Environmental Audit Committee Press Notice

10 November 2008

Government needs new approach to halt loss of species and habitats, say MPs

A new approach is needed to address the dramatic biodiversity loss that is occurring in England (Government has devolved responsibility for delivering biodiversity conservation) and in the UK's overseas territories, the Environmental Audit Select Committee concludes today.

In a report published today, Halting biodiversity loss, the Committee concludes that despite some good work by Government many species and habitats continue to face severe declines and local extinctions across England. It warns that the Government will miss a key international target to halt biodiversity loss by 2010.

The Committee says there is a compelling economic case for the protection and enhancement of biodiversity. But to achieve this Government will have to go beyond traditional nature conservation policies to reverse the decline and enable growth in biodiversity into the future.

While the Committee recognizes protected area arrangements are largely adequate it believes the Government now needs to adopt an ecosystems approach, which seeks to promote the sustainable management of the landscape by ensuring that the environmental impacts of all policies are correctly identified and addressed.

MPs welcome the Government's plan to conduct an ecosystem assessment for England as a first step but say a cross departmental approach is also needed. The Committee is concerned that a number of policies indicate the continued failure of departments, for example DCLG and DBERR, to consider biodiversity impacts.

To ensure momentum is not lost new targets for halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2020 are also required.

The Committee has also found that the Government has failed to act to protect the globally significant biodiversity found in the UK's Overseas Territories, where it is the eleventh hour for many species.

It is concerned the Government has ignored many of the recommendations the Committee has made in the past to protect the environment of the overseas territories.

Again it wants the Government to adopt a truly joined up approach by bringing together all relevant Government departments, to give Defra join responsibility for UK's overseas territories and to address the dire lack of funds and information for environmental protection in these areas.

Chairman of the Committee, Tim Yeo MP, said:

"England is a much poorer place than it was fifty years ago with the widespread decline of many of our most important, and loved, habitats and species. We have lost some 97% of our flower-rich meadows and there are now half the number of farmland birds that there were fifty years ago.

The continued deterioration of the natural environment has clear economic implications as it directly underpins many things that we take for granted such as pollination, flood protection and clean air.

The Government has intervened successfully to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss, although losses continue in the face of a variety of pressures including development, transport and agriculture. It is no longer enough to rely on protected areas to preserve nature, as increasingly these have become islands in the landscape.

The Government needs to ensure that all policies with a direct or indirect impact on biodiversity do not undermine attempts to preserve it. Policies on issues such as biofuels, house building and planning are in danger of accelerating rather than halting biodiversity loss.

One of the most important contributions the Government could make to slow the catastrophic global diversity loss currently occurring would be to accept its environmental responsibilities for our overseas territories."

The Report will be published at 00:01 on Monday 10 November 2008 as the Committee's Thirteenth Report of Session 2007-08, HC 743. Embargoed electronic copies will be available from the Committee on Friday 7 November 2008. It will be available on the Committee's internet homepage from 11.00am on Monday 10 November 2008: www.parliament.uk/eacom.

Once the Report has been published, copies can be obtained from TSO outlets and from the Parliamentary Bookshop, 12 Bridge Street, Parliament Square, London SW1A 2JX (020 7219 3890) by quoting House of Commons No. 528.

Contact details

Press enquiries:
Laura Kibby 020 7219 0718

Other enquiries:
Gordon Clarke 020 7219 0248

Notes for Editors

Details of all the Committee's press releases together with its Reports, oral evidence and other publications, are available on the Committee's website at: www.parliament.uk/eacom

The Environmental Audit Committee

Under the terms of the Standing Order No. 152A the Environmental Audit Committee is to consider to what extent the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development: to audit their performance against such targets as may be set for them by her Majesty's Ministers; and to report thereon to the House. The Committee was nominated on 13 July 2005.

Membership:

Chairman: Mr Tim Yeo, MP

Mr Gregory Barker MP Mr Nick Hurd MP Mr Graham Stuart MP
Mr Martin Caton MP Mr Mark Lazarowicz MP Jo Swinson MP
Mr Colin Challen MP Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger MP Dr Desmond Turner MP
Mr David Chaytor MP Shahid Malik MP Joan Walley MP
Martin Horwood MP Mrs Linda Riordan MP Phil Woolas MP*

* The Minister for the Environment has ex-officio membership of the Committee in like manner to the Financial Secretary's membership of the Committee of Public Accounts.