• conservation;
  • horizon scanning;
  • planning;
  • policy;
  • practice;
  • priority setting;
  • research


  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References
  8. Supporting Information

1. The conservation of biodiversity depends upon both policy and regulatory frameworks. Here, we identify priority policy developments that would support conservation in the UK in the light of technological developments, changes in knowledge or environmental change.

2. A team of seven representatives from governmental organizations, 17 from non-governmental organizations and six academics provided an assessment of the priority issues. The representatives consulted widely and identified a long-list of 117 issues.

3. Following voting and discussion during a 2-day meeting, these were reduced to a final list of 25 issues and their potential policy options and research needs were identified. Many of the policies related to recent changes in approaches to conservation, such as increased interest in ecosystem services, adaptation to climate change and landscape ecology.

4. We anticipate that this paper will be useful for policy makers, nature conservation delivery agencies, the research community and conservation policy advocates.

5. Although many of the options have global significance, we suggest that other countries consider an equivalent exercise. We recommend that such an exercise be carried out in the UK at regular intervals, say every 5 years, to explore how biodiversity conservation can best be supported by linked policy development and research in a changing world.

6.Synthesis and applications. Opportunities for policy development were prioritized and for each of the top 25 we identified the current context, policy options and research questions. These largely addressed new issues relating to developing topics such as ecosystem services, landscape planning and nanotechnology. We envisage that this will largely be used by researchers wishing to make a contribution to potential policy debates.


  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References
  8. Supporting Information

Conservation of the natural world requires us to understand and respond to change. Consequently, there is an global imperative to address drivers, including climate change, land-use change and recent changes in the energy, water, food, infrastructure and building sectors. Furthermore, new and extended legal and policy instruments to conserve marine environments provide new opportunities to address the impacts of environmental change on coastal and marine ecosystems. This background of continued and fundamental change, alongside the failure to achieve the 2010 biodiversity targets, requires new approaches, specification of detailed operational policies within currently existing policy frameworks, or the better application of existing policies, coupled with the identification of research priorities to inform those policy choices.

The aim of the exercise presented here is to identify issues of greatest need for fresh policies. It is restricted to issues affecting nature conservation in the United Kingdom although the impacts could be a consequence of change occurring outside this area, including European Union (EU) legislation governing nature conservation policy. We did not formally consider global policies, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, though an international context and repercussions may well need to be taken into account in selecting policy options. We did not extend the discussion into policies for, or affecting, the United Kingdom Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, as a different constituency would need to participate in that exercise.

This distillation complements and follows from previous exercises to identify priority research questions (Sutherland et al. 2006, 2009) and novel issues requiring further attention (Sutherland et al. 2008, 2010). It focuses on policy areas where there may be options to fill gaps or improve implementation and where new research may be required. Priority policy areas for nature conservation in the United Kingdom may include novel issues (Sutherland & Woodroof 2009), such as nanotechnology, new issues opening up through legislative opportunities, such as marine conservation, and areas where it may be beneficial to rethink the existing policy framework, such as for protected areas. This assessment was carried out at a time when a number of policy opportunities were emerging. There is currently a process underway through the Convention on Biological Diversity to agree post-2010 targets to address biodiversity loss. At the EU level, countries must define Good Environmental Status targets for marine regions by 2012 and achieve them by 2020, the process for Common Fisheries Policy Reform is due for completion at the start of 2012, and current debate about a post-2013 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is considering rationale, objectives, instruments and budget. The emphasis on an ecosystems approach, and the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, will provide an evidence-based rationale for policy change. However, we also recognize that this is a time when Governments and policymakers are intensely aware of the repercussions of the recent global economic downturn. This requires a good deal of pragmatism when designing and justifying policies; all new developments will be subjected to intense scrutiny for their cost and benefits.

Materials and methods

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References
  8. Supporting Information

Participants identified issues after a process of voting and shortlisting at a workshop, resulting in a final list of 25 opportunities. The details of the methods are given in Appendix S1 in Supporting Information, and Appendix S2 gives the legal context. The issues are not in order of priority.

Accounts of issues

Protected areas and climate change

The UK’s terrestrial protected areas aim to safeguard the diversity and range of the UK’s habitats, species, geology and geomorphology. Each site has been selected because of its importance for one or more ‘interest features’, such as species and/or habitats, and the management of the site aims to protect these features. This approach was developed at a time when landscape change was generally directly human-induced and therefore, to a large extent controllable. Climate change generates a suite of direct and indirect changes whose impacts are largely uncertain and complex, and may cause unpredictable species composition and habitat change within sites. Management regimes may become unsustainable or inappropriate (e.g. due to changes in hydrology). How, therefore, should protected areas be selected, managed and sustained so that they continue to make an important contribution to nature conservation in the face of climate change? How can the concept of ‘favourable condition’ (JNCC 1998) be revised to accommodate potential shifts in the distribution of habitats and species?

Policy options:

 • Make more use of existing powers to update notification of interest features and boundaries as climate change impacts become clearer.

 • Designate sites because they are likely to develop important biodiversity in future.

 • Give greater emphasis to environmental heterogeneity and ecosystem processes.

Research questions:

 • Which management protocols are effective at maintaining and enhancing nature conservation under climate change?

 • What site properties enable wildlife resilience under climate change?

 • How might populations currently within protected areas respond to climate change?

