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Countryside has been 'overlooked' amid climate change battle - 26 July 10  

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Important issues affecting the countryside have been overlooked because of the focus on the problems of climate change, campaigners have said.

The battle against global warming which has dominated the Government's environment policy has taken place against a backdrop of a "piecemeal degradation" of rural Britain, which ministers are now promising to address.

During the last Government major legislation was introduced to cut carbon emissions in order to tackle global warming.

However Britain continued to lose important wildlife like farmland birds, flower rich meadows and bees.

In a change of direction, the new Coalition Government has promised to bring the focus back onto endangered animals, cleaner water and other aspects of the natural environment.

The first environmental paper to be launched by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 20 years will focus on protecting the countryside.

Helen Meech, assistant director of external affairs at the National Trust, said some “great legislation” was introduced by the last Government to cut greenhouse gases by 80 per cent on 1990 levels by 2050.

But now there is a need to introduce new laws to protect the environment that is suffering right now. Honey bees are in crisis, 97 per cent of flower rich meadows have been lost since 1930 and house sparrow numbers have decline by 10 million in the last 25 years.

“The environment agenda has been very dominated by climate change and this discussion is an opportunity to bring the natural environment back up the agenda,” she said.

"We've lost sight of the benefits the natural world provides because they are not accountable within markets and everyone takes them for granted.

"Now is the time we need to start valuing all the benefits we get for free because they are being degraded."

Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, is due to launch a discussion paper at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.

She is calling on every area of society to contribute ideas to how Britain can stop the extinction of species on our own doorstep.

“We want everyone to contribute their views on the natural environment - whether they’re concerned at the plight of the songbirds in their garden, the quality of air in their town, flooding problems worsened by people paving over their gardens or the fate of our wider countryside,” she said.

“We have the opportunity to be the generation that puts a stop to the piecemeal degradation of our natural environment”

Ideas that are likely to be accepted by the new Government when the white paper is published next spring include introducing a new system of ‘conservation credits’. The ‘bio-banking’ system, as it is also known, means developers have to compensate for building on wildlife habitats by supporting conservation projects elsewhere.

The Government is also expected to consider a new designation for green spaces in towns and cities that will protect urban parks and nature reserves from development.

The NHS and schools will be asked to introduce ‘green exercise’ and ‘outdoor lessons’ as part of their statutory requirements.

Farmers will have to do more to protect the environment in order to continue receiving subsidies as part of possible reforms to agriculture.

Nature reserves that exist will be protected by ‘wildlife corridors’ and new protected areas will be set up.

More radical suggestions submitted to the discussion paper may include reintroducing species like the wolf or beaver and a ban on factory farming in England.

Conservation groups including the RSPB, Woodland Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) will all be putting in ideas.

Stephanie Hilborne, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said it could transform the landscape of the UK.

"This White Paper is potentially as meaningful as the build-up to the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act,” she said.

"Back then we were reconstructing a nation and, although money was very short, nature was seen as a key part of our future.

"Nature is not a luxury. With the UK facing unprecedented economic uncertainty and pressures for energy generation, food production and housing, there is a risk we overlook the very basis of our economy and our society; the natural environment upon which this all depends."


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Source: The Telegraph