Policy Priorities for UK Nature Conservation Identified

A group led by Professor Bill Sutherland at Cambridge University has identified the top 25 issues in conservation in greatest need of attention from policy-makers; either through the production of new or amendments to existing policy. The group, representing governmental organisations, NGOs and academia, focused on those areas where there may be options to fill gaps, improve implementation or where new research may be required. The result was a long-list of 117 issues, honed to 25 through a two-day workshop and a voting process. Sutherland et. al. intend that the list be of use to amongst others, policy-makers, providing knowledge on areas in need of attention and the policy options which may be available to address these areas and researchers, who can use the paper as a guide to policy-relevant, scientific questions which could form the focus of research efforts.

Issues identified in the paper cover both terrestrial and marine environments, ranging from protected areas and climate change, to habitat banking, restoring floodplain functionality for nature conservation and ecosystem services, peatland restoration, nanotechnology, marine spatial planning and non-native invasive species.

To take ‘protected areas’ as an example of the authors’ approach, Sutherland et.al. identify that the management of protected sites was developed at a time when landscape-change was generally directly human-induced and was therefore largely controllable. How should these areas be managed now, given the indirect and unpredictable effects of climate change? Policy options given include designating sites now which are likely to make an important biodiversity contribution in the future. The authors then identify a number of research questions, including the need to investigate what site properties enable widlife resilience under climate change.

The authors acknowledge in the discussion section that ‘ecosystem services’ is a thread running throughout the paper, and recognise that the future of biodiversity conservation will embrace this approach. Therefore they call on policy-makers and the research community to explore how policy instruments promoting ecosystem conservation can best be directed to maximise benefits for biodiversity.

The authors recommend that the exercise be repeated for the UK every five years and encourage other countries to carry out a similar activity.

Sutherland, W. J., Albon, S. D., Allison, H., Armstrong-Brown, S., Bailey, M. J., Brereton, T., Boyd, I. L., Carey, P., Edwards, J., Gill, M., Hill, D., Hodge, I., Hunt, A. J., Le Quesne, W. J. F., Macdonald, D. W., Mee, L. D., Mitchell, R., Norman, T., Owen, R. P., Parker, D., Prior, S. V., Pullin, A. S., Rands, M. R. W., Redpath, S., Spencer, J., Spray, C. J., Thomas, C. D., Tucker, G. M., Watkinson, A. R. and Clements, A. , REVIEW: The identification of priority policy options for UK nature conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology, no. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01863.x