 • How might the composition of priority habitats change as the climate changes?

Measures to develop and maintain ecologically coherent networks

Many habitats are highly fragmented in the UK, and many populations of vulnerable species are too small and isolated for long-term viability. Reversing the impacts of fragmentation may also increase the resilience of existing habitat patches and species’ populations to climate change. The UK lacks a coherent policy for planning or supporting strategic measures for maintaining and, where necessary, increasing functional connectivity amongst remaining patches of habitat, such as protected areas. Terrestrial and marine habitats present different types of challenges to the creation of ecological coherence. Unlike some EU countries, the UK has not yet developed a national ecological network. Some regional initiatives have been developed, for example by regional biodiversity partnerships, but these are neither integrated within wider plans, nor well supported by established policy instruments (such as the targeting of agri-environment measures) or funding provision.

Policy options:

 • Provide for a coherent ecological network, including designating groups of existing sites as ecological networks.

 • Enhance national and regional level planning guidance to increase protection of areas with the potential to provide important connectivity.

 • Better target measures [such as agri-environment schemes, offsets and habitat banks (see below)] to restore habitats in locations of strategic connectivity importance.

Research questions:

 • Where are the most important areas of functional significance for species of conservation concern and which are in greatest need of protecting or restoring?

 • What are the connectivity requirements for species that are vulnerable to fragmentation (especially Natura 2000 species) in relation to current needs and projected climate scenarios?

 • Establish evidence for the effectiveness of measures that improve connectivity.

Wild landscape areas

There is increasing interest in moving from managing sites for particular habitats or species to creating and/or restoring landscape-scale –‘wilderness’ areas (Hodder & Bullock 2009). This is particularly novel in lowlands, such as floodplains and former arable farmland. Creating large ‘wild’ areas might deliver more cost-effective nature conservation. However, the potential advantages and disadvantages to biodiversity conservation, to ecosystem services and the acceptability of such landscape change to society are unresolved (Kirby 2009). The use of animals of domestic origin, such as cattle and horses, as surrogate grazers treated in a similar manner to wild populations makes this approach challenging under present animal welfare legislation.

Policy options:

 • Establish mechanisms for extensively managing large areas of land through legally binding land management agreements with owners or state purchase on a suitable scale.

 • Revise animal welfare legislation for naturalistic grazing of animals derived from domestic stock.

Research questions:

 • Where would this approach provide more benefits to biodiversity and to ecosystem service provision than more managed systems?

 • How are species of concern and valued landscapes likely to change under extensively managed landscapes?

Streamlining conservation action for European protected species, within existing legislation

Some European Protected Species (for example great crested newts Triturus cristatus, some bat species and cetaceans) are frequent and widespread across the UK and its surrounding seas. Their presence often conflicts with development and can result in considerable mitigation costs to protect small populations of these species, without evidence demonstrating that the mitigation is effective. Focus on European Protected Species diverts attention and funds from other species deserving greater conservation effort.

Policy options:

 • Review licencing process to avoid perverse impacts on other conservation goals.

 • Change policy on the implementation of European Protected Species legislation to improve synergy with other biodiversity strategies.

 • Develop policies (e.g. Habitat Banking – see below) that focus on the status of the entire population or meta-population rather than on individuals and sites.

Research questions:

 • What is the effectiveness of the various mitigation interventions currently recommended for European Protected Species?

 • What is the relative effectiveness of different approaches aimed at maintaining or restoring favourable conservation status?

Securing conservation delivery from High Nature Value farming systems

The High Nature Value farming concept was established in the early 1990s and describes those types of farmland with cultural significance that can be expected to support high levels of biodiversity (EEA/UNEP 2004; Doxa et al. in press). It typically comprises semi-natural vegetation that is grazed, browsed, or cut for hay, and may contain pockets of low-intensity arable. Such farmland often includes nationally declining habitat types, such as hay meadows, wood pastures and heathlands. These areas are important for the delivery of wider ecosystem services, and in retaining rural livelihoods in remote areas. High Nature Value farming systems are typically economically marginal and are at risk of either intensification or abandonment. Current agriculture subsidies fail to safeguard them as direct payments favour historically productive areas, while agri-environment payments compensate for the opportunity costs of conservation measures, rather than sustaining systems that already deliver conservation benefits. Policy measures to secure the delivery of ecosystem services may also support High Nature Value farming systems, but there is a case for specific policy measures to retain them in the short to medium term.

Policy options:

 • Develop EU policy and transposed United Kingdom measures that provide targeted financial support for High Nature Value farming systems, with eligibility criteria designed to reflect their characteristics.

Research questions:

 • What are the biodiversity and societal benefits best delivered by High Nature Value farming?

 • What are the social and economic threats to High Nature Value farming and what measures can be used to overcome them?

Valuation of nature conservation

It is difficult to value the benefits of nature in monetary terms. However, for nature conservation to have a significant voice within the political agenda, it is often useful for the benefits accruing from nature conservation objectives to be expressed in terms common to other competing priorities. There is increasing appreciation of the role of environmental protection in supporting and directly delivering the ecosystem services on which we depend. There is a growing evidence base of the value of these ecosystem services, but these are currently not reflected in market prices and, therefore, the value of the natural environment is overlooked in decision-making. More research is needed in dealing with less easily quantified aspects such as the existence, bequest and transformative benefits. The challenge is adapting existing policies to implement value transfer approaches systematically as a decision-making tool.

