The "biggest programme for nature recovery" is launched by Natural England with the North Yorkshire/North Pennines Tees Swale: Naturally Connected project at the forefront

Natural England has launched what it describes as the “biggest programme for nature recovery in England’s history” and an innovative North Yorkshire project is helping provide the blueprint.

Natural England has "fired the starting gun" on the Nature Recovery Network

The Nature Recovery Network (NRN), which will be led by the Government agency, aims to restore protected sites and create new wildlife-rich habitats across the country.

Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, said: “We are firing the starting gun on England’s NRN, backed by the biggest ever collaboration between government, business and charities to drive forward the biggest programme for nature recovery in England’s history. The natural world upon which we all depend has for far too long been in decline and now is the moment when we must change our approach, to move beyond preserving what little remains and to embark on restoration at scale.”

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But Mr Juniper warned, achieving nature recovery is a “complex task” which could only be realised through partnerships.

“These are needed to bring together the people who manage land and sea, the different sources of investment and knowledge that we need to make progress, the variety of official policies we have, and to make the most of the passion of the many leaders who are ready to step up to deliver action on the ground.”

The NRN will work towards linking together nature-rich places, restoring landscapes in towns and the countryside as well as creating new habitats for everyone to enjoy.

“Our vision is for a network of organisations and people to create a network of places that will bring huge benefits for wildlife, landscapes and people,” Mr Juniper said.

“It is an ambitious idea, but the fact is that in different parts of the country it’s already happening, and we should take great encouragement from that.”

Leading the way is the innovative Tees Swale: Naturally Connected project, a collaboration between the Yorkshire Dales National Park and North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The £8.5m project, which received £5.7m Lottery funding earlier this year, is putting farmers “at the heart of nature recovery and nature recovery at the heart of farming”.

The project and its partners including the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and RSPB, is working with 300 upland farmers and landowners over five years to restore areas across two landscapes covering more than 500 miles in Upper Teesdale and Upper Swaledale.

This will include restoring meadows and peatland, reviving rivers, improving habitats for wading birds, managing rushes and creating a landscape richer in trees and scrub.

The project initially came about following a survey in 2017 which found that only 60 per cent of some of the most important habitats in Swaledale outside of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) were in good condition.

Sir John Lawton is chairman of the board of trustees of the Tees Swale: Naturally Connected programme and president of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. He also led the Making Space for Nature Review.

“The Tees Swale: Naturally Connected programme embodies the principles set out in the Making Space for Nature report and puts it into practice on a grand scale, creating a nature recovery network through a collaboration between farmers and landowners and conservation bodies,” Sir John said.

“It’s one of the most exciting projects I’ve been involved with and we’re now ready to make things happen for nature on the ground, alongside a great programme of engaging people of all ages with the natural world.”

Stephanie Bird-Halton, area manager for Natural England in Northumbria, said the project is an example of the initiatives needed to meet the current climate and nature crisis.

“We can only make real progress through fostering collaboration based on integrated thinking across a variety of habitats, at a landscape scale. This is a fantastic leadership example of how to do that.”

Natural England said the new NRN would work with conservation rangers and environmentally focused community-based projects to put “lost features” like hedgerows and trees back into landscapes. The initiative has a number of partners already signed up to provide a wide range of support including funding and land for restoration.

These include the Council for Sustainable Business, Wildlife and Countryside Link, National Parks England, RSPB, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), alongside Defra, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission.

CLA President, Mark Bridgeman said the organisation recognised there is “no time to lose”.

“The public can see the impact of biodiversity loss and climate change with their own eyes, and quite rightly they expect us to act.”

Natural England is now calling for more business organisations to get involved, with names such as Coca Cola and Network Rail already signed up.

Liz Lowe, head of sustainability at Coca-Cola Great Britain, said she hoped the partnership would help encourage more businesses to understand and play their part in the active restoration and long-term investment in nature. “Without thriving natural ecosystems, we can’t have thriving businesses and communities,” she said.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow described the NRN as “fundamental” to achieving the Government’s goals for nature but it could only be delivered if people worked together.

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