How the EA hellps biodiversity – a five year report

Licence checks that protect internationally important wildlife sites during the past five years – 250,000.

Endangered freshwater pearl mussels successfully hatched in captivity – 70,000.
Hectares of new wildlife habitat created in England and Wales – 1,200.
Value of maintaining biological diversity – Priceless.

A new Environment Agency report detailing ‘How our work helps biodiversity’ – reveals the conservation and ecology outcomes for England and Wales since the turn of the century.

“Over the past five years the Environment Agency has helped to create 1,200 hectares of new habitat in England and Wales – the equivalent of ten Hyde Parks,” said the Environment Agency’s Head of Conservation and Ecology, Paul Raven.

“We’ve worked on almost 2,000 wildlife projects helping to save 39 threatened species – including successfully hatching 70,000 endangered pearl mussels and attracting otters back to every major city in England.”

But equally important is the Environment Agency’s day to day regulatory work, which goes largely unseen by the public but is vital to wildlife conservation.

“Enforcing hundreds of thousands of environmental licences and permits, has ensured that the £20 million we’ve put directly into conservation work, has delivered truly positive outcomes, particularly for water and wetland habitats,” Dr Raven said.

“For example, the strict pollution controls imposed in the last 30 years and regulated by the Environment Agency over the past 10 years have produced the cleanest waterways since before the Industrial Revolution, and wildlife is now really beginning to benefit.”

A major review of the past five years, ‘How our work helps biodiversity’ shows how the Environment Agency’s efforts to reduce pollution, manage water resources and minimise the risk of flooding has helped to protect special wildlife sites and restore habitats.

“Governments across Europe, have agreed to halt the loss of biodiversity by 20101,” Paul Raven said, “and the improving state of Britain’s wildlife provides a good indication of how the Environment Agency’s role as a regulator of industry, is protecting and improving the environment.’’

With a proven link between environmental quality and human health and well-being –several of the wildlife habitat creation projects that the Environment Agency has been involved with have focused on urban regeneration. By giving river corridors a new lease of life in towns and cities, local people can enjoy improved protection against flooding with the benefits of more wildlife and access to a better environment.

For example, at Chinbrook Meadows, in the London borough of Lewisham, the Ravensbourne River has been restored to a more natural state. By replacing straight concrete banks with a winding natural riverbank adjoining leafy parkland – an important wildlife habitat and a highly valued community amenity has been created.

“The transformation of Chinbrook Meadows is one of many urban regeneration success stories, that have not only restored a valuable habitat but even been credited with improving house prices in the area,“ Dr Raven said.

“We know that otters are now found in every major city in the country, which underlines the benefits of measures to improve water quality and wildlife habitats overall.

‘’But we can’t be complacent. There are major challenges ahead for our wildlife in the face of climate change and the increasing impact of non-native invasive species.’’

Key statistics that influence the Environment Agency’s biodiversity remit:

• 391 species in the United Kingdom are under threat.
• 39 species Biodiversity Actions Plans are the lead responsibility of the Environment Agency.
• 45 habitats in the United Kingdom are under threat.
• 5 habitat Biodiversity Action Plans are the lead responsibility of the Environment Agency.
• 250,000 Environment Agency licences checked to protect internationally important wildlife sites (2000-2005).
• 100,000 Environment Agency licences control water pollution.
• 25,000 Environment Agency licences that control water abstraction.
• 11,000 river biology samples taken each year.
• 7,500 Environment Agency licences that control waste management.
• 5,000 hectares of nationally important wildlife land the Environment Agency owns.
• 3,000 fish surveys carried out each year.
• 1,600 Environment Agency licences that control major industrial works.

Key Environment Agency achievements over the past five years:

• 1,200 hectares of new wildlife habitat created;
• almost 2,000 projects to create or improve wildlife habitat;
• £20 million (rising to £70 million with partners) spent on creating new habitat;
• 594 partnership projects underway in 2004/05 – a record for one year.
• 2,300km of improved river water quality.
• 16% of salmon rivers now have sustainable fish stocks – up from 2%. Salmon and trout are now returning to many rivers in which they were virtually extinct including the Tyne and Wear, the Mersey, the Yorkshire Ouse, the Trent, Taff and the Tees.
• With rivers the cleanest they’ve been since before the Industrial Revolution, otters have returned to every major city in England and increased in numbers in traditional Welsh strongholds.
• Started work on raising water levels to re-wet 11,000 hectares of dried out wetlands.
• Water abstraction limits have been reduced and management plans imposed on many valuable wildlife rivers and protected wetlands – such as the River Darent in Kent, River Derwent in Yorkshire, River Taw in Devon, River Clywedog in Wales, and Redgrave and Lopham Fen in East Anglia.
• Almost £1 billion spent by Water companies – that the Environment Agency regulate – between 2000-2010 improving 1,700km of protected rivers and more than 150 nationally important wetland sites.
• 2nd edition of the Water Vole Conservation Handbook providing the latest best-practice for conservation groups, developers and land managers.
• New code for Britain’s most invasive plant species – Japanese Knotweed.
• Successfully breeding endangered Freshwater Pearl Mussels (BAP species) in captivity for future translocation into the wild.
• Funded a network of 500 nesting boxes for barn owls, with nearly 1,200 chicks successfully reared.
• Part-funded first national water shrew survey.
• Relocated very rare Vendace fish from 2 lakes in Cumbria to a lake in Scotland where they had gone extinct due to pollution.


Key Environment Agency goals over the next five years:

• Completing work on raising water levels to re-wet 11,000 hectares of dried out wetland habitat in England and Wales by 2010.
• Create at least 1000 hectares of new wetlands (Already in 2006 we’ve created three new wetlands by breaching manmade tidal defences – augmenting the threat of sea-level rise by re-creating natural coastal protection, including: Alkborough Flats, Lincolnshire – 440 ha; Alnmouth, Northumberland – 9 ha; Wallasea, Essex – 115 ha; and Sladesbridge, Cornwall –15 ha; Rye Harbour farm, East Sussex – 117-hectare).
• Championing the value of maintaining and restoring wetland and coastal habitat to offset the effects of climate change (i.e. increased flooding and storm intensity/proliferation), when new developments are proposed.
• Improving 500km of riverbank habitat.
• Reduction of diffuse pollution – including soil, manure, pesticides and fertilisers washing into rivers, lakes and estuaries from farms, buildings and roads.
• Programme of water company work that will tackle water abstraction problems in rivers and wetlands.
• Creation of 100 hectares of saltmarsh and mudflat annually to account for losses through sea-level rise.

The Environment Agency has professional digital video footage available of Chinbrook Meadows before and after rehabilitation work was carried out. Case studies from throughout England and Wales are available on request.