Policy options:

 • Adopt the ecosystem service framework throughout Government departments, including revision of the UK Treasury’s Green Book (which provides guidance on project evaluation and appraisal).

 • Include robust and comprehensive biodiversity and ecosystem services valuation methods that take account of the costs and benefits of particular actions in relevant regulatory assessments.

Research questions:

 • What is the role of biodiversity in underpinning, directly delivering and improving the resilience of ecosystem service delivery?

 • How would conservation priorities change if the valuation of conservation were incorporated?

 • What is the relative validity of different methods of assessing the value of conservation?

A no-net-loss policy for biodiversity

The 2010 target for halting biodiversity loss is unlikely to be met (Butchart et al. 2010). One reason is that despite a range of instruments to reduce biodiversity losses, significant losses still occur, even after appropriate mitigation measures. It is therefore appropriate to consider policies that require and deliver compensation for such losses. Without such measures the new EU biodiversity target that aims to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2020 is unlikely to be achievable.

Policy options:

 • Strengthen existing measures (e.g. Planning Policy Statements) by including a no-net biodiversity loss requirement for individual projects.

 • Require accurate and regular reporting of biodiversity loss, and any associated compensation measures, from planning authorities.

Research questions:

 • What is a practical yet robust and meaningful measure of net biodiversity loss/gain?

Habitat Banking

The requirements for developers to mitigate and compensate for impacts of development are weak. Furthermore, many mitigation and compensation measures fail due to poor locations, poor design and weak enforcement (Hill 2009). Habitat Banking has been suggested as a mechanism for developers to provide compensation measures that ensure a minimum of no-net-loss of biodiversity (Latimer & Hill 2007; Briggs, Hill & Gillespie 2009) although there are also serious concerns with this (e.g. Maron et al. 2010). Funding could be drawn from the uplift value of land resulting from development being allowed, thereby avoiding significant additional development costs. Habitat Banking organizations (private, public or community bodies) would secure funds from developers and provide land for habitat enhancement, restoration or creation. Habitat Banks have been successfully established in several countries (Eftec & IEEP 2009). An advantage over project-specific offsets is the potential to strategically locate sites, for example to enlarge or connect fragmented habitats. A strong independent regulator would be needed to ensure that compensation measures are at least equivalent to impacts, that they are adopted only after appropriate mitigation, and that they provide sufficient additional value to ensure no-net-loss of biodiversity.

Policy options:

 • Ensure that existing protection for important habitats under European or national guidance is enforced. For weakly protected or unprotected habitats, establish a Habitat Banking market for two levels of compensation. First, specific compensation requirements need to be calculated for individually significant impacts on important biodiversity (e.g. all UK BAP Priority Habitats and Species); a simple fee in lieu scheme (with the received funds allocated according to conservation priorities by an independent private or public fund) could be set up for cumulative impacts of individually insignificant developments. Secondly, direct funds, e.g. from the Community Infrastructure Levy, could be set up so that local authorities in England and Wales are empowered to charge developers for contributions towards Habitat Banks.

Research questions:

 • What are the ecological impacts of different Habitat Banking systems and regulatory frameworks?

 • What, if any, habitat creation options would provide cost-effective restoration in different regions?

Delivering ecosystem services through extended conservation policies

UK protected areas and landscapes have been designated largely on the basis of the presence of rare species, particular habitats, geology or cultural landscapes. Although some designations deliver wider benefits such as recreation (National Parks), or water quality (Nitrate Vulnerable Zones), the range of ecosystem services protected or enhanced through these measures is currently limited. The increasing recognition of the need to conserve a wider set of ecosystem services, particularly carbon sequestration and water quality, requires new strategies to maintain and potentially enhance ecosystem services, without risk of detrimental consequences for existing biodiversity (Defra 2007; Anderson et al. 2009; Benayas et al. 2009; Eigenbrod et al. 2009).

Policy options:

 • Establish criteria for the identification and management of land or regions of sea based on delivery of ecosystem services.

 • Create conservation covenants that provide financial reward to those who enhance ecosystem services in identified sites.

Research questions:

 • What are the synergies and trade-offs between protecting specific ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation?

 • Which locations, if designated for conservation, would optimize protection of multiple ecosystem services including biodiversity, or is it necessary to designate different strategies and areas to protect different ecosystem services?

Securing long-term nature conservation values and ecosystem services

Reversing the decline of biodiversity and restoring and recreating depleted habitats requires long-term strategic investment. Whilst existing schemes reward land managers or stakeholders for delivering conservation benefits, this only secures cooperation for the period during which payments are received. When incentives are withdrawn or stakeholders leave voluntary schemes then existing and future benefits, accrued during prior years of public investment, can be entirely lost through subsequent management decisions. In a period of rising demands on land (for example, for food and energy production) a suite of new instruments could help to secure longer-term commitments and benefits from any public investment (Fisher et al. 2008).

Policy options:

 • Develop a new national strategic biodiversity fund resourced from and governed by public, private and voluntary sectors.

 • Develop new forms of legally binding conservation covenants for land managers or stakeholders for example connected to long-term agri-environment payments or tax breaks, to help support long-term delivery of public benefits.

Research questions:

 • Which strategic funding model would be most effective for the United Kingdom?

 • What are the relative costs and benefits of different covenant options?

