ancient woodland / Richard Cobden

Ancient woodland / Sussex Wildlife Trust

Over several decades Government has signed international biodiversity treaties to drive action to prevent biodiversity loss and to value, conserve and restore nature. As part of the EU, the UK agreed to a vision on biodiversity in 2010 to protect, enhance and restore biodiversity for its intrinsic value as well as for the essential contribution to human wellbeing.

As a result, in the Natural Environment White Paper (2011) government presents a long term vision to be “the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than it inherited”, aiming to place “the value of nature at the centre of the choices our nation must make”. In so doing it aims to safeguard the natural areas that we all cherish and from which we derive vital services, putting right the damage done in the past and restoring nature.

From this flowed the strategy “Biodiversity 2020” which aims to halt biodiversity loss, support healthy well-functioning ecosystems and establish coherent ecological networks – more and better places for nature, to the benefit of people and wildlife.

A basic minimum for this is to maintain the irreplaceable habitats we have today, such as ancient woodland. A Houses of Parliament “postnote” (no 465) stresses their irreplaceable nature and “Keepers of time” – the policy statement on ancient woods – describes them as irreplaceable living monuments that must be adequately protected.

Ancient woods, and many other vital natural assets can be called “natural capital”. As the governments Natural Capital Committee has stated, natural capital – nature – underpins our economy and is central to our wellbeing. It is an economic imperative to restore and grow natural capital, rather than to allow it to erode further.

Nature must no longer be considered the poor relation in a balancing act against limitless other pressures. All strategies, including access and transport strategies, must now fit this background – how do they halt biodiversity loss, restore nature, develop healthy ecosystems, deliver coherent ecological networks and grow natural capital?

In June 2015, Highways England produced its Biodiversity Plan after only a 3 week consultation. It remains to be seen whether this will halt the continuing loss of biodiversity due to road building.