Biodiversity — the variety of all life on Earth — has a fundamental value that is impossible to put into words. It is also essential for human survival. The loss of species is a warning: like the canary down the mine, it signals grave danger. The Government is determined to show international leadership, as well as taking radical action at home, to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity.
Last year the UN Convention on Biological Diversity met in Nagoya, Japan. At that meeting 193 nations reached a historic agreement on halting biodiversity loss. I was delighted to be there, and help secure that agreement. Since then, my Department has been working hard to follow through on the commitments made.
In June this year, I and other EU environment ministers endorsed the EU biodiversity strategy, which sets out European actions towards Nagoya commitments. We have followed that up by producing our own national plan-the England Biodiversity Strategy-one of the very first produced by those 193 countries.
We are also funding conservation projects around the world. This April in Brazil, for example, I announced a further £25 million for future rounds of the Darwin Initiative, which has done so much to further conservation and help alleviate poverty in over 150 countries.
At home we have seen many conservation success stories over recent years. In 2009, the Wildlife Trusts reported otters in every English county, for the first time in over 40 years. The Large Blue butterfly, extinct in the UK in 1979, was reintroduced in 1984 and there are now 40,000 of them. There are many more examples, too.
But these successes must be seen against a backdrop of continuing biodiversity decline across the UK.
Recent evidence from the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) shows that the natural world is critically important to our wellbeing and economic prosperity, but is undervalued in economic analyses and decision-making. We need to recognise that nature has huge value for our economy, worth billions of pounds.
Defra’s Natural Environment White Paper, published this June, forms our vision for the natural environment. It is informed by the evidence of the NEA, and sets the strategic direction for biodiversity policy for the next decade.
Our mission is to halt overall loss of England’s biodiversity by 2020. Our planned outcomes include increasing the proportion of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in favourable condition, establishing a well managed, ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas and supporting the creation of new Nature Improvement Areas.
The England Biodiversity Strategy sets out in detail how we will achieve this goal. It explains how Nature Improvement Areas will transform both rural and urban areas, as well as providing bigger, interconnected sites to help wildlife thrive and adapt to climate change. We have committed a £7.5m fund for 12 initial NIAs to demonstrate just what can be done.
We are also providing £1m to support the creation of Local Nature Partnerships, which will bring local agencies and organisations together to achieve common goals. And we are piloting biodiversity offsetting-a new way for developers to ensure we don’t lose wildlife by offsetting the impact of development and improving wildlife sites elsewhere.
The conservation success stories already seen have not been down to government alone-far from it. They have relied on the work of our conservation charities, and the dedication of conservation volunteers. Farmers, land managers, businesses and gardeners have also played a central role.
Society needs nature-and nature needs the Big Society. The White Paper and the England Biodiversity Strategy set out to harness the passion we all have for nature, through action in schools, through local public health bodies and by helping boost environmental volunteering. We are also working with UK businesses to help them understand that protecting biodiversity is good for their bottom line. Together we can secure rich, healthy biodiversity: for its own sake, and for the sake of human wellbeing.