Natural Environment White Paper

Butterfly Conservation welcomes the publication of the Government's Natural Environment White Paper but says that it must be backed by a strong commitment across all Departments if it is to be successful. It needs to ensure that strong measures are taken to protect wildlife habitats and to ensure that they are properly managed and restored across the landscape.

Dr Martin Warren, Chief Executive of Butterfly Conservation said "We wholeheartedly welcome the importance that the Nature White Paper places on the environment, but it needs to be backed by proper funding and increased action if it is to reverse decades of wildlife decline. Butterfly Conservation experts and its thousands of volunteers are ready to play a full role as part of the Big Society but we will need support and co-ordination to be effective."

The White Paper is published at a pivotal time for our relationship with wildlife on the planet. Human pressures are having a seriously adverse and unprecedented impact on wildlife populations. Species are in decline wherever you look across the globe.

In the UK, butterflies and moths underline the impact on our wildlife and are now among our most seriously threatened groups. Three quarters of butterflies are in decline, five have become extinct and almost half are now seriously threatened. Over 70 moths have become extinct over the last century and three-quarters of common moths are in decline, 70 of them so seriously that they are considered threatened.

This matters because they represent other insects which comprise two-thirds of all wildlife species, and because they provide an important function, for example as pollinators or as food for other species. As Sir David Attenborough, Butterfly Conservation's President, has said "Butterflies are the canaries in the coalmine and warn us of dangers ahead".

Results rely on information and funding
The White Paper aims to provide some solutions to these and other declines. It pins a lot of hope on new landscape scale initiatives that aim to conserve whole ecosystems and reconnect isolated wildlife habitats. Butterfly Conservation welcomes this approach but believes that it will only work if there is good information and sufficient funding.

Good information is needed on the locations where isolated populations survive and where potential habitat restoration can be targeted to best effect. Good information is also needed on what features these species require and how their habitats can be maintained.

This will require the input of both people who know the landscape and people who know the species. The history of nature conservation is littered with examples of wrong management being done out of ignorance, or the right management done in the wrong places.

At best, the new landscape scale initiatives (Ecological Restoration Zones) could be saviours to our most threatened species, at worst they could be greenwash that looks good but fails to deliver. Quality matters as much as quantity and we need the right management in the right places at the right scale if threatened wildlife is to recover.

The new landscape initiatives will also need funding if they are to be successful. Working at a landscape scale is vital but also costs more. The White Paper must be backed by substantial new funding mechanisms if it is to work. At a time when funding and expertise within government conservation agencies has been severely cut, this has become a pressing concern.