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Jane Davidson, Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing

The UN has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB). Throughout the year countless initiatives will be organized to disseminate information, promote the protection of biodiversity and encourage organizations, institutions, companies and individuals to take direct action to reduce the constant loss of biological diversity worldwide. Details can be found at: http://www.countdown2010.net/year-biodiversity .

The Environment Strategy for Wales includes three key outcomes for biodiversity:

Outcome 19 The loss of biodiversity has been halted and we can see a definite recovery in the number, range and genetic diversity of species, including those species that need very specific conditions to survive

Outcome 20 The wider environment is more favourable to biodiversity through appropriate management, reduced habitat fragmentation and increased extent and interconnectivity of habitats

Outcome 21 Sites of international, Welsh and local importance are in favourable condition to support the species and habitats for which they have been identified.

Alongside these outcomes the Assembly Government has committed itself to two international and one national target in relation to 2010:

  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) commitment significantly to reduce the current rate of biodiversity loss by 2010
  • EU commitment to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010
  • ESW Target 32: Sites of international, national and local importance in Wales should be in favourable condition to support the species and habitats for which they have been identified. By 2010, 95 per cent of international sites in favourable condition; by 2015, 95 per cent of Welsh SSSIs in favourable condition and by 2026, all sites to be in favourable condition.

Biodiversity enhancement and protection is a key part of our commitment as a Government to sustainable development.

The Welsh Assembly Government has taken a positive stance to promoting action on biodiversity, working with all partners who have a role to play.  In particular, we have made considerable progress in our Biodiversity Action Planning Process and we have new legislative powers through the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 (which places a Biodiversity Duty on all public bodies) and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. Real progress has been made on the ground for important habitats and species such as Arable Field Margins, Aquifer-fed Fluctuating Water Bodies, Deptford Pink, Sand Lizard, and Lesser Horseshoe Bat.

Existing positive actions including the following have been taken:

  • Environment Strategy for Wales
    Working towards the Environment Strategy target to bring designated sites into favourable condition by putting in place an Actions Database for international sites, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and other protected sites.  During 2008/09, actions data has been entered for further sites, including all those sites/units identified as being in public or voluntary sector ownership, the extranet infrastructure and software development has been completed to enable key partners to view site ‘action’ data and respond to develop and agree work programmes and spreadsheets have been shared with the National Trust, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, National Parks, RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and a number of WAG departments. Implementation of key actions has begun for a wide range of actions
  • Biodiversity Action Plans Wales
    The Wales Biodiversity Partnership (WBP) has developed and implemented structures and processes to identify actions to meet its new BAP targets for Wales (post UK BAP review) and this information is being sharing the Biodiversity Action Recording System (BARS). Nine new ecosystem groups have been established, with involvement of a wide range of stakeholders, supported by specialist groups for Species, Policy and None Native Invasive Species.  A number of organisations are improving their use of BARS and LRC services including FCW, CCW and EAW.
  • Local Area Biodiversity Network
    Wales has complete coverage from both Local Biodiversity Action Plan Partnerships, which implement the action above, and Local Record Centres, which hold, process and disseminate the biodiversity data needed to support this work.  All BAP Partnerships are supported by Local Authorities and National Park Authorities and Wales also has  Biodiversity Champions at Cabinet level in each Local Authority and National Park Authority, who lead and champion a range of biodiversity action.
  • Existing agri-environment schemes
    In 2010 the Sustainable Land Management scheme Tir Gofal will have a total area of 417,725 hectares under positive management, of which 198,480 hectares is identified as Biodiversity Action Plan habitat, under restoration, management or creation management. In addition 435km of hedgerows are under positive management. The area of land farmed organically in Wales has increase to nearly 10% in 2008 supported by the Welsh Assembly Government. The prohibition/reduced use of chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilisers, sympathetic management of non-cropped habitats and the preservation of mixed farming have numerous benefits to include contributing to populations of rare weeds, habitat for wild birds associated with hedgerows and field margins and greater floral diversity and sheltering habitat.
  • The 'Works' project at Ebbw Vale
    Following the closure of the Ebbw Vale Steel Works the former Welsh Development Agency and Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council commissioned a masterplan.   This set out how the 75 hectare site could become a vibrant new urban quarter for Ebbw Vale, creating new opportunities, raising aspirations and creating a step change in the social and economic prospects for Blaenau Gwent.  At the outset of the masterplanning process, sustainable development was established as an overarching principle for the project.  This included in the reclamation design which has become a zero waste project, and will create a new wetland park through the centre of the site, receiving water from the development areas. The reclamation of this site has already turned a barren steelworks site into a series of wetlands, species rich grasslands and new woodland areas. This was designed and implemented in collaboration with CCW, Environment Agency Wales, Gwent Wildlife Trust and other local stakeholders.
  • Valleys Regional Park
    This vision provides an integrated approach to the planning and delivery of environment, heritage and tourism activity across the Valleys of South Wales. Biodiversity protection and enhancement is a fundamental element of the programme within the wider sustainable approach. Specific examples of the work includes: an agreed collaborative action plan developed and “owned” by more than 30 separate organisations (including 14 local authorities) which have agreed to work collaboratively across the Valleys, which includes a range of biodiversity objectives; 42M secured for tourism enhancement related to the natural environment, including significant match funding from the Heads of the Valleys and Western Valleys SRA Programmes; all projects approved as part of the programme are required to submit a sustainable development appraisal which must identify potential risks to biodiversity and actions to reduce the risks, and also biodiversity opportunities.