 • Which nature conservation benefits should be prioritized for protection through long-term measures?

Spatial planning, regulation and incentives for ecosystem service provision

Promoting appropriate provision for ecosystem services depends on establishing a formal regulatory baseline, incentive mechanisms to stimulate supply, and sustainable sources of funding (Jack, Kousky & Sims 2008). Regulations relating to resource use and management will establish the duties that land managers and stakeholders need to meet. Actions taken beyond these duties can be stimulated through positive payments delivered through a range of potential mechanisms reflecting the diverse nature of ecosystem services. Funding for these payments may be drawn from a combination of public sources, especially via the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies, as well as by means of payments from the users or beneficiaries of ecosystem services where they can be identified and charged within reasonable transactions costs.

Policy options:

 • Develop a more coherent long-term policy for optimizing the provision of ecosystem services from the multi-functional use of land and sea with indicative mapping of preferred and unsuitable forms of resource use.

 • Target incentive payments to activities and locations that provide priority ecosystem services, whilst withdrawing public funding from inappropriate resource use.

 • Add ecosystem services to the remit of Regional Strategies through new Planning Policy Statements.

 • Change the logic of intervention, payment criteria, design and implementation of existing measures and to funding allocations to include provision of ecosystems services.

 • Establish institutional linkages between the beneficiaries and the suppliers of ecosystem services, such as ‘downstream’ local authorities benefiting from flood protection paying for ‘upstream’ land management.

Research questions:

 • How effective are different mechanisms in ensuring the continued provision of ecosystem services?

 • What is the effectiveness of different governance arrangements to coordinate activities to achieve aggregate outcomes at a landscape scale?

 • How can we develop spatially explicit cost-benefit assessments of ecosystem services to identify optimal uses of resources (taking into account indirect impacts on resource use elsewhere).

Increasing opportunities for biodiversity through River Basin Management Planning and Sustainable Flood Management Plans

River Basin Management Planning required by the EU Water Framework Directive aims to achieve good ecological status for water bodies. Implementation requires cooperative working at a catchment scale between a range of statutory and non-statutory bodies, including industry, landowners and local communities. The EU Floods Directive similarly requires the production of Sustainable Flood Management Plans. These two sets of plans share the same statutory time cycle and the requirement for stakeholder participation. There is a significant opportunity to use these two mechanisms to achieve parallel objectives for the conservation of biodiversity. Measures such as restoring flood plain wetlands, creating riparian corridors, improving in-channel habitat and creating flood retention basins can be designed to improve ecological status, reduce flood risk, and deliver key biodiversity targets (Watkinson et al. 2007). An option is that policy and economic incentives could be strengthened to maximize achievement of these interlocking objectives.

Policy options:

 • Consider relevant biodiversity objectives alongside Water Framework Directive and Flood Directive objectives in River Basin Management Planning and Sustainable Flood Management Plans.

 • Strengthen requirements on Local Authorities and other agencies to enhance delivery of biodiversity targets through working with river basin planning and sustainable flood management groups.

 • Ensure relevant agri-environment and habitat restoration funders maximize synergies between biodiversity, flood management and ecological status objectives at a local and catchment scale.

Research questions:

 • How can the biodiversity consequences of Water Framework Directive programmes be best assessed and monitored?

 • Which biodiversity improvements could contribute to measures achieving river basin management plan objectives?

 • Which catchment-scale incentives provide the most effective combination of biodiversity conservation, control of environmental pressures and a reduction of flood risk?

Restoring floodplain functionality for nature conservation and ecosystem services

Loss of floodplain habitats has been dramatic and extensive throughout the United Kingdom (HMSO 1995). Areas that remain are under threat from development, habitat fragmentation, diffuse agricultural pollution, nutrient enrichment, changing precipitation patterns and changing river flows. These pressures are leading to loss of functionality within floodplain ecosystems and the loss of connectivity both of the river with its floodplain and with upland areas of the catchment. The EU Floods Directive places a new emphasis on sustainable flood risk management within the wider context of catchment management, and enhanced public participation. This identifies the need for both structural (flood defence barriers) and non-structural measures to help reduce flood risk. Natural features within a catchment have the potential to slow down and mitigate flood flows. Such features could also deliver other ecosystem services, such as enhancement of biodiversity and improved water quality. However, key stakeholders have concerns that much of the science and technology behind these aspirations is unproven (Thorne, Evans & Penning-Rowsell 2007).

Policy options:

 • Creation of a duty on relevant authorities to restore river floodplains, where this provides significant benefit.

 • Create a strategic fund for floodplain and wetland restoration.

 • Provide generic and specific guidance for land/water management options, including indicators of good floodplain management.

Research questions:

 • How effective are various natural features in delivering nature conservation targets and reducing flood risk at the local and catchment scale?

 • Which eco-hydrological processes need to be monitored to determine the effectiveness of a whole catchment approach to restoring floodplain functionality?

 • How can a multiple cost/benefit approach, including non-market functions, be promoted to deliver the full range of ecosystem services from floodplains?

 • What are the social constraints and barriers to restoring floodplains?

