Biodiversity loss

10 November 2008

A new approach is needed to address the dramatic biodiversity loss that is occurring in England and in the UK’s overseas territories, the Environmental Audit Select Committee concludes.

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.

An ecosystems approach

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.

Protection of overseas territories

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.”

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