However, despite all this positive action, it is clear that the work to date has not been enough to enable us to reach the important and challenging targets set for biodiversity. We are not alone in struggling with the challenge of biodiversity. No other country will meet the targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity and the European Union for 2010.

The Welsh Assembly Government is therefore taking the opportunity over the coming year fundamentally to refresh our approach to Biodiversity and Nature Conservation by reviewing the ways in which we are currently tackling these aims and objectives.  

Our habitats face especial challenges going forward, not least from the changing climate. Our traditional focus on small sites and species protection will need to develop to look at the wider habitat as a whole and creating places that are resilient to change or which enable species to move or adapt.  A truly sustainable approach will be to address climate change and habitat together, managing land for the services it provides.  For example, almost all the actions that need to be taken to keep carbon in soil or to arrest flood pressures will also benefit biodiversity, while healthy eco-systems have more potential to adapt to climate change and ensure continued provision of critical ecosystems services such as crop pollination.  This holistic approach is the basis for much of the work we have developed over the past year, most notably the proposals contained in the Glas Tir scheme.

I want to work with all our partners to develop a new Natural Environment Framework.  In order to carry out this work we will build on existing strong and positive collaborative partnerships by working closely the public, business and voluntary sector. In September 2009 I launched, with the Wales Biodiversity Partnership, a review of the targets and our successes and failures so far and the reasons behind them. I will be hosting a major conference on biodiversity in September 2010 which will bring together ideas and best practice and consider both the positive actions achieved so far and what needs to be done differently.

By that time we will also have seen progress with the following actions due to place during 2010:

