Biodiversity
A Guide through the Mire

E

verybody knows about biodiversity now. They know it is about genes and species and habitats and ecosystems and is another way of saying the variety of life. They know that in essence it is not just about variety, but about the variety of native species in their natural ranges. But what do we actually have to do to ensure that biodiversity is conserved, and what does it mean in terms of conservation management? And how does "biodiversity" relate to SSSIsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, SACsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet and SPAsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet? And BAPsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, HAPsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet and SAPsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet? There was an excellent guide in British Wildlife by Tony Juniper in 1994 (Vol 6 no. 2) but perhaps an update is needed now.

Legislation contributing to biodiversity conservation

Various pieces of legislation over the past 20 years or so have contributed to the current working documents on biodiversity, described later. Here is a list, dull I'm afraid, of the main national and international items of legislation and government policy which are of relevance in our day-to-day - or at least month-to-month - life. Incidentally, most are effectively and clearly summarised at the beginning of Planning Policy Guidance : Nature Conservation which is worth obtaining.

The Ramsar ConventionPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, 1976
Requires the conservation of internationally important wetlands. Their legally protected status is as SSSIs, protected by the Wildlife and Countryside ActPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet.

The Bern Convention, 1979
Requires the protection of endangered and vulnerable species of fauna and flora in Europe, and their habitats. Appendices list species for which exploitation and other factors should be controlled. Legal implementation for the relatively few UK species is by the Wildlife and Countryside ActPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet and the EU Habitats Directive (see below).

The Bonn Convention, 1979 & 1994
Requires the protection of migratory animals, from the Arctic to Africa. As for the Bern Convention, legal implementation has to date been through the Wildlife and Countryside ActPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, EU Council Directive on Wild Birds and EU Habitats Directive (see below).

The EU "Birds Directive" (Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds), 1979
This is designed to protect wild birds, and to provide sufficient diversity of habitats for all species so as to maintain populations at an ecologically sound level. It lists birds of special conservation concern requiring special conservation measures, and includes selection of areas most suitable for them to be designated as Special Protection AreasPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet (SPAs). Furthermore it lists birds for which hunting and sale and other activities are allowed, but otherwise affords a strong degree of protection to all birds ("reverse listing" formula). Legal implementation is by three mechanisms. The European Commission can investigate complaints of breach of the Directive. Secondly this Directive had much influence on the Wildlife and Countryside ActPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet and many of its requirements are included in that legislation. Thirdly, SPAs have a limited amount of stronger protection than SSSIs, as provided by the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations, 1994 (see below). Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) (see below) share this protection. SPAs and SACs together form a network of protected sites across the EU called "Natura 2000".

The Wildlife and Countryside ActPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, 1981 and 1985.
This is the main piece of legislation for the UK and for implementing preceding EU conventions. It protects both species and sites (SSSIs and ASSIs) of UK importance.

The EU Habitats Directive (Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora), 1992
Complements the EU Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds and covers species other than birds. Habitats and species of "community interest" are identified, according to certain criteria, and these must be maintained at "favourable conservation status", again as specified by particular criteria. The mechanism for protection is through designation of Special Areas of ConservationPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet (SACs), both for habitats and for certain species. There are also measures for the protection of certain species, including dormouse, which were not previously protected by other legislation. The legal instrument for implementing the Directive in the UK is the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations, 1992. This provides:

(a) for the protection of species listed in the Habitats Directive, and
(b) for the conservation of habitats, namely the SACsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet designated under the Habitats Directive and the SPAsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet designated under the Birds Directive.

As noted, this protection could be somewhat stronger than that afforded to SSSIsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, particularly as regards existing planning permissions. Conservation bodies have pointed out loopholes, however, in both species and habitat protection.

Current biodiversity conservation initiatives

As is well known, the central mechanism resulted from the "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro and is The UN Convention of Biological Diversity, 1992. This aims, among other things, to stem losses of biodiversity at the global level by protection and sustainable use of biological resources.

The UK's initiatives have been as follows : The UK Biodiversity Action Plan, 1994, produced by the Government and stating important new goals, eg. "to conserve and enhance biological diversity in the UK..." and "the conservation of global biodiversity should be an integral part of Government programmes, policy and action." Shadowing this plan and produced just before it was the voluntary bodies' Biodiversity Challenge, 1993. This emphasised target setting and formulae for action plans, among other topics. Both these have been considered by a mixed steering group, with the production of Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report. Volume 1: Meeting the Rio Challenge, and Vol 2: Action Plans. 19953. The government fully supported this (as described in the Government Response to the Steering Group Report, May 1996) and thus both volumes are essential reading in order to appreciate the many actions that biodiversity conservation may involve. Targets and proposals designed to be appropriate up until 2010 are given. Only a flavour can be given here, and new factors may emerge as experience grows, but some important inclusions are as follows:

• Identification of key species (endemic and globally threatened; less than 25% of the world's population in the UK; more than 25% decline in the last 25 years; in the UK found in fewer than 15 10km2s; species listed in the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, or Bern or Bonn conventions or in the Wildlife and Countryside Act ). This results in a list, acknowledged to be provisional and incomplete, of 1250 species. It is the fullest list of species of importance in the UK that has been published as a single list, and will be of use and value in assessing importance from now on. It contains some species which may have been regarded as common, such as the song thrush, bullfinch and brown hare. Of these 1250 species, 116 have been short listed for "early action", and for each of these a Species Action Plan (SAP) has been prepared by the statutory agencies, steering group members or others. A further 300 species (approx.) will have Species Action Plans prepared within 3 years. The voluntary bodies or other organisations are to "champion" individual SAPs; for instance the National TrustPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet is championing the plan for the netted carpet moth and the Wildlife TrustsPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet the plan for dormouse. The rest of the near-1000 species will be monitored, where possible.