Local governance for resolving ecosystem service and biodiversity trade-offs

Multiple demands are made of rural land for a variety of ecosystem services and increasingly there is recognition of the importance of land management in delivering a broader range of benefits, including water quality, carbon sequestration, biodiversity and recreation. These demands have different significance and priorities within different local circumstances, and consequently the relative values and potential trade-offs amongst them may be best understood and prioritized at a local scale by a range of local stakeholders. Inclusive approaches to stakeholder participation can generate local ownership of issues and potential solutions to problems (Folke et al. 2005; Hodge 2007). However, appropriate institutional arrangements to empower local policy implementation rarely exist outside of National Parks. They might, for instance, be operated more widely within particular National Character Areas, especially where such areas are under particular environmental pressures.

Policy options:

 • Establish local institutional arrangements to facilitate awareness, debate and decision-making on the priorities for and policy approaches towards the provision of ecosystem services.

Research questions:

 • What impacts might such local stakeholder involvement have on land policy decisions and investment?

A new policy model to support sustainable land use management

The EU CAP absorbs 40% of the European budget and influences land management over 50% of Europe’s land area, rising to 75% in the United Kingdom. Despite substantial reforms, the majority of these resources are not spent according to policy objectives, but are distributed according to historic production patterns, with 85% of the resources going to 15% of the recipients. Demands to reduce public expenditure are focusing on the CAP and its ability to deliver value for money. There is an emerging awareness of the role of land management in securing services such as water quality, flood risk management and climate change adaptation, and the requirement to balance environmental priorities with the continuing requirement for agricultural production (Dobbs & Pretty 2004).

Policy options:

 • Reform the CAP to form a new policy framework aimed at delivering sustainable land management, covering agriculture, forestry and other rural land uses.

 • Establish clear policy objectives for land management, to cover biodiversity, carbon, soil, water, air, landscape and social goals alongside food, fuel and fibre production.

 • Adopt a principle of ‘public money for public goods’ across all payments to land managers, ending the current compensation basis for payments, and moving to a contractual basis for the receipt of public support.

Research options:

 • What measures promote environmentally benign agriculture and land uses that achieve high productivity with low greenhouse gas emissions?

 • What policy mechanisms are most cost-effective at incorporating the external environmental costs of land management?

The determination of full costs and benefits of biomass crops

Biomass crops are used directly as power plant fuel. Plans to increase the proportion of energy generated from renewable sources under the UK’s Low Carbon Transition Plan may increase land area under biomass crops. The potential changes in land use and management are likely to have impacts upon biodiversity, with greatest concern over the potential loss of semi-natural grasslands. There is little published on the water demands of large scale biomass planting. Land-take for new biomass crops would have impacts on food production capacity and distribution (Royal Society 2008).

Policy options:

 • Develop land use planning that includes guidance about where bioenergy crops can be grown plus guidance around abstraction of wood (e.g. leaving deadwood).

Research questions:

 • What are the effects of biomass crops on Government indicators of biodiversity throughout and following a complete rotation?

 • What are the irrigation demands and effects on water supply downstream of these crops?

Peatland restoration and carbon

Peatlands hold the majority of stored ecosystem carbon in the UK (Milne & Brown 1997) and support a distinctive flora and fauna. They are predominantly located in the cool and wet north, west and upland parts of the UK. Major initiatives are underway to maintain ecosystem integrity and restore degraded areas. However, current UK Government greenhouse gas reporting takes no account of the saving of emissions associated with these initiatives. If it did, peatland maintenance and restoration might be markedly enhanced to the benefit of wildlife and climate change mitigation. Peatlands also supply clean water to millions of citizens. However, where peat is degrading, water companies incur large expense associated with removing consequential water colour. Apart from intensive stock grazing, conflicts with agricultural production are generally low (Anderson et al. 2009), with the exception of lowland peat soil areas such as the Fens, so it is realistic to develop policies to maintain peatland carbon.

Policy options:

 • Change the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry process under Kyoto Protocol to provide an agreed method for accounting for peatland restoration in national greenhouse gas reporting.

 • Change the CAP, and its UK implementation, to provide greater support to measures that facilitate carbon storage, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ensure high water quantity and quality, biodiversity and other ecosystem service provision by peatlands (cf. previous issue).

 • Peatland ecosystem maintenance and restoration to be included in the UK National Inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.

 • Realize stricter ecosystem carbon retention and land-based greenhouse gas flux measures within international climate change mitigation agreements.

Research questions:

 • What are the short, medium and long-term greenhouse gas exchange implications of peatland maintenance and restoration?

 • How does removal of trees from peatland, or colonization/planting of trees, influence ecosystem carbon, water storage and greenhouse gas balance?

 • Can water-table control be effective in mitigation against carbon loss and greenhouse gas emissions?

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture

Agriculture accounts for 10–12% of total global anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (Barker et al. 2007) and 7% of UK emissions. These emissions arise primarily from the application of fertilizers to crops [nitrous oxide (NO)] and the management of livestock (methane), both of which also have major consequences for diffuse nutrient discharges to water bodies. The agricultural sector is the most significant source of methane and NO in the UK, accounting for 38% and 67% of UK methane and NO emissions, respectively ( ). Methods that potentially mitigate agricultural emissions include lifestyle changes that reduce the demand for relatively carbon intensive produce, such as beef, lamb and dairy products (Eblex 2009), new technologies to reduce emissions and changes in farming practices, such as improving the efficiency of fertilizer use, changing livestock diet, improving manure and slurry storage and reducing soil disturbance. A number of these methods have the potential to deliver real greenhouse gases mitigation at a financial saving (Moran et al. 2008). They also have the potential to impact on ecosystem services, including food production, the delivery of clean water and biodiversity. There is, therefore, an urgent need to understand how low carbon agricultural systems aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions will impact on the delivery of sustainable food production, clean water and biodiversity.

