18 July 2012
Natural England today announced two new initiatives that are designed to help local communities and school children make their own connections with the natural environment on their doorstep.
Natural England have published key facts and data for all 159 of England’s landscapes, marking the first phase in a project to equip communities with the tools needed to understand and develop the surroundings they want in future.
England’s National Character Areas (NCAs) map out 159 landscape areas, each defined by common landscape characteristics including natural features, vegetation types, buildings and settlements.
The latest facts and figures provide an easily accessible guide to the main features that each landscape contains. Over time, detailed profiles will be developed of each NCA summarising the natural benefits that each Area supports, and identifying the possibilities for future enhancement of the local landscape. These will offer guidance to help people to shape their vision for their environment and enable local communities to make informed decisions on planning, development and conservation.
Five full profiles have been published today to demonstrate how the programme will develop over coming months. The five featured profiles, now available on Natural England’s website, are:
Sherwood, Arden, Severn and Avon Vales, Humberhead Levels and South Devon NCAs, in addition to the Southern Pennines profile already available.
The full set of profiles will be published in tranches from late 2012.
Jim Smyllie, Natural England’s Executive Director for People, Biodiversity and Landscape, said; “Making the most of local enthusiasm and expertise is fundamental to looking after England’s landscapes. The wide-ranging programme for National Character Areas that we are launching today will provide an important information source to enable local people to make the connection with their natural environment.”
Alongside its work on National Character Areas, Natural England has also announced the appointment of Plymouth University to manage the major ‘Natural Connections’ project that will involve 200 schools in 5 areas across the South West of England. Natural Connections is being coordinated by Natural England as part of the package of measures announced last year in the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper. The project will target schools – many of which are in deprived urban areas - that currently provide little or no opportunities for learning in or engaging with the natural environment. Natural Connections will engage with the local community to help schools access the wealth of local resources, skills and expertise that can meet their needs.
Liz Newton, Natural England’s Director for Access and Engagement added; “Through Natural Connections we want to do all we can to help realise the Government’s ambition to see every child in England given the chance to experience and learn about the natural environment. We have to ensure that this generation does not become the first to grow up without the benefits that an appreciation of the natural world can bring.”
Sue Waite, Project Leader at Plymouth University said; “Research has shown that the likelihood of children visiting local green space has fallen, with 10% of children playing in natural environments compared to 40% of adults when they were young. The roaming range around children’s homes has also shrunk by 90% in 20 years. This is likely to be contributing to some of the major challenges that are facing society today such as childhood obesity, mental health, the lack of a sense of place and community, and need for pro-environmental behaviours. We welcome the opportunity to play a lead role in a project that could help address many of these issues, and look forward to working with our partners regionally and nationally.”
NCAs and Natural Connections are just two of the initiatives that have been put in place to help deliver the wide-ranging ambitions laid out in the government’s Natural Environment White Paper launched in June 2011.
Natural England also plays a major role in co-ordinating the development of Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs), which were a cornerstone of last year’s announcement.
Following a competition process, the final 12 projects were announced in January alongside funding of £7.5 million to help enhance the 500,000 hectares of countryside that they incorporate. Led by specially formed local partnerships NIAs are large, discrete areas that will deliver a step change in nature conservation. Natural England is coordinating the delivery of the 12 countrywide landscape scale projects, supporting local partnerships as they seek to bring exciting plans to life - connecting rural and urban landscapes, restoring ecosystems, and all the vital services they provide; and helping ensure that wildlife is able to adapt to a changing climate.
Defra have now announced further funds (£250,000 per year for three years) to include the eight NIA bids that were not selected from the final 20 schemes.