Thursday, 12 June 2014

State of Nature: one year on...

It is now a year since the State of Nature report - compiled by 25 wildlife organisations, from the RSPB to the British Lichen Society, and collating assessments of 3,148 species - was published:
Futures Forum: State of Nature 

Analysis was also done on a county-basis:
Futures Forum: State of Devon's Nature

A new 'State of the Environment' report for Devon has just been produced by Natural Devon:
Devon: the state of the environment | East Devon Alliance

The report makes clear how important a healthy environment is:

The State of the Environment Summary Report for Devon and Torbay provides a succinct description of the current condition of our environment. The report considers trends which point to the future condition of the environment, as well as identifying current and likely future pressures that need to be considered in decision making. 

Critically, each chapter describes the fundamental relationships between environmental quality and Devon and Torbay’s economic prosperity and health and wellbeing. 

Ultimately we cannot exist without functioning ecosystems which provide us with a range of vital services, including pollination and nutrient cycling for food; clean air and water; the processing of waste products; and pharmaceuticals. Additionally, evidence indicates that contact with the natural environment may offer considerable benefit to health and have positive effects on communities, including improved mental health and wellbeing, reduced health inequalities, increased levels of physical activity and improved levels of social cohesion. Landscapes perceived as beautiful, tranquil and ‘natural’ can improve mental wellbeing, by reducing stress and facilitating an improvement in physical fitness by encouraging people to explore them. Our rivers and coastlines have aesthetic, cultural and historical values, central to Devon and Torbay’s heritage as agricultural and seafaring communities as well as popular tourist destinations.

The report covers the key issues - amongst them:

Between 2001 and 2011, Devon and Torbay’s population grew by 5.9% and 0.7% respectively – a lower rate than at the regional and national average. A greater amount of people has the potential to impact significantly, both positively and negatively, on the state of the environment and influence the economy and health of the population; Devon’s economy is predicted to grow in line with the regional average from 2015 – 2020, whereas Torbay has fewer residents in ‘very good’ health and more in ‘bad / very bad’ health than the national and regional average. Read more >
The historic environment is valued by residents and visitors as a key part of Devon and Torbay’s cultural identity boasting two World Heritage Sites: the Devon and East Devon Coast and West Devon Mining Landscape. The number of historic assets ‘at risk’ continues to fall. Read more >
The quality and character of Devon and Torbay’s rural and urban landscapes have long been recognised including two national parks with a combined area of 1,644 km². However, growth in population noise and light pollution, visitor numbers and recreation activities will exert further pressure on our landscape; this needs to be carefully managed to maintain a high quality and distinctive character. Read more >
Land use in Devon and Torbay is predominantly rural (93% and 54.5% respectively). However, as population increases it is predicted that the amount of rural space will decrease – the amount of homes is anticipated to grow by between 17% and 22% in Devon and Torbay between 2011 and 2031. A careful balance needs to be struck so to maintain the high quality of life experience by residents. Read more >
No human population can exist without functioning ecosystems to provide for our needs, for example nutritious food, clean air and water, pharmaceuticals and fuel. Devon and Torbay’s wildlife is celebrated by the number of internationally important designated sites and priority species. However, there condition varies across the area. Approximately 92% of Torbay’s and 36% of Devon’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest are in favourable condition. In Devon, Torbay and Plymouth there are a number of priority species in unfavourable condition including the water vole and curlew.Read more >
Due to the reliance on fossil fuels, transport currently produces approximately 30% of Devon and Torbay’s carbon emissions. Sustainable and active transport modes are crucial for present and future generations; for economic prosperity, access to services and improved health. Read more >
The devastation of flooding has been seen first-hand in the recent flood events across the South West. Due to increasing urbanisation and the changing climate, the economic damage due to flooding is estimated by 2100 to rise to £1 billion. Further protection measures including coastal and river defences are required to safeguard Devon and Torbay’s environment. Read more >
Waste is an output of economic and social activity, it can also be an input – whether as a useful material or in the form of electricity or heat from an energy recovery facility. Fly-tipping incidents have reduced in some areas of Devon and Torbay but increased in others. Local authority collected waste in Devon reduced by 13.8% and in Torbay by 14.7% between 2008/09 and 2012/13. Predicted levels indicate that the overall tonnage of waste for Devon and Torbay will increase alongside greater rates of recycling. Read more >
Climate Change is a serious global threat demanding an urgent global response. Average temperatures in Devon and Torbay are recorded as rising since 1900. The South West is predicted to experience warmer, wetter winters and drier, hotter summers. Devon and Torbay are well placed to move towards a low carbon economy and seize the opportunities that a warmer climate may bring. Devon has the highest installed renewable electricity and heat capacity of all counties in the South West and future trends expect further growth in the provision of renewables. Read more >
State of Environment | Local Nature Partnership

