The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature

This week Defra released the highly anticipated Natural Environment White Paper titled ‘The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature’, outlining Government’s vision for the future of landscapes and ecosystem services. The paper emphasises that although we know the environment provides many irreplaceable and valuable services we have been unsustainably exploiting natural capital for many years, leading to biodiversity loss and degradation. Plans for action to halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity and ecosystem services are described.

In a Defra press release following the launch of the White Paper Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said “The true value of nature should be built in to the decisions we make – as individuals, organisations, businesses and governments – so that we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better condition than we found it.”

One of the key plans is to create 12 new Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs), designed to fulfil many of the goals of Lawton’s ‘Ecological Restoration Zones’, and help wildlife adapt to climate change. A competition will be set up to determine the site of the 12 initial Nature Improvement Areas, and Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs) will be invited to enter their area. So far £7.5 million has been pledged to fund these Nature Improvement Areas. However the Lawton Review ‘Making Space For Nature’ estimated the cost of restoring damage already done to the natural environment at around £0.6 to £1.1 billion.

The Government also plan to use the imminent reforms of the planning system to achieve environmental objectives, and improve ecological networks. Planners will be encouraged to put the natural environment at the heart of all decision making. Reforms to the planning system will include introducing voluntary use of biodiversity offsets in some areas, with a view to broadening these pilot schemes over time.

Another key element of the paper is plans to reconnect local people, particularly children, with nature, by creating a new Local Green Area designation to protect green spaces of particular importance to communities, and removing barriers preventing teaching outdoors. Communities will be supported to volunteer to protect their local wildlife areas.

A new independent committee (The Natural Capital Committee) will be established to advise the Government on the state of natural capital in the UK. Following the release of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment natural capital will be included in the UK Environmental Accounts.

Businesses will be expected to take greater action to protect the environment, and the Government have proposed to investigate potential ways to expand markets in which ecosystem service providers are paid by the users of the service.

The government have also pledged to influence policy in the EU and internationally by showing leadership and ensuring that there are ambitious environmental commitments included in the reformed Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy. £25 million will be donated to the Darwin initiatives fund to help ecosystem and development projects, reducing poverty worldwide. Initiatives to reduce climate change will also continue to be supported through £2.9 billion of funds which will distributed to projects such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.

In general the White Paper received a positive response from conservation organisations. The director of conservation at the RSPB Martin Harper said “Nature Improvement Areas are about looking at conservation on a joined up, landscape scale, instead of a series of patchwork measures dotted across our landscape. It’s fantastic to see the Government promoting this idea.” At the Wildlife Trusts Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscapes said “How this White Paper is implemented and adopted by all Government departments will be critical. There is a vital need to ensure it influences the current policy reforms around planning, development and growth.” All emphasised that they would be willing to work with the government to ensure that the ambitious plans are carried out.