Twelve Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) have been set up with Government funding of £7.5m over three years to create wildlife havens, restore habitats and encourage local people to get involved with nature. In the wake of the announcement of the areas, selected in a competition from 76 bids across England, wildlife groups called for the move to be the start of a much bigger effort to boost nature throughout the country. The Wildlife Trusts said the concept should be rolled out across England, and that there should be explicit guidance to local authorities, in the controversial changes currently being made to the planning system, to recognise NIAs. But the Government said the scheme should not stifle ‘sustainable development’ – which ministers have put at the heart of their National Planning Policy Framework planning reforms – and that it was up to local authorities how much weight to give to NIAs.
Announcing the 12 projects, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: ‘Each of these projects has something different to offer. [They] are the result of different organisations working together with a common purpose – to safeguard our wildlife for generations to come.’ Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscapes for the Wildlife Trusts, said: ‘The concept should be driven forward everywhere across England and given formal recognition through the new planning process and agri-environment grants. We have an urgent need for the restoration and recovery of the natural environment to take place across a much larger area and quickly.’
The NIAs were awarded funding by a panel of experts, led by Prof. Sir John Lawton, and were a key commitment of the Natural Environment White Paper ‘The Natural Choice’. Sir John said: ‘For more than 40 years I have had the privilege of working on nature-conservation issues in the UK, both as a professional scientist and in the voluntary sector. Never in all that time have I seen the sort of creativity, partnership working and sheer enthusiasm that the NIA competition has released in consortia that want to deliver more effective conservation for England’s wonderful wildlife in their area. Choosing 12 winners from 76 bids was an awfully difficult task, but I believe we have 12 outstanding NIAs, each unique in what it is setting out to achieve, for the benefits of people and wildlife.’
The 12 NIAs, and their project aims, will be:
• Birmingham and the Black Country Living Landscape – urban, wetland, river and heath habitats. It will create heathland on brownfield sites and 40 ha of new native woodland.
• Dark Peak – moorland and woodland in the Peak District National Park. It will restore habitats such as upland heathland and create 210 ha of native woodland.
• Dearne Valley Green Heart – mostly on farmland and former mining settlements with woodland and wetland. It will restore the River Don floodplain and create new wetlands and woodlands.
• Greater Thames Marshes – includes agricultural, marsh and urban habitats. It will create and enhance grazing marsh, saltmarsh and mudflats.
• Humberhead Levels, straddling Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire – mainly wetland, lowland and peat habitats. It will create or restore at least 1,427 ha of wetland.
• Marlborough Downs – predominantly a farmer-led partnership looking to restore chalk and grassland habitats and increase the numbers of farmland birds as well as creating a network of traditional clay-lined dewponds to act as wildlife havens.
• Meres and Mosses of the Marches, incorporating wetlands, peat bogs and ponds in Cheshire. It aims to reduce diffuse pollution by working with farmers, improve peatlands and restore wildlife areas around the River Perry.
• Morecambe Bay Limestones and Wetlands (the most northerly NIA) – consists of limestone, wetland and grassland. It will restore coast and freshwater wetlands and create 200 ha of woodland.
• Nene Valley, within the River Nene regional park; this project will work with farmers to restore habitats and restore tributaries and reaches of the Nene.
• Northern Devon – river, woodland and grassland. The project will recreate and restore 1,000 ha of priority habitat and restore the River Torridge so that it can support the critically endangered Freshwater Pearl Mussel Margaritifera margaritifera.
• South Downs Way Ahead – encompassing key chalk sites of the South Downs National Park. The NIA will restore 1,000 ha of chalk grassland and encourage the return of the Duke of Burgundy butterfly Hamearis lucina and several species of farmland birds.
• Wild Purbeck – a variety of river, wetland, heath and woodland habitats as well as the largest onshore oilfield in western Europe. This NIA will introduce livestock to manage heathland, restore wetland and create or restore 15 ponds as well as creating 120 ha of new woodland and a new 7-ha saline lagoon.