Memorandum submitted by English Nature
An appreciation and understanding of the rural
environment is essential if people are to help English Nature
achieve its aims of ensuring that future generations can enjoy
a wealth of wildlife as a major part of their quality of life.
With over 200 National Nature Reserves across
the length and breadth of England, English Nature is able to provide
the opportunity for an estimated 9,000,000 visits each year to
the countryside for quiet enjoyment and appreciation.
Foot and mouth disease poses a very real threat
to England's biodiversity both directly by affecting wildlife,
and indirectly by major disruption to agricultural regimes and
rural communities which are essential to maintaining and managing
English Nature played a full role in helping
to minimise the spread of the disease, acting responsibly and
working with all major players and neighbours.
Conscious of the desire to show that some parts
of the countryside were open, English Nature was able to re-open
some of its National Nature Reserves in time for Easter. This
was done after full consultation and a rigorous risk assessment
on a site by site basis.
This re-opening was greatly appreciated by visitors,
but English Nature would have liked to have seen greater prominence
given to the re-opening of places available for informal enjoyment
of the countryside, since recreation of this kind is an essential
component of the nation's quality of life.
1. Submission by English Nature
English Nature is the statutory body that champions
the conservation and enhancement of the wildlife and natural features
of England. We work for wildlife in partnership with others, by:
advising; government, other agencies,
local authorities, interest groups, business, communities, individuals
on nature conservation in England;
regulating; activities affecting
the special nature conservation sites in England;
enabling; others to manage land for
nature conservation, through grants, projects and information;
enthusing; and advocating nature
conservation for all and biodiversity as a key test of sustainable
We have statutory responsibilities for nationally
and internationally important nature conservation sites including
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), the most important
of which are managed as National Nature Reserves (NNRs); Special
Areas of Conservation (SACs); and Special Protection Areas (SPAs).
Through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee,
English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland, Wales
and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international
nature conservation issues.
English Nature welcomes this opportunity to
submit evidence to the Committee, and hopes to demonstrate how
it has acted responsibly to:
safeguard England's nature conservation
maintain good relationships with,
and be good neighbours to, landowners and farmers; and
encourage re-opening of the countryside,
when appropriate, in support of the wider rural economy.
English Nature recognises the important contribution
rural tourism makes to national and local economies. The natural
environment, and biodiversity in particular, are key factors in
attracting people to the coast and countryside and these elements
play a major role in contributing to people's quality of life.
We advocate the need for a sustainable approach
to tourism provision which means in practice managing the environmental
impacts of tourism and seeking opportunities to enhance the natural
environment wherever possible. The foot and mouth crisis has highlighted
the close relationship between tourism and the natural environment
and the need for all parties to work together to maximise the
industry's contribution to the economy, society and the built
and natural environment.
3. The role of National Nature Reserves
With over 200 National Nature Reserves (NNRs)
across England, attracting an estimated 9,000,000 visits each
year, English Nature recognises the significance of this resource
to the rural economy. NNRs are without parallel in England for
their variety of wildlife and opportunities for quiet enjoyment
of wildlife. Our objectives for National Nature Reserves include
conserving the best wildlife and geology, demonstrating good nature
conservation management and practice, providing access and interpretation
for the public, and enabling public appreciation and understanding
of the countryside and the role of nature conservation in improving
everyone's quality of life.
In order to contribute to social inclusion through
access to wildlife for all, regardless or wealth or disability,
we have developed a suite of "spotlight NNRs" which
have the greatest potential to accept visitors and provide the
quiet enjoyment that they are looking for. Visitor surveys conducted
on English Nature's behalf reveal a high degree of satisfaction
with the experience.
English Nature pro-actively promotes its "spotlight
NNRs" nationally and locally, publicising events including
open days, improvements to on-site interpretation, as well as
providing additional information via leaflets and its website.
Each year, we distribute a diary of events to be held on NNRs,
some organised by English Nature staff, others run by partners
on the Reserves. These range from dawn chorus walks to tours explaining
the significance of a site and its management. In May 2000, we
organised "A Wild Day Out" with special events on NNRs
across Englandover 17,000 people took part on the day.
4. Economic consequences
The economic input from visitors to the countryside
is significant, with expenditure on transport, accommodation,
food and drink, clothing, maps and books etc. Not only do those
visitors use rural facilities such as shops and local transport,
visits to NNRs are often linked to visits to other attractions
as part of the outing. As well as visits for quiet enjoyment,
NNRs contribute to the rural economy through employment for specialist
contractors (fencing, land management), scientific surveys (cartographers,
botanists) and our own or other conservation staff. In addition,
English Nature makes payments by way of management agreements
to encourage landowners and farmers to operate in ways which will
maintain the wildlife interest of these sites. These totalled
£7.8 million in Financial Year 1999-2000.
