Adders and slowworms to gain extra protection under new system in England | Wildlife

Adders and slowworms will be among animals given extra protection under plans by the government to “streamline” the process for protecting nature-rich areas.

George Eustice, the environment secretary, said that he plans for brownfield and urban sites to be given greater protection as he scraps sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) and special protected areas (SPAs), in order to replace them with a streamlined system.

Speaking at the environment all-party parliamentary group’s annual reception in parliament, the minister said that most animals protected under the current rules, which stop most development and protect the areas from neglect, are those that are rare across the EU. Eustice said this leaves some species out, such as adders and slow-worms, which are common in some EU countries but rare in England.

Eustice said the UK’s exit from the EU meant England would be able to tailor protections to its native wildlife. “The designations we have for species at the moment are in the annex to the habitats directive,” he said. “These are very much built around species that are under threat on an EU-wide basis. And so it does not include, for instance, things like the adder or slowworms, species that nationally probably have a lot of pressures on them.

“And perhaps we ought to be doing more for them, but at the moment, they’re not protected in the same way, because they have got habitat ranges elsewhere in the EU, and we probably need to just think afresh about what we ‘ re trying to protect and why we’re doing it. ”

Many animals, such as slowworms, lizards, adders and types of rare insect thrive in urban areas and brownfield sites, which are often targeted for development. Eustice said that the new designations are likely to include some of these, as many animals that rely on brownfields are at risk of becoming extinct.

He said: “Brownfield sites are important for slowworms in particular, and even bats. Often some of these derelict brownfield sites can be quite rich habitat. So it’s a bit of a paradox that we often say we want to build in brownfield sites not greenfield but paradoxically, some of those derelict brownfield sites… have got more to offer by way of ecology than a greenfield that’s been farmed. ”

Those being looked at include old mining areas, he said, adding: “You have these sites that have been derelict for around 50 years and often they do become quite a special habitat.”

While these words will probably be welcomed by conservation charities, there are concerns that the current system is under-resourced, with SSSIs and SPAs falling into disrepair. This raises questions over how any expansion of an already under-funded scheme would work.

Nature charities are currently working on their response to the plans to reform these protections. Crucially, they argue that more funding is needed.

The RSPB is working alongside other conservation groups to formulate a response. A spokesperson said: “Around half of our SSSIs and SPAs were found to have had no monitoring in over six years, and a large number of those who are monitored are in poor condition. So, any review of these sites needs to be accompanied by a commitment to quality.

“What matters is that we protect the best places for nature wherever they are – and critically that we then manage them properly as neglect is the biggest problem these sites have got at the moment.”

Eustice said SPAs and SSSIs are a “confused set of designations”. “What’s happened over the years are areas are double designed. Sometimes we designated an SAC and found we did not have the powers to manage it, so double-designed it an SSSI. We need areas that are much more designated to specific sites, we need to streamline the process. ”

Natural England, the government body which manages these sites, has for years been underfunded, with conservation charities warning that it is overstretched and unable to manage current sites, let alone create and look after new ones.

The agency’s budget was cut by more than half in a decade, from £ 242m in 2009-10 to £ 100m for 2017-18. Staff numbers were slashed from 2,500 to an estimated 1,500. This, insiders said at the time, made it very difficult to monitor and steward protected areas.

However, it was given a 47% funding uplift last year, and environment journal Ends Report said on Monday that another funding boost is in the works.

Leave a Comment