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Nature Improvement Areas ‘demonstrate significant gains’ – says Natural England

Natural England says that its Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) are making ‘real progress’ in delivering their objectives.

Introduced by the Natural Environment White Paper (2011), with the aim of creating ‘areas to make enhancements and to reconnect nature on a significant scale, via local partnerships’, the 12 initial NIAs extend from Morecambe Bay in the North West to the Wild Purbeck in the South West. They also include the Humberhead Levels, Marlborough Downs, the Greater Thames marshes and Derbyshire’s Dark Peak.

Natural England’s progress report Monitoring and Evaluation of Nature Improvement Areas Year 1 (2012-13) assesses information submitted by all NIAs. Its key findings are that all have established clear management structures and partnerships; are delivering projects against planned objectives; and report good or satisfactory progress against targets.

The report notes that more than 6.5ha of new woodland have been created within the Birmingham and Black Country NIA; major access routes for visitors have been restored in Dark Peak NIA with the help of volunteers, enabling additional works to begin on nearby routes; and that many NIAs have been engaged in activities which have led to habitat and species gains, plus improvement to ecological connectivity.

A wide variety of partners is involved in NIAs, with representation from the private sector, academia, NGOs and the government’s ‘arms-length bodies’ (ie the Environment Agency, Forestry Commission and Natural England).

The report reveals that NIAs have mobilised significant financial and human resources: ‘Each £1 invested by the government has resulted in £5.50 additional support, expected to rise to £6.80 when planned support is taken into account’.

Just under £2.1m has been secured from the Catchment Restoration Fund for water quality improvements, and £92,000 from the SITA Trust for blanket bog restoration within Dark Peak NIA

NIAs are engaging with local schools, community groups and volunteers, offering educational and training opportunities, ‘and there is increasing evidence that NIAs are working together to share best practice’.

All 12 NIAs have adopted the required minimum of 13 indicators, with some NIAs deciding to use as many as 20, and have initiated monitoring programmes across four themes (biodiversity, ecosystem services, social and economic benefits and contributions to well-being, and partnership working).

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