Conservation policy must adapt to climate change

Policies to protect wildlife, woodland and water in England and Wales differ widely in their ability to adapt to climate change, says a newly published report by the Environment Agency and Countryside Council for Wales.

Using the River Usk Catchment in South Wales as a case study, the study applied a range of climate and socio-economic scenarios to the six natural resource initiatives, looking ahead to 2020 and 2050.

"We analysed policies that covered a wide spectrum of natural resource protection issues - addressing nature conservation, water resource management, flood protection and economic and recreational use of the countryside," said Environment Agency Research Fellow Harriet Orr.

"We found that some of our natural resource policies were ill-equipped to deal with the looming threats of climate change, while others which had flexibility built into the core structure were well positioned to adapt to the challenges likely to be experienced in the coming years."

The report studied six key natural resource policies in England and Wales:

  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
  • Welsh agri-environment schemes (Tir Gofal)
  • Woodlands Strategy
  • Biomass Action Plan
  • Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies (CAMS)
  • Catchment Flood Management Plans (CFMP)

    Countryside Council for Wales' Climate Change Advisor Dr Clive Walmsley said rather than waiting for the impact of climate change, policy needed to help land managers find opportunities within adaptation practices.

    "Now that we've got a general acceptance that some degree of climate change is inevitable we've got to do some horizon scanning and find opportunities," Dr Walmsley said.

    "A UK level revision of common agricultural policy needs to take these different strategies for rural land use and create an integrated land management approach, that doesn't view policies as separate and isolated.

    "For example, biomass production is a positive renewable energy source, but if we look at the strategy from a single focus we won't see that it could have the wider negative effects on habitat or biodiversity."

    The study Climate proofing rural resource protection policies and strategies in Wales can be found on the Environment Agency publications catalogue.

    Dana Gornitzki

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    Waste & resource management
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