Monday, 6 October 2014

The Lawton Review, 2010: Making Space For Nature

This term, we have a module on Countryside Law and Policies at uni. I'm sure many people would find this an unutterably dull subject, but not me. I am looking forward to it, because it is the nuts and bolts of the machine that works to protect our wild things and places and I want to know more about it.

People love to grumble about Governments/ Civil Servants/ Legislation and Policies, but if the only laws that got created were those that represented everyone's views, needs and opinions equally nothing would ever get done. Here in the UK we get to vote on who represents us and if we don't like the majority voice we still have the right to speak and have our words listened to, and to campaign to change the things we don't like.

I'm not a big fan (small under-statement there) of the way our current Government is handling wildlife and countryside issues. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs DEFRA) seems less environmentally focused than economically, and while I understand that you can't put the countryside in a pretty box and keep it separate from economic pressures, there should at least be a balance of sorts and I don't see much evidence of that at present. Add to this the fact that ecosystems underpin and support our daily existence, that our reliance on them is well documented and that damaging them costs us economically as well as socially, and I understand even less the failure to protect them.

We won't talk about the previous Sec of State (Ragged Robin and I would spend the entire comments page fuming if we did), and I'm already disillusioned with the New One. At least my local MP has fared better, answering my emails with personal replies and providing follow ups on meetings and Parliamentary debates on Countryside Matters when I have asked her to. She speaks her mind and doesn't tow party lines or repeat party mantras, and I respect her for it. It's a refreshing approach and one that has done much to restore my faith in MPs.

Today I have spent several hours reading the 100 plus pages that comprise the 2010 Lawton Review, a report into the state of England's wildlife and wild places commissioned by the Government that resulted in the publication of the first White Paper on the environment for twenty years. Recommendations from the report have formed the basis for the environmental legislation and policy that followed. I also read the UK National Ecosystem Assessment and it's Follow On (2011 and 2012) which looks more at the economic value of ecosystems and the cost to us in financial and other terms if they are damaged.

I have spent many hours this summer working on a local level on various conservation projects, many of which have involved species that are seriously endangered (sadly, you don't have to go far in conservation these days to come across them). It is sobering and brings home the massive scale of the damage done to our natural environment, particularly in the post war 1950-2000 period. My experiences first-hand this summer are echoed in the report.

I thought you might be interested in the following snippets from it (bonus- you don't now need to plough through all 119 pages :o) ) 

