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Biological Diversity — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 20th June 2011.

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Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble Conservative 8:00 pm, 20th June 2011

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on securing this important debate. The Nagoya protocol rightly relates to global issues, but I will concentrate on the effective implementation of the agreement in the UK. I therefore declare an interest as executive director of the Countryside Alliance, as well as a farming one.

This country should show leadership not only internationally but within the European Union to protect and enhance natural assets and to promote environmentally sustainable growth. I am pleased that the Government's natural environment White Paper seeks to address many of these issues. However, I hope that I am not being too ungenerous by saying that one has to wade through amounts of jargon and suggestions of new bodies being set up to try to discover what we can do practically in our towns, suburbs and countryside to achieve economic growth in an environmentally sympathetic way and to adhere to the principles of Nagoya.

I am well aware that this country may be a small cog in the global environment, but we are significant because we should and can lead from the front. This is an area where, collaborating closely with our European and Commonwealth partners, we can force the pace. We can do so much in urban areas to make a significant contribution not only to biodiversity but to the quality of life of the residents and workforce of our cities and towns. Companies and institutions should play their part in bringing a greener infrastructure to urban areas. Everyone with a garden-large or small, window box or terrace-can also play their part. The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, gave us a lead on why our ponds and water courses are so vital.

I turn to matters rural, for it is here that much of Nagoya in the UK will be achieved. With more than 70 per cent of the UK managed by rural communities, farmers and land managers play a crucial role for the nation in so many regards such as water supply, flora and fauna, food production and landscape. We need increasingly to ensure that we produce enough food in this country, as food security becomes an ever higher priority in public policy. There is of course a range of professionals who have cared for the land over many generations. The Government should back them in this role.

When it comes to halting declines in habitats and species-a key objective in the Nagoya agreement-one needs to look no further than the uplands of the north of England. There, heather moorland that has been managed for grouse shooting has been responsible for making the greatest contribution to the improvement in the environmental health of the country's outstanding wildlife and geological sites. Sites of specific scientific interest cover more than 2 million acres of the land surface of England, and provide vital and extensive refuges for wildlife and essential free natural resources for people. Today, 96 per cent of grouse moors are in a favourable or recovering condition. The support of upland landowners and grouse moor managers has been crucial in achieving this goal. Moorland managed for grouse shooting accounts for some 850,000 acres of uplands, 60 per cent of all upland SSSIs and nearly one-fifth of all England's SSSI land.

What is either not known or overlooked is that the majority of that management is carried out at the private expense of the land manager. The rural community of this country has a long track record of working in harmony with nature. Since the Moorland Association was formed 25 years ago, members have regenerated and recovered more than 217,000 acres-including 57,000 in the past decade-thereby exceeding the Government's 2010 conservation target by 170 per cent. Grouse moor owners have shown that they have the ability to achieve this at their own cost, but it should be with the Government's backing.

It may be an inconvenient truth for some, but it is the case that the hare was in its most abundant numbers when its habitat was managed for coursing and hare hunting; the red deer herd on Exmoor was one of the finest in the world because of the management undertaken by the three packs of staghounds; and the fox was best managed and looked after when the species was considered quarry rather than vermin. The White Paper claims that:

"Nature is sometimes taken for granted and undervalued".

However, this is simply not the case for those individuals who manage the countryside and have an interest in its future. The Government should take the opportunity that already exists in the countryside, with rural communities undertaking conservation work each year.

All signatories to the United Nations convention on biodiversity are to draw up national biodiversity plans. These should include measures to control invasive species, halt the loss of genetic diversity and expand nature reserves to 17 per cent of the world's land area by 2020. Are we to lose the nightingale because we are not prepared to manage the muntjac, which is destroying the habitat of so many species at an alarming rate? Are we to lose the iconic red squirrel because we allow the grey to run riot? It is important that by the time the convention meets in India in October 2012, our country will have made further progress in achieving these highly laudable aims.

The White Paper suggests that there will be local nature partnerships, new nature improvement areas and a range of initiatives. I therefore urge the Minister to ensure that in the evolution of these proposals and their fulfilment, those in the countryside who know so much about it and have a track record of caring for it are actively engaged at every step of the way. It is because of the people I have spoken about, not in spite of them, that the British countryside has remained as exceptional as it still is. If we are serious about implementing Nagoya and securing practical results, we must engage the rural communities on whom we already rely.