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October 5, 2010 Dear Secretary of State, I am writing on behalf of the Guardian newspaper and our readers to ask you to consider a proposal to adopt a number of measures to protect UK biodiversity. The specific actions have been proposed by our online readers and developed by professional conservation scientists
We believe that committing to these actions will both protect important animals, plants and habitats and send a clear signal to the negotiations at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP10 in Nagoya this month that the decisive, concrete actions can and must be taken to halt the alarming decline in global biodiversity. Our campaign Biodiversity 100, which launched in August, has identified similar, achievable actions in a number of countries and has the support of the international scientific community. We are sharing our proposals with journalists around the world, who will be able to measure the success of their national and local governments in implementing the actions we have put forward. For more details of the campaign please go to guardian.co.uk/biodiversity100. The four evidence-based actions we request that you consider are as follows (more details overleaf): 1. Reintroduce animals, where appropriate, into regions where they have become locally extinct. 2. Safeguard and restore the populations of all indigenous British bumblebees, with a package of measures sufficient to reverse their decline. 3. Require the UK government and the three devolved administrations to create a new marine reserve in every term of office, with the aim of building up an extensive system of protection. 4. Create 12 Ecological Restoration Zones (ERZs) across England, plus raising the remaining areas of high conservation value across the UK to the highest level of protection.
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There are 22 other actions in all referring to the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Turkey, South Korea, China, Japan, France, India, Indonesia, Poland, Russia, Spain and Mexico. I have written similar letters to them, as well as the 3 devolved administrations. We kindly request you to react publicly to our recommendation through your statements to the CBD COP10 plenary. We also urge you to consider including our proposed our action when you revise the UK's National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan after COP10.
Alan Rusbridger Editor-in-Chief The Guardian
CC: Jane Davidson AM, Department for Environment, Sustainability and Housing Richard Lockhead MS P, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment Edwin Poots MLA, Department of the Environment Mr. Eric Blencowe, Head, International Biodiversity Policy Unit Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive secretary, CBD
Native bumble bees Action: Safeguard and restore the populations of all indigenous British bumblebees, with a package of measures sufficient to reverse their decline. Description: Various strands of policy need urgent action in order to protect native bumble bee species and the vital “ecosystem services” they provide – principally pollination. This must involve the use of regulatory measures and incentives to encourage a move away from intensive agriculture; widespread replanting of wildflowers; better habitat management, including in public parks and spaces, domestic gardens, verges and hedgerows; greater use of nest boxes; and public awareness-raising campaigns. Evidence: The Joint Nature Conservation Committee currently lists seven species of bumblebee with “priority” status under the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan: the great yellow bumblebee, brown-banded carder-bee, moss carder bee, red-shanked carder bee, large garden bumblebee, short-haired bumblebee and shrill carder bee. The causes of the recent major declines in bumblebee populations are not certain, but some factors are known to be important. Evidence of a connection to intensive agriculture is robust, with “quantitative local surveys in southern Britain [finding] that bumblebee density and species richness are both generally lower in the more intensively farmed areas than in some open semi-natural areas”. Some bees’ habitats can also be adversely affected, as cropped grass “severely affects the survival of surface nests”. Pesticides (and some herbicides) may also be implicated, though this is unproven, and their effects are difficult to discriminate from other factors.
Animal reintroductions Action: Reintroduce animals into regions where they have become locally extinct. Description: Impose a duty on national parks to produce a programme for annual improvements to biodiversity conservation, including reintroducing animals that have become extinct locally and nationally. Evidence: National Parks in the UK are required to conserve and enhance their natural beauty and wildlife under the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. Despite individual successes, however, the recent report to the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) by distinguished ecologist Sir John Lawton found “serious short-comings” among wildlife sites including national parks. The report calls for a restorative approach with “carefully targeted recovery efforts”, rescue operations for threatened species and enhancement of existing habitat and diversity promotion in larger sites. The UK is also subject to international obligations to encourage the restoration of native species – including the Bern Convention (1979), Rio Convention (1992) and EC Habitats Directive (1992). Natural England is currently considering the reintroduction of the white-tailed eagle, hen harrier and short-haired bumblebee, while a recent feasibility study on the reintroduction of the Eurasian beaver in areas of England foresaw various potential ecological benefits. Britain’s Ecological Society cites the osprey, white-tailed eagle, red kite and in particular large blue butterfly as recent examples of successful reintroductions. Scotland has a comparatively large number of originally native but now extinct large mammal species, as well as large areas of woodland and fecund deer population, prompting the advocacy of reintroductions of species such as the Eurasian lynx to the Scottish highlands. Other species suggested for reintroduction include cranes, elk, polecats and wild boar. Ecological Restoration Zones Action: The creation of 12 Ecological Restoration Zones (ERZs) across England, plus raising the remaining areas of high conservation value to the highest level of protection. Description: (ERZs) should be established that operate over large, discrete areas. Within these, significant improvement can be achieved by enhancing existing wildlife sites, improving ecological connections and restoring ecological processes. In addition, the government should ensure that remaining areas of high conservation value that currently are not well protected, are effectively safeguarded. Evidence: In his report Making Space for Nature Sir John Lawton made a powerful case that England’s wild spaces are too small and too fragmented to act effectively to protect the species that they contain. As a consequence, they are not living up to their potential conservation value. He says: First, it is important that the remaining semi-natural habitats, corridors and stepping stones are well protected. Second, the amount of habitat that remains, and the small sizes of many of the fragments, mean that the current series of protected sites is insufficient to prevent further loss of species. He recommends the creation of 12 large scale ecological restoration zones and separately that the best quality areas for biodiversity should be given the highest level of protection. He advocates better protection in the planning system for local wildlife sites, and other remaining areas of semi-natural habitat of high wildlife value; designation of Special Sites of Scientific Interest and new incentives for private owners. Marine reserves Action: Require the UK government and the three devolved administrations to create a new marine reserve in every term of office, with the aim of building up an extensive system of protection.
Description: The UK Marine Protected Areas Centre states that “in total, the area coverage of all Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) exceeds 1.8 million hectares, or 2.2% of UK waters”. However, these areas tend only to apply partial protections; by contrast, there are only three of the better protected Marine Nature Reserves in the UK. The failure to roll out further marine nature reserves has been attributed in part to a lack of a formal obligation to establish a network and the elaborate and drawn-out designation procedure. Evidence: The 2004 Review of Marine Nature Conservation report to Defra concluded that “the current system for marine nature conservation … is not fit for purpose”, with the need for a integrated strategy across government, greater and more coordinated enforcement, and a network of protected areas. A recent Nature paper found “an extraordinary decline in the availability of bottom-living fish and a profound reorganisation of sea bed ecosystems” due to commercial fishing in England and Wales. It emphasised the need to eliminate over-exploitation of European fisheries. According to Natural England, “landings of demersal fish, particularly cod and haddock, have fallen by more than 50%” in the decade up to 2007. Evidence suggests “no-take zones” – in which fishing of all kinds is prohibited – incorporating protected networks of multiple habitats, may be a particularly effective method of conservation. In accordance with the 2004 recommendations of the 25th Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) report, these should be rolled out across about 30% of UK waters to allow for recovery of fish stocks to sustainable levels. Prohibitions on destructive deep-sea fishing practices should also be introduced, and measures taken to ensure subsidies to the fishing industry are withdrawn, as recommended by the RCEP.
For the full version of this text with links to scientific papers, please visit the Biodiversity 100 site: guardian.co.uk/biodiversity100