The 12 successful Nature Improvement Areas were, with some fanfare, announced yesterday. In case you haven’t seen the list of winners they are:
- Birmingham and the Black Country Living Landscape
- Dark Peak:
- Dearne Valley Green Heart:
- Greater Thames Marshes
- Humberhead Levels
- Marlborough Downs
- Meres and Mosses of the Marches
- Morecambe Bay Limestones and Wetlands:
- Nene Valley
- Northern Devon
- South Downs Way Ahead
- Wild Purbeck
We supported Wild Purbeck and the North Devon (including Culm grassland) bids specifically, but many of them have grassland interest.
The aim is to develop real “landscape-scale” conservation within these NIAs, which cover reasonably large areas of countryside (and post-industrial land). They will cover between 10,000 and 50,000ha – that’s less than your average AONB. Indeed NIAs are very much not like AONBs because they have no statutory basis in planning law. So NFU and CLAs concerns about NIAs being a constraint on development is either misplaced or mischevious.
I don’t know whether it’s coincidence that while CLA cautiously welcomed the NIA announcement on monday, there was no public response from NFU (that I could find).
The NIAs have been talked up as the new solution to the biodiversity crisis. Let’s put this in context. The 12 funded NIA’s will cover up to 600,000ha (but probably much less) of England – that’s about 4.6%. National Parks and AONBs cover about 25% of England.
I counted up the amount of habitat being recreated across all the NIAs from the Defra press release – 4000ha. That’s over a 3 year period. This will contribute towards the England Biodiversity Strategy target of 200,000ha of restored/recreated habitat by 2020. So if we assume that 30,000ha needs to be restored/created in the first 3 years if we’re going to get anywhere near the 200,000ha target, NIAs will contribute 13% of that contribution, which is more than symbolic but isn’t going to do the job.
I think the important thing about NIAs is that they should really test how we go about achieving “landscape scale conservation.” It might even help us to understand exactly that this nebulous term means. That will involve working very closely with landowners and local communities.
Perhaps most importantly, at the heart of the project will need to be an intelligent debate about how we resolve the competition between different land-uses – biodiversity, ecosystem services, intensive food production, public enjoyment, and so on.
Since we need to have this debate about the whole of England (and the UK) I can’t think of better places to kick it off than the NIAs.