Policy options:

 • Extend the scope of existing policies targeted at other environmental objectives, such as water quality and biodiversity; these include Environmental Stewardship, Catchment Sensitive Farming and the Nitrates Action Programme. It is essential, however, that these policies do not create emissions leakage, where abatement of emissions in the UK leads to a displacement of emissions to other countries through, for example, food imports.

 • Encourage anaerobic digestion by providing appropriate policy support.

Research questions:

 • How do we maintain or increase agricultural production, whilst at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing biodiversity?

 • How do we reduce the relatively high methane production from upland sheep whilst ensuring favourable management of the uplands for biodiversity?

 • What are the trade-offs between greenhouse-gas-friendly production scenarios and other ecosystem services?

 • What is the potential for creating additional benefits, such as reducing diffuse pollution of water bodies, that should be accounted for when reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

Addressing diffuse pollution from agriculture with the Water Framework Directive

Diffuse pollution from agriculture is a significant factor in the predicted failure to achieve the Water Framework Directive’s objective of Good Ecological Status for many water bodies, and remains a significant factor in many lowland protected areas not achieving favourable condition. Measures to address this include voluntary incentive-led action through agri-environment and advisory programmes and Statutory Management Requirements under the CAP’s Cross-Compliance regime. However, the inability to diagnose exact agricultural pollution sources without a much higher monitoring and investigation burden, coupled with the problem that even when managed to high standards, agricultural systems are characterized by some degree of nutrient loss to water, means that agricultural diffuse pollution remains an obstacle to compliance with the Water Framework Directive. Measures to address the inevitable loss of nutrients from all farms are needed alongside existing policies to raise nutrient management standards on poorly performing farms.

Policy options:

 • Implement pesticide and nutrient tax to fund catchment investigations.

 • Shift significant monies from Pillar I of CAP to Pillar II to fund incentive schemes and support one-off costs of transforming farming practice.

 • Implement catchment-scale water protection measures focused on water courses, such as large-scale riparian strip management to buffer water bodies from run-off and drainage containing pollutants, or reedbeds to improve quality of agricultural discharges into water courses.

 • Inform and enable Local Authorities to integrate Water Framework Directive objectives into their planning and operational responsibilities.

Research questions:

 • What scale of riparian strip management would be required to deliver improvements in ecological status?

 • How should an effective network of sediment and pollution traps be designed to mitigate against pollutants leaving agricultural land in drainage water?

 • What is the most equitable and cost-effective implementation route for such measures?

Ecosystem effects of ‘lifestyle’ chemicals

Major efforts have been made to reduce pollution from manufacturing industries in Europe. Whilst these have been relatively successful, a vast array of chemicals is intentionally or inadvertently washed down the drain because they are household and personal care products; some of these are harmful or potentially harmful substances (Caliman & Gavrilescu 2009). Examples include benzotriazoles used in aircraft de-icers, engine coolants, plastic stabilizers and some dishwashing agents suspected of being endocrine disrupters. Siloxane, another endocrine disrupter, is found in cosmetics and has been detected in marine fish and mammals (Vogel 2004). Perfluorinated organic compounds are used in fire-fighting foams, electronics, herbicides, paper manufacturing and water resistant coatings on clothing; recognition of their potential impact on human and ecosystem health has only emerged recently and they have been found in marine fish, seals and polar bears. Brominated flame retardants employed in huge quantities on electrical appliances, mobile phones, lap-top computers, etc., are largely toxic to wildlife (Birnbaum & Staskal 2004). There is a major lack of understanding about the pathways, fate and effects of these chemicals and about their impact on natural ecosystems, especially in combination with each other.

Policy options:

 • Promote the production of alternatives (this has been effective for replacing ozone depleting chemicals).

 • Extend chemical legislation to deal with personal care products and their disposal.

 • Implement the precautionary approach that would require improved studies on ecosystem impacts by manufacturers. This would help transfer the cost of monitoring and research from the public sector.

 • Consider how to set safe limits that allow for additive and synergistic effects of multiple pollutants.

Research questions:

 • What are the ecological impacts of the degradation of lifestyle chemicals and toxic products following their discharge through sewage or urban runoff?

 • What are their combined effects (additive, synergistic and antagonistic) at low concentration?

 • How can the monitoring of biological effects be made more robust and incorporated into policy and legislation?

 • How can we determine the full life cycle costs (including environmental costs) and benefits of chemicals entering the natural environment?

Nanotechnology involving otherwise inert chemicals

Nanotechnology is predicted to become one of the major industries. Typically it does not use novel chemicals but frequently encountered chemicals at an atomic scale, where they have unusual properties. Examples include the use of silver as a bactericide in medical equipment and food preparation, and titanium dioxide in sunscreen. Carbon nanotubes and spherical fullerenes have many possible uses, a number providing a range of potential environmental benefits; clothes made from nanofibres may not require washing while nanotubules can be used to treat pollutants. However, such unusual properties have the potential to create problems (Dreher 2004) including direct impacts. Smith, Shaw & Handy (2007), for example, identified impacts of nanotubules upon mammalian lungs and fish gills. It is unclear whether these environmental concerns have serious implications at the concentrations at which nanomaterials are likely to occur in nature. Research currently lags far behind the wave of innovation and development. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (2008) concluded that nanotechnology is partly covered by regulations but that current legislation may be insufficient to ensure comprehensive risks assessment.