  1. 80% of UK citizens live in towns.
  2. Urban areas account for 7% of the UK land area.
  3. Between 1950-2000 the UK pop increased by 25% to 62 million.
  4. The resulting pressure on green spaces was huge- food provision, water provision, resource provision.
  5. The resulting agricultural intensification chewed up vast tracts of natural grassland, tore out hedgerows, pumped the land full of fertilisers and pesticides and caused the large-scale destruction of many habitats and the species that depended on them for survival.
  6. People are dependent on ecosystems for their continued survival.
  7. Ecosystems provide food, water, air. They provide processes that purify air and break down waste. They provide resources and materials such as timber, and space for recreation, as well as homes for wildlife.
  8.  Not understanding how important ecosystems are to our own health and well-being leads to poorly informed decisions being made that result in increases in pollution, species loss, ecosystem loss and damage, habitat destruction and damage to ecosystem processes.
  9. This results in economic costs which we all bare, as well as more broad costs in terms of survival.
  10. 97% of enclosed semi-natural grassland was lost between 1930 and 1984 through conversion to arable land
  11. Semi-natural grassland now covers less than 1% of the UK land area.
  12. Almost all the UK's remaining lowland calcareous grassland is found on Salisbury Plain. This makes it a very vulnerable habitat so it is in need of conservation at the highest level. 
  13. Enclosed farmland covers 40% of the UK land area and it produces 70% of the UK's food.
  14. Between 1970 and 1998 the farmland bird index fell by 43%
  15. 75% of current woodland is productive plantation, less then 100 years old and comprised mainly of non-native species.
  16. Woodland covers 12% of the UK land area
  17. Between 1979 and 1997, over 10,000 playing fields were sold and allotments decreased by 10% from peak numbers. This represents broadly a loss of urban green space.
  18. Between 1984 and 1990, over 100,000km of hedgerows were lost
  19. By 2000, populations of 67% of 333 farmland species were declining due to agricultural practices (intensification, mono-culture, pesticides, fertilisers, habitat loss)
  20. Woodland bird numbers have fallen by 14% and farmland birds by 47% in recent years
  21. Urban birds however rose by 11%
  22. There are 3473 non-native species in the UK, 49 of these are seen as a high threat to native species as they carry disease or out-compete the native species.
  23.  Between 1957-1980 nitrogen (fertilisers) additions to farmland increased by 300%. The resulting run-off affected all our water courses and the resulting eutrophication messed up our rivers, causing some plant species to out-compete others and altering the biodiversity which had previous existed.
  24. Of the 87 native UK snail species, 43 are in decline
  25. Between 1968-2002 there has been a 44% decline in moth numbers
  26. Between 1990-2006 there was a 16% increase in pesticide use
  27. 54% of semi-natural areas are still at risk of damage from high emission of sulphur from industry, despite the major emissions reductions of recent years.
  28. Loss of pollinator services are estimated at a cost of £430 million per annum
  29. The condition of England's broad habitats has been declining over the past 50 years, with some recovery in the last 10. 
It isn't all horrendous. Big strides forward have been taken since this report was published, perhaps the most significant being the simple acknowledgement of the scale of the problem and the outlining of workable solutions. BAPs (biodiversity action plans) are making a significant difference to the species they have been put in place to protect. Re-introduction programmes for species such as the Red Kite and the Large Blue Butterfly which had died out in the UK have been successful. Many farmers have signed up to environmental stewardship schemes put in place to help farmers work with nature by, for example, leaving field margins to grow wild. EU directives have cut down levels of pollutants. Citizen Science is providing experts with vast amounts of data which they would otherwise not have and are therefore able to analyse this to help inform policies. Public participation in and support of nature organisations is at an all time high. People understand our role in ecosystems better, and also how vital they are to our own survival. The services they provide are at long last being translated into economic values- which is something even the most hard-bitten Secretary of State for the Environment can hopefully understand!

The Lawton Review looks towards the next 50 years- I hope it will achieve what it sets out to do, which is to conserve and protect our wild spaces and help them to grow into self-sustaining ecosystems where wildlife can flourish and the natural world can get on with doing what it needs to do.

Hope that was of some interest?

CT :o)


  1. It was of immense interest to me. I admire your commitment and thank you for condensing what you have recently learned.
    Keep up the good work please. I'm doing my small bit in my everyday life.

    1. Thank you, Jean. I'm just glad the report was commissioned and therefore all this info is in one place and is being acted on. x

  2. Yes, I cannot agree with you more vehemently. It is completely shocking the amount of damage done to our environment in my own lifetime. I must admit that the situation here in Ireland seems much worse, currently we are campaigning to save a 200 year old woodland from destruction, home to pygmy shrews and buzzards.

    1. I've just looked up legislation in Ireland about Pygmy shrews and they are protected by law in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, but they're listed as species of least concern. It's so bloody short sighted because species that have now been lost for good were no doubt once listed as of 'least concern.' There needs to be a serious sea-change in understanding about how these things are lost. I find it so exasperating!
      Good luck with the campaign Shauna, I am sending you lots of virtual support from over here in Hampshire x

  3. This was very interesting to read! It is good to know that you are developing a good relationship with your MP and engaging with her, so many people complain but do nothing, by getting involved you are doing all that you can which is great I think! I hope that you can take this sort of thing forward and carry on when you have finished your studies as you are so passionate! xx

    1. I'm glad it was useful. Unless you're involved in conservation you're not likely to come across these things and they affect us all. Xx

  4. Well done. I admire you for all the work and effort you put into this. A most interesting and informative read. Carry on your studies and you never knew what a difference you could make to saving wildlife and their and in the future.

    1. Thank you Margaret. It is reassuring to read how many people care about wildlife. Together we can and will make a difference. Hopefully governments will also respond positively.