Recently, there was an interesting piece in the Western Morning News looking at these same subjects - looking back at the State of Nature report from last year:

There's still time to leave our children a better environment - if we act now

By Western Morning News | Posted: May 22, 2014

Farmers and conservationists working together have quadrupled the population of cirl buntings in Devon, saving the bird from extinction

One year on from the groundbreaking State of Nature Report, the RSPB’s Tony Whitehead considers the value of wildlife in the Westcountry...

Today is the International Day for Biological Diversity. Biological diversity? That’s wildlife to you and me. It’s a day where we can pause to think for a moment about the wonderful variety of plants and creatures with which we share our days.

What better time of year to do this than in spring. A short walk across the town park near where I live and I hear blackbird in full song. Up above me, swifts, fresh in from Africa, scream and chase each other. Hoverflies hover in front of fresh flowers and bees make themselves busy in nectar-rich borders. All is well with the world. Spending time outdoors in the company of all manner of flying, buzzing, colourful, wonderful creatures lifts the spirit – a tonic for the everyday stresses of our busy lives for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

We are beginning to understand just how much people need nature. The opportunity to spend time in wildlife-rich environments is fundamental to our wellbeing. Study after study shows that first-hand contact with the natural world rewards us personally in a variety of ways. It’s not too far off the mark to say that it makes us happier and healthier.

It’s also fundamental to our economic prosperity. Here in the Westcountry it’s the quality of the landscapes that makes the region an attractive place to visit, to work, and to do business. The Avalon Marshes in Somerset, for instance, now attract more than 100,000 visitors a year almost entirely due to the quality of its wildlife alone – that translates into money spent locally and jobs.

Nature can also help provide resilience – projects to restore peat bogs on Exmoor and Dartmoor will help the land soak up water and slow river flows at time of flood. Creating small pools and ponds on farmland in upper catchments can do the same. Nature is an ally, not an enemy.

And of course nature provides essential services that underpin our lives. The now well-known example is the services of all those bees and hoverflies that free of charge pollinate our crops. Or of course the worms that keep our precious soils fertile. As Buglife says, it’s “the small things that run the planet”.

However, despite the riches it brings, nature is continuing to decline, the pressures on the natural world are growing, and our response to the biodiversity crisis is slowing. On this day last year the UK’s leading nature conservation groups published the State of Nature Report.

The report looked at trends for over 3,000 species and concluded that 60% of these have declined over recent decades; 31% strongly so. More than one in ten of the species assessed are threatened with extinction in the UK.

But it needn’t be like this.

Putting nature back is not particularly a problem of not knowing what to do. When we undertake conservation programmes they tend to produce results. Over 25 years farmers and conservationists working together have quadrupled the population of cirl buntings in Devon, saving the bird from almost inevitable extinction. Where Culm grasslands are restored, marsh fritillary butterflies now thrive. And there are numerous other examples of similar successes.

What we need to do, put simply, is apply this knowledge and expertise on a bigger scale. Take our approach to nature conservation to a whole new level. Instead of thinking at the scale of nature reserves, we need to think at the scale of whole landscapes.

This doesn’t mean creating huge areas of wilderness, simply because much of our wildlife depends on human activity. The Culm grasslands mentioned above are a perfect example of a landscape co-created between farmers and wildlife. It simply means looking at how over wider areas we can find more space for wildlife in a working landscape. Or indeed sea-scape, because the same principles apply in our coastal waters.

This step-change in approach to nature conservation, change at the scale needed to reverse widespread decline, in turn depends on society realising the real value of nature. On communities across the Westcountry putting wildlife at the heart of decision-making, knowing that it underpins our social and economic wellbeing.

Get this right and we might, just, be the first generation in decades to leave our children a Westcountry environment in a better condition than we inherited.

Over the coming months in this column we’ll be hearing from a variety of nature conservation charities, all members of the State of Nature Partnership, who will describe the work that’s being done to reverse the declines of wildlife in the West country.

There's still time to leave our children a better environment - if we act now | Western Morning News

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