Speaking at the UK Biodiversity Partnership Conference in Bristol on Tuesday, June 14, Mr Knight said it was vital to convince the public that biodiversity was of real importance and worth saving.

In recent decades Britain has seen the population of many species plummet, with much of the blame attributed to loss of habitat and the intensive farming of agri-business.

Mr Knight said it was vital to reverse this trend, both for the financial and social benefits that wildlife tourism could bring and the longer-term impact the loss of species would have.

“We need to increase the volume of public support for action on biodiversity, because it still appears unimportant and irrelevant to far too many people,” he said.

“We must find a way to make the loss of biodiversity immediately relevant to people in an economic and social sense, as well as on purely environmental grounds.

“Tourism is one of the biggest contributors to rural and regional economies and it relies on a thriving natural environment.”

He gave the example of England’s last breeding pair of choughs, an acrobatic red-billed member of the crow family and Cornwall’s county bird, at the Lizard, which bring thousands of tourists flocking every year contributing £180,000 to the economy.

“But the importance of biodiversity goes much further than that,” he said.
“The bottom line is that if we don’t improve the way we manage our natural resources well now our economies and communities will suffer immeasurably in the future.”

Commenting on the conference’s aim of looking at ways to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010 he said strong partnerships would be needed between Government and conservationists.

“We will succeed by challenging preconceptions, educating, informing and showing people what can be done, rather than what is out of reach,” he said, before echoing Churchillian rhetoric.

“The fight to save our biodiversity and the lifestyles that are so important to us is won and lost in our own back gardens, in our woodlands and farmlands, moors and streams.”

By Sam Bond

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