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Nature Improvement Areas

North Cave Wetlands (Credit Joanna Richards)

Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) were introduced by the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper to ‘enhance and reconnect nature on a significant scale’ in England.

What are Nature Improvement Areas?

NIAs are designed to revitalise urban and rural areas by creating bigger, inter-connected networks of wildlife habitats to re-establish wildlife populations and help achieve nature’s recovery. NIAs will improve the health of the natural environment to support food production, reduce flood risk and increase access to nature.

NIAs encompass areas of land that include natural features and wildlife habitats but also include roads, housing developments and other man-made elements. They are areas that have been identified for their opportunities to restore nature at a landscape-scale alongside other land-uses.

NIAs should enhance existing ecological networks by:

  • Improving the management of existing wildlife sites
  • Increasing the size of existing wildlife sites
  • Increasing the number of wildlife sites
  • Improving connectivity between sites
  • Creating wildlife corridors

Why do we need NIAs?

NIAs provide a key mechanism for restoring the natural environment across administrative boundaries to benefit people and wildlife. They will provide a focussed area in which to coordinate delivery mechanisms, policies and funding which affect the way land is used and managed. They can help solve issues such as habitat fragmentation, water quality, flood risk management and species loss.

How are NIAs being developed?

Nature Improvement Areas provide one of the best opportunities in years to turn around the declines we are seeing in the natural world around us.

Professor Sir John Lawton Chair of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

Following the publication of the Natural Environment White Paper in June 2011, the Government established a competition to identify 12 NIAs and allocated £7.5 million funding over the Spending Review period. An NIA Panel was established to assess applications and the 12 NIAs were announced in February 2012. The Wildlife Trusts support all twelve pilots and have worked with farmers, landowners, local authorities and other partners across the country to help develop many of the schemes.

The 12 NIAs are:

  • Birmingham and the Black Country
  • Dark Peak
  • Dearne Valley
  • Greater Thames Marshes
  • Humberhead Levels
  • Marlborough Downs
  • Meres and Mosses of the Marches
  • Morecambe Bay Limestones and Wetlands
  • Nene Valley
  • Northern Devon
  • South Downs Way Ahead
  • Wild Purbeck

The Humberhead Levels

The Humberhead Levels NIA here in Yorkshire spans across parts of Yorkshire & Humber, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. Aiming to deliver a step change in delivering a more connected environment for people and wildlife, the end result should be a more valued and robust natural environment.

Why NIAs should be part of the planning system?

NIAs will make a positive economic, social and environmental contribution to local communities and their quality of life. They should not be seen as a block to development, but an opportunity to take a more strategic and integrated approach to land use. Identifying and mapping NIAs, as part of ecological networks, will enable local authorities to specify the types of development and design that may or may not be appropriate in component parts of the NIA, and demonstrate how development can contribute to NIA objectives.

Cross-boundary cooperation is required to achieve NIA objectives and for a coherent nation-wide ecological network.

What should happen next?

The Wildlife Trusts believe NIAs should be driven forward across the whole of England and not limited to 12 areas. Defra has produced guidance for locally identifying NIAs and the Wildlife Trusts strongly urge the Government to support local authorities and Local Nature Partnerships to identify local ecological networks, including NIAs, wherever they need to be across England.

The restoration of the natural environment must take place with greater urgency and across a much larger area than currently proposed. The enthusiasm amongst landowners and others to take forward NIAs was demonstrated by the 76 NIA applications received by Defra. Many more partnerships are interested.

More information on the 12 NIAs can be found on Natural England and Defra's websites.

Image: Whitethroat Credit Mike Ashforth