Final report on Defra's Nature Improvement Areas published

A final report published today showcases the achievements of the 12 Nature Improvement Areas established in 2012 by Defra.

North Devon is one of 12 Nature Improvement Areas. Image: Pixabay
North Devon is one of 12 Nature Improvement Areas. Image: Pixabay

Nearly 20,000 hectares of natural habitat – the equivalent of almost 23,000 football pitches – has been created, restored or preserved across England over the past three years through the £7.5 million government project.

The 12 Nature Improvement Areas were established in response to a Natural Environment White Paper from 2011.

The final report, published today (PDF) showcases the achievements of the Nature Improvement Areas in helping protect wildlife and connect people with nature.

The NIA projects were:

Birmingham and the Black Country Living Landscape
Dark Peak
Dearne Valley Green Heart
Greater Thames Marshes
Humberhead Levels
Marlborough Downs
Meres and Mosses of the Marches
Morecambe Bay Limestones and Wetlands
Nene Valley
Northern Devon
South Downs Way Ahead
Wild Purbeck

The three-year initiative saw local authorities, communities, conservation groups and the private sector come together to change and improve their areas.

Environment Minister Rory Stewart said: "Our beautiful natural environment is vitally important to our national identity. By combining government investment with community action these 12 Nature Improvement Areas have delivered real results for local environments and have built a justifiable sense of pride - bringing an astonishing 47,000 days of volunteer time to the natural world.

"We owe a huge thanks to the many many people who made these projects possible. We must now look to make sure these remarkable results are long lasting and help to connect the British public with nature. The work of the Nature Improvement Areas will be central to how we think about the environment over the next twenty-five years."

In total, work across the areas has preserved or enhanced over 13,500ha and created an additional 5,000ha of habitat.

Natural England Chairman Andrew Sells said it was clear that the approach to coordinated, landscape-scale activity had delivered multiple benefits.

"The positive lessons learnt from this initiative serve as shining examples of what can be achieved by an 'outcomes-focused partnership approach' and I hope that inspires others to follow suit in the future."

the report also highlights some of the challenges in the NIA approach. For example some respondents said three years of grant funding was "too short to see real, sustainable change, especially for biodiversity outcomes". It was originally recommended that the initiative should be funded for at least five years.

Lessons learnt from the Nature Improvement Areas will inform Defra's 25-year plan for action on the environment, to be published later this year.

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