  • Marine Protected areas
    During 2010 we will develop site selection criteria and methodology, incorporating ecological, social and economic information to ensure that sites are chosen to maximise ecological and socio-economic benefits while minimising conflicts with different uses of the sea as far as possible.  Data collection and collation has already begun.
  • Fisheries
    The vision of the Wales Fisheries Strategy will support the development of viable and sustainable fisheries in Wales as an integral part of coherent policies for safeguarding the environment. The Welsh Assembly Government and the Commercial Fisheries, Aquaculture, Recreational Sea Angling and Inland Fisheries sectors, in partnership with fisheries management and nature conservation representatives, have developed an Implementation Plan to achieve the goals of the Strategy.
    The Strategy and the Implementation Plan endorse an ecosystem-based approach to managing Welsh fisheries, to ensure that the benefits from fishing are high while its direct and indirect impacts upon aquatic ecosystems are low and not detrimental to ecosystem functions and biodiversity.
    The Implementation Plan commits stakeholders to undertaking research on stock levels, movements and lifecycles for the main target species for the Welsh industry, as well as on the level and impact of current fishing effort. The results of this research will be vital in implementing effective, ecosystem-based fisheries management. This research has begun and will continue over the coming years.
  • Glastir
    The new scheme will have two elements, an all-Wales element and a higher level, focused element.  The all-Wales element will be open to all farmers whose land is IACS registered (minimum eligible area is 3 hectares) and who have control over the land for the scheme period (5 years). Farmers who make use of common land as part of their farm enterprise will be able to enter this land into the all-Wales element of Glastir. The new scheme will provide opportunities for land managers to change their current practices in a way that will enhance the delivery of ecosystem services outputs in addition to ensuring that they maintain and enhance the biodiversity and visual value of the land that they manage.  The overall objective of the basic scheme is to maintain and improve the environmental value of 80% of farmland in Wales.
    The entry scheme is intended to provide an entry level agri-environment scheme, with a simplified administrative framework and output or outcome based prescriptions, which will allow far larger numbers of farmers and far greater areas of farmland to be brought under agri-environmental management. It provides support for farmers to protect wildlife habitats and landscape features.
    The targeted element will be spatially or thematically targeted. It will be a part farm scheme, providing capital and maintenance payments. It will seek to deliver actions such as soil carbon conservation and the sequestration of carbon, water quality improvement, flood risk management and strategic access delivery which are better delivered, and deliver optimal outcomes, at a landscape or catchment rather than individual farm scale. In general terms, issues that require a complex management response will tend to be dealt with through the advanced scheme. Additionally, actions to increase biodiversity value and maintain the historic environment, either collaboratively or on an individual farm will also be supported.
  • Economy and Transport
    DE&T recognises Sustainable Development as a central organising principle within its policies and activities. To embed the necessary cultural change and ownership at all levels of DE&T, we are putting in place the Sustainable Development Management Group. The Sustainable Development Management Group will lead on developing and mainstreaming sustainable development across their business areas. This group will be supported by a team of Environmental and SD practitioners.
    The Department for the Economy and Transport is very aware of its duties under the NERC Act 2006.  There will be revised and  re-issued detailed guidance on biodiversity to ensure that all our actions work towards the protection and enhancement of species and habitats. The Guidelines are supported by the Sustainable Development Delivery team, two of whom are professional ecologists, available to provide project managers with advice on how best to integrate SD, environmental and biodiverity issues into their projects.
  • Spatial Plan
    DE&T, CCW, the Environment Agency and other WAG departments are currently involved in the development of work on green infrastructure under the Welsh Assembly Government Spatial Plan colleagues. This approach seeks to look at the economic, social and environmental functions of the natural environment at a landscape scale, looking at ecosystem services including; carbon sequestration and storage, management of flood risk and ecological connectivity to help biodiversity adapt to climate change.  We are currently looking for opportunities to demonstrate this approach within our Infrastructure, Property and Regeneration activity.
  • River basin management Plans
    I today launched the River Basin Management Plans for which a key aim is the ensuring good water quality to support healthy ecosystems and biodiversity.  In Wales we are surrounded by approx 1600km of coastline with 70% already within a Special Area of Conservation!  To add to this we have a network of approx 7700km of rivers complemented by our lakes and groundwater.  Key actions have been included in the River Basin Management Plans to help bring internationally protected nature conservation sites into favorable condition.
  • FRM/ Shoreline Management plans
    The Water Framework Directive requires Member States to aim to meet good status in all water bodies by 2015. As the Water Framework Directive is a framework Directive, it incorporates measures and standards from within other Directives. These include standards and objectives for “Protected Areas”.  There are two key issues relating to water dependent N2K protected areas not achieving favourable conservation status or their WFD objectives which have implications for Flood and Coastal Risk Management operations. These issues relate to loss of intertidal habitats on sections of the coast where the movement of the shoreline is constrained (Coastal Squeeze) and water level issues on rivers and wetlands (Water Levels). Before Christmas I approved the following actions aimed at addressing the above: the creation of a National Habitat Creation/Remediation Programme for Wales to be led by Environment Agency Wales  to develop proposals to offset the impacts of the implementation of Flood and Coastal Risk Management policies on N2K sites, the funding of compensatory habitat and site remediation identified in the Programme from the Assembly Government’s flood and coastal risk management budget and that the Environment Agency, as the responsible drainage authority, implement actions to achieve favourable condition for 10 sites.

By the end of 2010 I will, in collaboration with other Ministers, publish a Natural Environment Framework, which will outline the new ways in which we will be addressing these challenges especially in the light of climate change.

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