no real progress.