Up to 99,000 hectares of land in England, from city fringes to wetlands, will be focused on supporting wildlife in five major “nature recovery” projects, the Government said.
The five landscape-scale projects in the West Midlands, Cambridgeshire, the Peak District, Norfolk and Somerset aim to help tackle wildlife loss and climate change and improve public access to nature.
They will share an initial £2.4 million pot from the Environment Department (Defra) and Natural England, for work to create new habitats, manage land for nature and carbon storage and increase footpaths and connect with communities, with further funding expected from other sources and partners.
It is hoped the nature recovery schemes, which include existing nature reserves and the wider landscape, will extend across 99,200 hectares of land (245,000 acres) in total over time – equivalent in size to all 219 current national nature reserves.
Work in the projects will range from converting farmland into chalk grassland to restoring “dewponds” and managing wetlands and other land sustainably.
Projects will also develop plans to work with communities in cities and deprived areas to improve their access to nature, including creating new green areas and improved footpaths and bridleways.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “These five projects across England are superb examples of exciting, large-scale restoration that is critically needed to bring about a step-change in the recovery of nature in this country.
“They will significantly contribute to achieving our target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030 and our commitment to protect 30% of our land by 2030, enabling us to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.”
Natural England chairman Tony Juniper added: “Nature recovery can only occur if we take action at scale, and that can only work through partnerships.
“These five landmark projects will seek to recover species and habitats through collaboration among a wide range of landowners and organisations, delivering benefits for wildlife, local economies, adaptation to climate change and for public wellbeing.”
Joan Edwards, director of policy at The Wildlife Trusts, said it was “good to see positive ambition” from the Government to help people access nature near where they lived and connect existing wildlife sites.
“Species desperately need green corridors to bridge together fragmented habitats in addition to big, bold projects that enable landscapes to recover at scale.
“Wildlife has suffered catastrophic declines in recent decades and 15% of species in the UK are at risk of extinction.
“Government can help turn that around by accelerating the creation of a nature recovery network, dedicating more land for nature, and applying stronger protections for our most important sites,” she urged.
The five projects are:
– Purple Horizons – a scheme extending across up to 10,000 hectares on the fringes of the West Midlands conurbation and focusing on restoring and connecting fragmented heathlands to create a mosaic of heathlands, wetlands, woodlands and grasslands.
It will link up existing protected areas, work with local landowners to deliver habitat creation and carbon storage, and is developing a plan for connecting with communities in the deprived areas of Walsall to deliver green areas where they will have the greatest health benefits.
– Somerset Wetlands – A project extending across as much as 60,000 hectares of the Somerset Levels and Moors with a long-term aim to restore ecological processes across moors, wetlands and coast.
Managing the wetlands sustainably will maintain carbon-storing peatland, boost green tourism, reduce pollution and improve resilience to floods and drought. In the first year, partners will deliver 11 projects working with landowners, restoring habitats and storing carbon.
– Cambridge Nature Network – This scheme aims to develop wildlife-rich and accessible habitats in and around the city of Cambridge covering 9,200 hectares, making existing nature sites bigger, better and more connected.
It will include converting farmland into new chalk grassland, creating a new meadow, and establishing new woodlands, as well as tree planting and meadow restoration in the city itself.
– Wye Valley, Peak District – The project covers 10,000 hectares, including nearly 1,400 hectares of existing protected areas and priority habitat.
In its first year, project partners the National Trust, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Peak District National Park Authority and Natural England will focus on restoring dewponds to support amphibians and bugs.
Baseline surveys will assess habitats and opportunities for private investment in boosting nature under rules which require developers to deliver “net gains” for biodiversity as part of their schemes, while nature recovery packs for 500 residents will help them connect with nature.
– Wendling Beck, Norfolk – This project near Dereham aims to transform farmland and its river valley across 10,000 hectares through restoring and creating habitat and adopting more sustainable farming practices.
A project partnership of local farmers, Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Norfolk County Council, supported by others, is creating and enhancing grassland, heathland, woodland and wetland to boost wildlife from turtle doves to green winged orchids.
It is piloting a scheme for biodiversity net gain credits and also plans to provide permissive access and links to the Norfolk Trails Network.