Countryside creeps back to health

A promising picture of England's rural environment has been published by Defra this week but the department has accepted there is still a lot to do to restore this green and pleasant land.

The Government has published updates of 19 indicators used to measure the progress of the England Biodiversity Strategy and claims they show the country's coastline, rivers, farms and sensitive sites reaping the rewards of strategies put in place to safeguard wildlife.

England's Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) come out particularly well, with 67% now in favourable condition, compared with 57% two years ago.

Some of the success has been claimed by Defra's various stewardship schemes which attempt to wed viable agriculture to environmentally sensitive land management.

The indicators sketch out how well efforts to conserve, enhance and work with nature and its ecosystems are going.

While pleased with the progress, Biodiversity Minister Jim Knight accepted there was still plenty of work to be done.

"We have not yet met our targets in any of these areas and we cannot afford to relax our efforts to ensure that England's wildlife is safeguarded and improved for future generations," he said.

"We need to keep working to improve the health of our natural environment through strategies like a co-ordinated, balanced approach to wildlife management encouraging environmental stewardship and getting more people involved in looking after the countryside."

The figures contrast to those issued by the Environment Agency in its annual State of the Environment report earlier in the year, which said that while there was some good news for the quality of land it had declined overall and improvements in conditions for wildlife needed to take into account the incredibly low baseline.

It said intensive farming had led to soil erosion and pollution of rivers as well as loss of habitat for many bird species.

But even the EA's more pessimistic report conceded things were on the up for several species and that improvements had been made to many SSSI's.

By Sam Bond



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