Policy options:

 • Alter the EU’s Regulation, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals regulation (REACH) to account for different scales of nanomaterials.

 • Establish a legal duty to report any reasonable suspicion that any nanomaterial presents an environmental risk.

 • Enhance routine monitoring of manufactured nanoparticles.

 • Implement mandatory reporting, with safely checklist, of nanomaterial production.

Research questions:

 • Where do nanomaterials accumulate and at what concentrations?

 • How is nanomaterial accumulation likely to change as industries develop?

 • Does nanosilver have serious antibacterial implications for any natural communities?

 • What are the major possible direct and indirect threats from nanomaterials and how serious, if at all, are they?

Fishing activities subject to the same level of environmental scrutiny as other users of the marine environment

Fishing is an essential contributor to global food security. However, despite growing evidence of increasingly effective control of fishing rates in some ecosystems (Worm et al. 2009), many marine ecosystems continue to be overfished. Long lived, slow growing fish are particularly vulnerable to fishing mortality (Reynolds et al. 2005), and fishing has, for example, caused regional extirpation of some elasmobranchs (Dulvy et al. 2000). Additionally fishing can modify marine habitats. For example, benthic populations including cold water corals and reef forming species can be lost if heavy gear is towed across them (Hall-Spencer & Moore 2000; Hall-Spencer, Allain & Fossa 2002). Fishermen, consumers, fish processors, retailers, conservation organizations and governments widely recognize the benefits of sustainability, but the challenge is meeting the high short-term costs associated with transition to the necessary regulation.

Policy options:

 • Subject fishing to the same level of environmental scrutiny that applies to other marine sectors (e.g. Environmental Impact Assessments, Strategic Environmental Assessments).

 • Effectively support the environmental objectives of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive with the Common Fisheries Policy.

Research questions:

 • What is the spatial impact of fishing, especially on benthic habitats?

 • How would current fishing practices and fisheries fair if standard assessments for compliance with environmental standards were applied?

 • How would damage to fish stocks and sea bed habitats be moderated if best practice and available technology in low impact, species selective fishing methods were implemented.

Develop robust processes for dealing with trade-offs in Marine Spatial Planning

Marine Spatial Planning is a generic concept used to describe the strategic management of marine resources. It is an explicit acknowledgement that some proposed activities and uses will potentially conflict with one another. Marine Spatial Planning is a route through which decisions can be made about how to allocate access to marine resources and about how to achieve the maximum net benefit from the management of these resources. Benefits are defined in terms of economic, social and biological features, where biological benefits include those concerned with the conservation or restoration of biodiversity, which in some cases could enhance the economic and social benefits when considered on appropriately long time-scales. Different stakeholders often pursue objectives represented by different outcomes such as money, jobs or biodiversity; optimal solutions for maximizing these different outcomes are rarely the same. There are few mechanisms available that can be used to investigate, or define, where the optimum trade-off lies when making decisions about how to allocate rights of exploitation or use (Jentoft & Chuenpagdee 2009).

Policy options:

 • Develop marine policies to inform marine planning that recognize that trade-offs need to be considered at differing spatial scales.

 • Policy and regulation to recognize that harmful discharges arising from marine activities (including noise) can operate at large scales.

 • Coordinate approaches to Marine Spatial Planning between devolved administrations and neighbour states to the UK.

Research questions:

 • What are the most appropriate mechanisms for assessing the costs and benefits of different decisions about the allocation of rights of access?

 • What are the appropriate scales for zonal management and how will different scales interact within the cost-benefit trade-off?

Revision of decommissioning provisions within the north-east Atlantic (OSPAR) convention to leave offshore structures in situ where appropriate

Decommissioning of oil and gas structures in the UK North Sea will increase over the next two decades as facilities reach the end of their operational life. Current OSPAR (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the north-east Atlantic – named as it replaced both the Oslo and Paris Conventions) regulations require the complete removal of offshore structures, apart from limited exemptions. The estimated cost of decommissioning in UK waters could reach £19 billion by 2030; much of this borne by Government through decommissioning rebates on production tax revenue. Sub-surface structures can act as artificial reefs that provide additional habitat and increase species richness and abundance. Furthermore, these structures act as de facto fishery exclusion zones due to snagging risk. Alternative options to complete removal of a structure include leaving in position, partial removal, toppling and partial dismantling and leaving at the original site. Many of these options could be considered under a ‘rigs to reefs’ policy. There are environmental hazards and costs associated with complete removal. These include re-suspending contaminated sediments, noise pollution from blasting, the onshore footprint of disposal of materials not amenable to recycling and the overall carbon budget associated with these activities.

Policy options:

 • Amend the OSPAR convention regulations on decommissioning to allow a wider range of appropriate decommissioning options, including reefing of structures.

Research questions:

 • How can we audit the environmental and conservation costs and benefits of complete removal, partial removal or retention?

 • How do artificial habitats alter habitat patch connectivity with particular reference to climate migrants and non-native species?

