From ‘endangered’ to revitalised – using the planning system to promote our wildlife
The 19th of May 2019 is ‘Endangered Species Day’. It may seem a bit strange to have a single day that officially recognises the world’s most endangered species, since every day counts for such vulnerable plants and creatures. It is however an opportunity to remind us how urgent it is that we respond to the growing plight of an increasing number of species who face the threat of extinction.
The reasons why certain wildlife species, such as the hedgehog, hazel dormouse and Fiery Clearwing Moth, are at risk are multiple and complex. Changing land-use patterns to intensive farming monocultures and increasing urbanisation are rapidly denuding the natural habitats on which wildlife depends, reducing the space and connections and polluting the land, air and water which support an array of species. The climate emergency is also changing the seasons, temperatures and weather patterns in increasingly unexpected ways, intensifying the risk of extreme weather events such as flooding and droughts. So far natural ecosystems, and the wildlife living within them, have been resilient to change. It is clear, however, that these multiple pressures on our natural world are pushing the limits of this resilience and that some species are more vulnerable to such threats than others.
In the UK, an estimated one in ten species have been made extinct or threatened with extinction in the last forty years (State of Nature Report, 2016). These endangered species are a warning signal to us. Our response should be to defend not only the individual species but also to restore, protect and enhance the wider habitats and ecosystems that provide them and many other species a home.
The Back from the Brink programme is an example where conservation charities and local communities and landowners are working collaboratively to protect the country’s most threatened species, such as the grey long-eared bat and natterjack toad. Groups are working to save 20 key species from extinction, involving 19 projects across England that will also benefit over 200 more species; from the tip of Cornwall to Northumberland.
The planning system offers a strategic tool that can be used to try and link up increasingly isolated patches of habitats and wildlife, as well as to encourage new and existing developments to promote greater protection and enhancement of habitats for wildlife. Local authorities, such as in Warwickshire and Hampshire, are encouraging a more ecosystem-based landscape-scale approach to protecting wildlife, one that recognises that many species do not respect administrative boundaries and require a much more integrated style of working. Nationally, the Government has committed to make new developments contribute a net gain or increase to biodiversity within and around a project site. In future Nature Recovery Networks may also have an important role to play.
The various members of the Partnership for Biodiversity in Planning are also trying to promote improvement in the planning system to better promote biodiversity. This includes the production of the Wildlife Assessment Check, a free tool designed for householders and smaller developers to assist in considering the potential impact of future development projects on protected and priority wildlife species, as well as designated sites for wildlife – such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). The tool also indicates whether expert ecological advice might be required, ahead of making a planning application.
We know that nature and humanity are interdependent and we urgently need to act. By working together to help enhance nature we are not only helping these precious creatures but also supporting our survival and the survival of future generations.