As a long standing member and former convenor of the UK Environmental Law Association’s Nature Conservation Work Group it is always a pleasure to attend the meetings and participate in lively debate. Our latest meeting (via Zoom of course) was on Monday 5th October, when Ned Westaway, barrister of Francis Taylor Building, gave a thought provoking presentation under the title ‘Protected Landscapes & Nature Conservation’ (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks). The talk was offered in the context of Ned’s success in the recent Stubbs case and the Prime Minister’s recent commitment to protect an additional 30% of English Countryside for biodiversity. The majority of the 30% will be the National Parks and AONB which cover 26% of England.
Biodiversity In National Parks in England
England’s National Parks have a poor record when it comes to protection of biodiversity. The decline of high value habitats is well documented, for example since the Peak District was designated a National Park it has lost 97% of its traditionally managed hay meadows. To be fair to the National Parks, this loss occurred primarily because they have no additional legal powers to protect wildlife. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside 1949 Act that established National Parks in England, was focused almost entirely on protection of the landscape rather than wildlife. Subsequent revisions to the 1949 Act (e.g. the Environment Act 1995) did very little to change the lack of wildlife protection. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorises National Parks into six levels, UK National Parks falling to category five, the second lowest level ‘Protected Landscape/Seascape’. This has led many to be very critical of the English National Parks with some observing that in many instances preservation of landscape is put above biodiversity conservation.
The Need For Legislative Change
This is of course a time of great legislative upheaval, with both the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Bill progressing (albeit slowly) through Parliament. Both of these Bills could bring profound changes to land management that could be very positive for nature conservation and habitat restoration. The requirement in the Environmental Bill for most development to secure 10% biodiversity net gain (BNG) is already having a considerable impact on the development industry. BNG payments may offer the funding mechanism for achieving the restoration of biodiversity of England’s protected landscapes with a proportion of the tariffs collected being diverted to these areas.
If the PM is to meet his pledge it seems that the first step required will be to address the legislative deficit within protected landscapes. The National Parks will require the laws necessary to protect what is left but also instigate a huge programme of restoration of biodiversity in National Parks.
Expert Ecology Support
Andrew Baker is Baker Consultant’s Managing Director and a senior member of the ecology profession, often called upon by barristers to stand as an expert witness and who has been involved in many high profile cases in his career. Andrew’s other key areas of expertise are nature conservation law, Habitats Regulations Assessment and bioacoustics and he has been following developments in Biodiversity Net Gain policy making closely. For more information or advice get in touch via our contact form on the website, you can call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.