Farming: MPs Call for Action to Prevent 'Threat to Wildlife of Britain'

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Byline: Anna Lognonne

BRITAIN'S wildlife will be under threat unless Government ministers take action to ensure housebuilding and other policies do not ruin the British countryside, a Commons report has warned.

Yesterday's Environmental Audit Committee's report stated that the Government was unlikely to meet its target to halt biodiversity loss by 2010.

It called for new aims to be set for decline to be reversed by 2020, including "measurable and achievable targets for habitats and species".

And it backed plans announced by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn this summer to carry out a nationwide "ecosystems assessment" to inform policy decisions.

But it criticised departments such as Communities and Local Government and Transport for failing to properly consider the environmental impacts of policies such as housebuilding and biofuels.

As part of the solution, MPs said that the Government should re-think the UK's agri-environment schemes. Tory MP Tim Yeo, who chairs the committee, said: "England is a much poorer place than it was 50 years ago with the widespread decline of many of our most important, and loved, habitats and species.

"We have lost some 97% of our flower-rich meadows and there are now half the number of farmland birds that there were 50 years ago.

"The Government has intervened successfully to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss, although losses continue in the face of a variety of pressures including development, transport and agriculture. It is no longer enough to rely on protected areas to preserve nature, as increasingly these have become islands in the landscape.

"The Government needs to ensure that all policies with a direct or indirect impact on biodiversity do not undermine attempts to preserve it. Policies on issues such as biofuels, housebuilding and planning are in danger of accelerating rather than halting biodiversity loss."

But the NFU said farmers were already doing a lot to meet the twin challenges of increasing food production while looking after the countryside. NFU vice-president Paul Temple said: "It is not surprising that over the last 50 years the distribution and scale of biodiversity has changed. …