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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 10:00 GMT
English lowland decline 'goes on'
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Wildlife-rich meadow   Stephen Davis/English Nature
This Wiltshire meadow is species-friendly (Image: Stephen Davis/English Nature)
The decline of wildlife in England's lowlands is still continuing, experts say, despite several positive moves.

English Nature, which advises the government on wildlife, says tackling the problems of individual vulnerable areas will not retrieve the situation.

It says the only way of reversing the decline will be to manage the lowlands as whole landscapes, not separate bits.

The benefits, it says, will be not only to wildlife and the economy but also to people's health and sense of wellbeing.

Repairing past damage

English Nature's report, State Of Nature: Lowlands - Future Landscapes For Wildlife, lists what it says are the key steps needed to move to environmentally sustainable countryside management.

They include raising the environmental standards of farming, better water management, and reducing the impact of alien species.

England's lowlands - beauty under threat

The authors say the lowlands also need protection against the effects of transport, atmospheric pollution, building, and climate change.

They say: "The 20th Century was a period of unprecedented change in the lowlands, driven by readily available fertilisers, the need to produce sufficient food to support Britain's population, and the demand for softwood products.

"Many habitats were lost, through the cumulative impacts of agricultural intensification, draining wetlands, planting conifers, development pressure and the destruction of raised bogs by peat extraction.

"The remaining areas are often small, fragmented and isolated, and in poor condition.

Losing battle

"These large-scale habitat losses (including 97% of wildlife-rich grassland) have caused the decline of many species, such as green-winged orchids, cirl buntings and silver-studded blue butterflies.

Stone curlew   Paul Glendell/English Nature
The stone curlew needs carefully-managed farmland (Image: Paul Glendell/English Nature)

"There have been conservation successes but the overall decline in wildlife has not been reversed."

The report says the health of wetlands for wildlife often depends on the way the whole water catchment is managed, not just on what happens on individual sites.

Woodlands sometimes suffer from a lack of suitable management, like keeping some areas open and free of undergrowth, and from high numbers of deer.

It says: "It is clear that a site-based approach alone will not meet England's national and international obligations for the conservation of habitats and species."

"Working at a landscape scale will support the protected sites themselves, sustain the wildlife outside them, and allow natural movement across landscapes in response to climate change and human pressures."

Everyone a winner

Dr Keith Duff, English Nature's chief scientist, said: "England is internationally renowned for its lowland landscapes, such as the chalk downs and Dorset heathlands.

"However, its wildlife suffered dramatically in the 20th Century from the impact of human activities.

"This landscape-scale approach will also help the natural processes on which we all depend, for example reducing flooding and securing clean water.

"We now know that taking care of our natural resources is also good for our mental and physical health, and is essential economically, for example through tourism.

"We don't have some romantic notion about recreating the past, but believe we must move forward to sustainable land management in a modern context."

England's natural jewels in need
15 Dec 03  |  Science/Nature
Q&A: English Nature
04 Nov 03  |  UK
Emblems of a lost England
08 Jul 03  |  Science/Nature

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