The planning system is failing to protect England’s wildlife and natural areas, many of which are facing major declines.
A study by the think tank Policy Exchange also recommended that developers should be required to ensure large construction projects deliver more benefits for wildlife than the harm caused by building on or near important natural sites.
Well-loved species such as hedgehogs and house sparrows have seen numbers halve in the past 25 years, while farmland bird numbers have fallen by four-fifths since the 1960s and three-quarters of butterfly species are in decline.
And 11 of the UK’s 15 important types of habitats are declining, the report warned.
Some of England’s land is highly protected, but this has led to “ghettoisation” of habitats, which are now isolated and fragmented, while high-value areas which do not have protection have been lost to intensive agriculture and development.
Under planning regulations, large developments should deliver an overall net gain for biodiversity “wherever possible”, but the report warned the vague language meant the rules were being applied haphazardly.
A Freedom of Information request by Policy Exchange revealed that two-fifths (41 per cent) of England’s 354 local planning authorities were able to provide evidence that they had ensured developers compensated for damage to important habitats.
And when compensation measures were carried out, by providing new high-quality wild spaces to replace those that were lost, the sites were not properly monitored in almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of cases.
Report author Guy Newey said: “A failure to properly value biodiversity has led to the decline of many once-common species and the disappearance of important habitats over the past 60 years.”