 • What is the impact of creating ‘new’ habitats on local biological community structure?

 • What is the spatial scale of population connectivity between habitat patches?

Reducing risk of marine invasive non-native species through ratification of the International Maritime Organization’s Ballast Water Management Convention

Invasive non-native species are a leading cause of global species extinction (Sala et al. 2000). Movement of aquatic organisms in ballast water is the largest vector for species introductions in the marine environment. Ballast water is taken on by ships to control their stability when partially laden or empty. The ballast water collected at one location is pumped out in a different location when the ship takes on new cargo. The increasing volume, size and speed of shipping has meant increasingly large volumes of ballast water are transferred rapidly around the globe heightening the risk of harmful outbreaks of invasive species. Introduction of invasive non-native species can have significant ecological and economic consequences. Well known examples of aquatic invasives include zebra mussels Dreissena polymorpha in the North American Great Lakes and the comb jelly Mnemiopsis leidyi in the Black and Caspian Seas.

Policy options:

 • Ratify the International Maritime Organization’s ‘International convention for the control and management of ship’s ballast water and sediments, 2004’.

 • Introduce robust surveillance programmes to detect early arrival of non-native species.

 • European Union to continue exploring regional options for reducing the risk posed by ballast water.

 • Government bodies commit to progress the recommendations of the Non-native Species Framework Strategy (Defra 2008).

 • Invasive non-native species highlighted in the United Kingdom’s Marine Act National Policy Statement and guidance documents.

Research questions:

 •; What are the consequences of various ballast water treatment technologies?

 •; Which coupled source and sink regions are high risk for the transfer of harmful non-native species?

 •; Are there technically feasible alternatives to ballast water?


  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References
  8. Supporting Information

Although taken from a UK perspective and related to relevant legislation, this assessment is of broader relevance as all of the policy options apply to other European countries and most apply globally. It may be useful for other countries to run similar exercises relating to local legislation.

This exercise initially identified 117 policy areas for consideration, and from these we selected the 25 priority policies for marine and terrestrial nature conservation in the UK. The policies recognize the need to address nature conservation at both local and national scales, and across very broad issues such as the conservation of ecosystem services, down to more focused approaches as in the carbon management of peatlands. The interaction of nature conservation and economics is well represented through both the valuation and payments perspectives. The selected policies are not, of course, all new. There are areas where fine-tuning and improved implementation are desirable, for example, in the effective delivery of the conservation of European protected species, and of long-running intractable issues to be addressed through recent legislation, such as managing diffuse agricultural pollution through the Water Framework Directive. An example of a new policy area is the ecosystem effects of ‘lifestyle’ chemicals.

We anticipate that this paper will be of use to a range of audiences. First, policy makers can use it as a source of knowledge to identify priority areas for attention, and to consider the options put forward for addressing policy needs. Secondly, it is likely that nature conservation delivery agencies will use the outputs to assist them in the practical application of policies to conserve biodiversity. Thirdly, we expect that the research community will find the paper a useful guide in directing strategic nature conservation research, and in answering specific questions on a time-scale suited to new policy development. Finally, it is likely that policy advocates from the non-governmental nature conservation community can use the assessment in support of their campaigns. All four prospective user communities participated in the assessment.

What about issues that are not included? The introduction covered the scope of the exercise, including why nature conservation in the UK Overseas Territories was excluded for the purposes of this assessment. On invasive non-native species, many questions were considered, as this is a very important area for nature conservation. Our consensus was that responsive policy instruments are already in place or being developed, limited in some cases by research and funding for containment or eradication. Although we do not consider new policy is required, it is crucial to ensure synergy between developing UK policies on invasive species and international policies, such as the forthcoming EU strategy (Defra 2008). We also perceive a need for existing authorities (GB Invasive Non-Native Species Programme Board and the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment) to consider the emerging issues, such as translocations, migrations and disease spread due to climate change.

Clearly, the selection of issues is influenced by the balance of participants and a different group would have provided a different list. However, the identification of an initially large and diverse cohort of issues, involvement of a large group with different agendas and the use of voting to focus on some clear priorities, minimizes the impact of individuals.

Throughout the whole process the strong thread of ecosystem services persisted. It seems clear that the future of biodiversity conservation will embrace this approach, and there is a need to understand how policy instruments promoting the conservation of ecosystems can best be directed to maximize the benefits for biodiversity.

In addition, to guiding the informed community as audiences for this assessment, we recognize a significant task in communicating the relevance of new policy approaches to the public. However, our focus has been to ensure that the policy and research agendas for or affecting nature conservation in the UK are better linked, and we suggest that this assessment is periodically revisited to update these issues.


  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References
  8. Supporting Information

The Natural Environment Research Council, Natural England and the British Trust for Ornithology provided funding. Many people from participating organizations provided suggestions. Peter Costigan from Defra and Ian Colbeck provided useful advice. Lynn Dicks, Lisa Harris, Sarah Moon and Liz Nichols provided support during the meeting. Two referees, Keith Kirby, the editor and Gill Kerby improved the manuscript. W.J.S. is supported by the Arcadia Fund.


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  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References
  8. Supporting Information
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Supporting Information

  1. Top of page
  2. Summary
  3. Introduction
  4. Materials and methods
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References
  8. Supporting Information

Appendix S1. Methods.

Appendix S2. Current UK legal position for the 25 policy opportunities.

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