• Broad habitat types (37 in total) have been defined, to help inform national and local policy and action, using terminology that is readily understandable, such as broad-leaved and yew woodland, improved grassland, unimproved neutral grassland, acid grassland and grazing marsh.

• Key habitats have been defined : those for which the UK has international obligations; habitats at risk, e.g. those which are rare, or which have had a high rate of decline in the last 20 years; areas which may be 'functionally critical' for organisms inhabiting wider areas (e.g. sea grass beds for spawning fish) and areas important for key species. Although not stated, most of the habitats from the EU Habitats Directive are included here under a broader habitat type, e.g.:

Key habitat from biodiversity document
EU Habitats Directive Annex 1 types
Lowland heath Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix
Dry heaths (all sub-types)Southern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix and E. ciliaris

However, some of the EU Directive types are not listed as key habitats, e.g. oligotrophic lakes and species-rich Nardus grasslands. Key habitats which feature in the Biodiversity document but not in the Habitats Directive include Ancient Hedgerows, lowland wood pastures and parks, and cereal field margins.

Some broad habitat types have a particularly high number of the long-list (1250) species, e.g. broad-leaved woodland with 232 spp, standing open water with 136, natural rock exposure and caves (135), calcareous grassland (112), maritime cliff and slope (91), etc. Some key habitats have large numbers too. However the report states that "actions to conserve UK species will need to be taken in more than just a few key habitats", which is part of the welcome reference to the wider countryside in this document.

Habitat Action Plans (HAPs) are being and have been prepared by the statutory agencies and steering group. Those that have been prepared, e.g. for lowland heaths and for chalk rivers, have already been useful as a summary of the status of the habitat, the most important issues affecting it and the targets and requirements. National HAPs will be championed by the statutory agencies.

• Monitoring needs are being considered, and the feasibility of a UK Biodiversity Database (UKBD), with a network of co-operating organisations.

Local Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs), including local Habitat Action Plans, are being produced. There is a UK Advisory Group to recommend standards and good practice in their preparation. A main function of Local BAPs is to ensure that national targets in the national Habitat and Species Action Plans are taken forward and met. They will also provide the biodiversity element of Agenda 21, and will promote species and habitats characteristic of local areas. The report states that "targets should be included which reflect the values of local people". Widespread "ownership" of the plans is seen as essential, and a range of organisations and individuals is involved in their preparation, at a range of scales, from regional to county or National ParkPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet.

• Guidance is given in Vol 1 of the Biodiversity report on preparing local BAPs. This includes identifying Prime Biodiversity Areas (PBAs) where there should be "proactive programmes aimed not only at managing the sites, but also increasing the level of biodiversity of intervening land through habitat management or enhancement, or by means of habitat re-creation". Also, importantly, in the wider countryside there should be many initiatives, including restoration of features, action to link landscape and conservation features, and action to protect species which are not adequately catered for in the PBAs.

• The existing national Species Action Plans and Habitat Action Plans have been analysed and tables have been produced of the main threats to biodiversity in the UK at present, such as overgrazing in the uplands and falling water tables.

The Biodiversity report has no legal status, except as provided for species already protected by the other mechanisms mentioned earlier.

Text from an original article by Katherine A. Hearn, Adviser on Nature Conservation, National Trust. Written in 1997.
Note: some aspects of this article have been overtaken by developments since then. Other parts of this article also appear on certain pages referred to in this document. Reproduced by kind permission.

References.
1. Planning Policy Guidance : Nature Conservation. PPG 9. Department of the Environment, October 1994. Published by HMSO, price £8.50 and obtainable by phone from 020 7-873-9090.
2. The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994. Statutory Instrument No. 2716. Published by HMSO, price £8.70 and obtainable by phone as above.
3. Biodiversity : The UK Steering Group Report. 1995. Vol 1: Meeting the Rio Challenge, price £26. Vol 2: Action Plans, price £30. Published by HMSO and obtainable by phone as above.
4. The current status of UK birds which are of conservation significance has recently been re-appraised by the RSPBPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet in the light of ongoing research and monitoring : see Birds of Conservation Concern, a very useful free leaflet published by the RSPBPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet on behalf of other organisations, including the National TrustPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet. Obtain from RSPBPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet, The Lodge, Sandy, Beds SG19 2DL. More detail is given in the RSPB's annual Conservation Review for 1996.