  5. In our day to day life's we don't always see the bigger picture, and reading through your notes really dose make you sit up and think.
    I am happy to say I have noticed small changes in the area I live, like not cutting all the grass at the park, leaving areas to go "wild", to planting roundabout with wild flowers and not cutting the grass verge.
    We as blogger play our part to recording and noticing what's going on around us, it will not be fixed over night, but I hope we are moving in the right direction..
    Amanda xx

    1. I'm not sure how I feel about wildlife being given an economic value but understand why it is probably necessary. It's great to hear about the changes for the better you have noticed locally and you are right about blogging being important as a recording method. Xx

  6. A good summing up of the Report CT.

    Sadly I fear the present SOS for the Environment is going to prove just as irksome as her predecessor :( Hopefully, her recent visit to the BTO (although I suppose we should give her credit for actually visiting a wildlife organisation!!!) will have given her a more accurate assessment of the current situation regarding linnets! I suspect she has been promoted way beyond her abilities.

    You seem fortunate with your MP - these days, apart from an automatic acknowledgement response, all my emails etc. to mine on wildlife/environment issues are ignored!!

    Agree with Amanda that its good to see some small changes taking place locally such as the wild areas in parks, less cutting of some grass verges and wildflowers being planted.

    1. I'm not holding out great hope for the new SOS either :o(

      I didn't vote for our MP but have to say I have changed my opinion of her over the past two years. She replies personally to every email I send and follows them up unprompted and I certainly respect her for that.

      Interesting that Lawton highlights the value of 'local input' to future conservation and that noticeable changes along those lines are already taking place - reduced mowing of public places seems to be being rolled out nationwide, which is a great start. Small steps, and all that... x

  7. Wow, I read through twice!

    I found out how much it was like banging your head up the wall when I rang the Bat and Owl people when they stated developing the old hospital near me.

    For some reason I thought "Oh there are bats they will have to stop" first it seems. The people on the bat phone were lovely though.

    I'm rambling again, I must stop doing that. This is probably the most informative post I have ever read. Keep up the good work my lovely xx

    1. Thanks honey :o) I know it was a tad long, but important stuff.

      SO exasperating the way the law seems to bend when developments are on the other end of it. I guess biodiversity off-setting is meant to help, but when it involves something like planting a new forest in place of digging up an ancient one that's been growing for 400 years that's just plain absurd. Hopefully your bats were relocated somewhere safe.

      Glad you found the post informative. I'm fascinated by this stuff but never sure whether it will bore the pants of everyone else! x

  8. PS

    I had to Google Calcareous grassland....... x

    1. Tee hee- that can be your 'learnt something new today' moment :o) xx

  9. 10,000 playing fields! I had no idea it was so many. I agree - a very interesting you think it's our age??? You're younger than me I know but you know what I mean! xxx

    1. I know- it's shocking isn't it? All those kids who won't get to play in green spaces....

      It probably is our age, Em. What's worse is I have a sneaky suspicion I might like to end up working with something along those lines... xx

  10. Very interesting to read & far too intelligent a post for me to make a comment on in my very tired state. In a nutshell so much more needs to be done, the UK as a whole that is. I certainly know there is a lack of education in the mainstream schools. I'm lucky I live in the area I grew up in which is still green, leafy & the fields are surrounded by hedges & full of wildlife. There has been very little change here thankfully.

    1. Your home sounds lovely Jo, and how nice to hear of somewhere that hasn't altered drastically.
      Education, education, education- it's my mantra :o) xx

  11. Thank you for doing this. I would never have slogged my way through the whole lot but I did need to know all this. It horrifies me how much has happened in my own lifetime.

    1. You're most welcome, Elizabeth. So pleased it was useful. It really is very frightening when you consider most of the losses have occurred in the last 60 years. There is still time to reverse the trend though, which is a beacon of hope.

  12. Great post CT. I do feel it's all doom and gloom though, and just can't help feeling that way. RR highlighted the Nightingale plight in Kent recently and the development got the go ahead in an SSSI...just crazy.

    1. It's certainly easy to feel that way but I think things are changing, slowly. VERY depressing about the Nightingales- we just have to keep fighting.


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x