5. Implications of foot and mouth disease
The implications of foot and mouth disease for
English Nature are significant. Grazing by sheep and/or cattle
is one of the major management tools on some wildlife sites and
is required to maintain swards and control scrub encroachment
where this is undesirable. Very often, it is the tradition of
grazing patterns which has resulted in the nature conservation
interest of the site and cessation of grazing would jeopardise
that interest in some areas and on some habitats. Particularly
vulnerable are grassland sites and heathland. The threat to farming
more widely, which in many cases is crucial to maintaining the
countryside and its biodiversity, is considerable. English Nature
is on record as wanting to see vibrant rural communities where
people are able to earn a living and contribute to a wildlife-friendly
6. Actions taken by English Nature
On 23 February, in the light of advice from
MAFF, English Nature advised that all of its 200 plus National
Nature Reserves should be closed to the public, and excluded its
own staff and contractors from the majority. Exceptions were made
for the welfare of stock and essential health and safety purposes.
The decision was announced by way of a national press release,
supported in some areas by local releases. An announcement of
closures was also posted on the English Nature website.
On 2 March, in response to questions being raised
in the media, English Nature issued a press release explaining
that a wildlife cull was unnecessary, and could, by disturbance
and the influx of dogs and hunters, serve to spread the disease.
Particularly threatened by suggestions of a wildlife cull are
deer, grey squirrels and hedgehogs.
On 3 April, English Nature announced the re-opening
of some of its National Nature Reserves, in whole or in part.
The relaxation followed our own strict risk assessment and wide
consultation with interested parties, including the Ramblers'
Association, MAFF, local authorities and neighbouring landowners.
Special precautions were put in place, including disinfection
arrangements, segregation of stock from rights of way and signs
requiring dogs to be on leads, and an instruction to keep to footpaths.
All these were in line with advice from MAFF. Again this information
was placed on the website, and further re-openings will be posted
Outside infected areas, work by our own staff
and contractors was resumed, subject to strict risk assessments
and precautions. The postponement of work by contractors has been
a significant problem for us, since much of the contracted work
is seasonal and time sensitive. It has also upset budgets considerably,
for both English Nature and contractors.
English Nature's Press Office liaised with the
National Crisis Centre (Cabinet Office) as part of the OpenBritain
initiative. National media gave prominence to closures of NNRs,
but we would have liked to have seen greater attention drawn to
the re-openings, given the numbers of visitors to National Nature
Reserves for quiet enjoyment, particularly as the visiting season
gets into its stride. Local teams acted in support of a national
press release by announcements in their local press.
By 12 April, Maundy Thursday, in preparation
for Easter, 22 National Nature Reserves were open, either wholly
or partially. The variation was a result of differing requirements,
access arrangements, proximity of stock and assessment of likely
pressures. Liaison with owners, occupiers and highway authorities
was required, but the efforts to make these areas available appears
to have been appreciated by visitors, with queues reported at
one partially-opened reservePalmerston Wood, Derbyshire
English Nature followed the cautious approach
encouraged by the Government, mindful of the risks both to the
national flock/herd and wildlife posed by unrestricted access
to the countryside at a time when foot and mouth disease was prevalent.
Relaxation of the restrictions, subject to scrupulous risk assessment
and liaison with all major players, enabled large numbers of visitors,
(impossible to quantify), to visit the countryside at a time when
other areas were closed. This undoubtedly contributed to the numbers
of visitors demonstrating that some of the rural areas were open
for tourists to enjoy. English Nature is looking forward to being
able to welcome increasing numbers of visitors to its National
Nature Reserves as the disease abates.
While recognising the economic imperatives of
demonstrating that the countryside is open for business, not all
interests were equally covered. The concentration on charged-for
attractions helped to provide a lifeline to threatened businesses,
but it would have been a service to those seeking quiet enjoyment
to have given greater prominence to areas where informal enjoyment
was on offer. Anecdotal evidence from those who visited National
Nature Reserves after re-opening shows that the ability merely
to walk through the countryside and enjoy it for its intrinsic
value is highly regarded by many, and the loss of that facility
is sorely felt. As well as a purely economic loss to the nation
as a result of restricted access to rural areas, there is a spiritual
cost to the individual and his/her sense of well-being which should
not be overlooked.