Baker Consultants

Andrew Baker’s Thoughts on The Loss of Biodiversity in the UK’s National Parks

Following an article published in The Guardian regarding National Parks and their failure to tackle the biodiversity crisis, Managing Director of Baker Consultants, Andrew Baker, has responded with his thoughts below:

As a botanist who has lived much of his life within a National Park, I have witnessed the decline in biodiversity. There is no doubt that the 1949 Act and its many amendments and additions failed to protect wildlife in these ‘protected’ areas. In the Peak District millions of pounds were spent on maintaining dry stone walls, while the species rich hay meadows they enclosed were converted to a monoculture of silage; it’s like visiting an art gallery where the art has been removed and all that is left are the picture frames.

The English National Parks were never going to be able to be analogous to those of the USA. John Muir took Roosevelt to witness wilderness of the Yosemite devoid of modern settlement; the density of settlement in England and, yes – landownership, would not allow for the same model to be applied. To be fair to the likes of John Dower, a different approach was necessary. The problem is the model just didn’t work to protect wildlife.

While biodiversity was written into the purposes of the National Parks, their powers were almost entirely confined to the planning process, which meant there was no way they could control the decline of biodiversity. Ploughing up a hay meadow did not require planning permission. A different model is needed, one which has strong legal powers (rather than just general purposes) that truly protect nature within National Parks.

Any new model would, however, need to address two fundamental issues. The first is that most of the biodiversity has already been lost. Outside of protected sites such as SSSIs, SPAs and SACs, little remains. Protection is needed, but it is of little use without first restoring what we have lost.

The second issue is that within our National Parks, farmers rely on the land for their livelihoods. It has become a popular pastime in some sections of the conservation movement in the UK to blame farmers for the decline of biodiversity, but farmers, like any other industry, are simply working within a regulatory environment and if that regulation does not protect wildlife, then one cannot expect farmers to forgo hard earned income out of the goodness of their hearts (especially when their incomes are marginal at least).

A change in legislation to strengthen the restoration of biodiversity within National Parks will need significant funds and, in my view, Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) offers an ideal opportunity. While I understand the arguments for BNG being created close to developments and providing access to nature, it cannot be denied that National Parks attract colossal numbers of visitors. Is it not therefore a valid argument to say that those new developments around Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, the Potteries, etc. should contribute to the restoration of biodiversity in the Peak District? Given the eyewatering figures BNG is generating, diverting just 10% of BNG to the National Parks would provide the necessary funds and has the obvious advantage of requiring only a small tweak to established legal mechanism.

Read the full article from The Guardian here.


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