Somerset Levels will receive a share of Defra funding

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A NEW nature restoration project will be launched in Somerset with the long-term aim of restoring ecological processes in the county’s heathland, wetlands and coast.

The project is one of five landscape-scale projects covering up to 99,000 hectares of land, from city outskirts to wetlands, focused on supporting wildlife.

Initiatives in Somerset, West Midlands, Cambridgeshire, Peak District and Norfolk aim to tackle wildlife loss and climate change and improve public access to nature.

The five sites will share an initial pot of £2.4 million from the Department for the Environment (DEFRA) and Natural England.

This money will be spent on work to create new habitats, manage land for nature and carbon storage, increase walking trails and connect with communities.

Further funding is expected from other sources and partners.

It is hoped that the nature reclamation programs, which include existing nature reserves and the wider landscape, will span 99,200 hectares of land (245,000 acres) in total over time – a size equivalent to the 219 current national nature reserves.

Project work will range from converting agricultural land to chalk grassland to restoring ‘dew ponds’ and sustainably managing wetlands and other lands.

Projects will also develop plans to work with communities in cities and deprived areas to improve their access to nature, including creating new green spaces and improving footpaths and bridleways.

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MP for Taunton Deane and Minister for the Environment, Rebecca Pow, said: ‘These five projects across England are superb examples of the exciting large-scale restoration that is needed to bring about step change in the recovery of the nature in this country.

“They will make a significant contribution to achieving our goal of halting the decline in species abundance by 2030 and our commitment to protect 30% of our land by 2030, allowing us to leave the environment in better condition than we found it.”

Natural England Chairman Tony Juniper added: “Nature’s recovery can only happen if we take action at scale, and that can only work through partnerships.

“These five flagship projects will seek to recover species and habitats through the collaboration of a wide range of landowners and organizations, delivering benefits for wildlife, local economies, climate change adaptation and well -be public.

Joan Edwards, director of policy at The Wildlife Trusts, said it was “good to see positive ambition” from the government to help people access nature close to home and connect existing wildlife sites.

“Species desperately need green corridors to connect fragmented habitats in addition to big, bold projects that enable landscapes to recover at scale,” she said.

“Wildlife has suffered catastrophic declines in recent decades and 15% of species in the UK are threatened with extinction.

“The government can help turn the tide by accelerating the creation of a nature recovery network, dedicating more land to nature and enforcing stronger protections for our most important sites.”

The five projects are:

Somerset Wetlands: A project spanning no less than 60,000 hectares of the Somerset Levels and heathland with a long-term aim of restoring ecological processes across heathland, wetlands and the coast.

Sustainable wetland management will maintain carbon-storing peatlands, boost green tourism, reduce pollution, and improve resilience to floods and droughts.

In the first year, the partners will complete 11 projects working with landowners, restoring habitats and storing carbon.

Purple Horizons: A scheme spanning up to 10,000 hectares on the fringes of the West Midlands conurbation and focusing on restoring and connecting fragmented moorland to create a mosaic of moorland, wetlands, forest and grassland.

It will connect existing protected areas, work with local landowners to ensure habitat creation and carbon storage, and develop a plan to connect with communities in disadvantaged areas of Walsall to provide green spaces where they will have the greatest health benefits.

Cambridge Nature Network: This program aims to develop wildlife-rich and accessible habitats in and around the city of Cambridge covering 9,200 hectares, making existing natural sites bigger, better and more connected.

It will include converting farmland to new chalk grassland, creating new grassland and establishing new forests, as well as planting trees and restoring grassland within the city itself.

Wye Valley, Peak District: The project covers 10,000 hectares, including nearly 1,400 hectares of existing protected areas and priority habitats.

In its first year, project partners the National Trust, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Peak District National Park Authority and Natural England will focus on restoring dew ponds to support amphibians and insects.

Baseline surveys will assess habitats and opportunities for private investment to boost nature under rules that require developers to provide “net gains” for biodiversity as part of their programs, while recovery packs nature for 500 residents will help them connect with nature.

Wendling Beck, Norfolk: This project near Dereham aims to transform farmland and its river valley over 10,000 hectares by restoring and creating habitats and adopting more sustainable farming practices.

A project partnership of local farmers, Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Norfolk County Council, supported by others, creates and enhances grassland, heathland, woodland and wetlands to boost wildlife, from doves to green-winged orchids .

It is piloting a biodiversity net gain credits program and also plans to provide permissive access and links to the Norfolk Trails network.

Reported by PA News Agency

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