HC Deb 08 July 2002 vol 388 c703W
Mr. Breed

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the reasons why the conditions of(a) lowland and upland calcareous grassland, (b) upland acid grassland, (c) upland heathland and (d) bogs in England are generally unfavourable; and what measures she is taking to improve them. [66779]

Mr. Meacher

[holding answer 4 July 2002]Assessment of the condition of these habitat types, or of specific features within them, is carried out in a number of contexts.

Countryside Survey 2000 has provided a national assessment of long-term changes in the extent and condition of habitats. The Department is funding further research to improve understanding of the underlying reasons for this and the results are expected in Spring 2003. The report and related material can be found at www.cs2000.org.uk.

As part of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) individual action plans have been published for upland and lowland calcareous grassland, upland heathland and bogs. Each plan contains an assessment of the factors affecting the habitat, targets for maintenance or improvement of the habitat condition and actions aimed at achieving these targets. Implementation of the action plans is being led by the statutory conservation agencies in partnership with the relevant Government and voluntary sector bodies. Further information on the plans can be found at www.ukbap.org.uk.

English Nature also assess the condition of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Where SSSIs are not in a favourable condition, a number of factors may contribute to this. Agriculture is a major factor, particularly grazing intensity. Overgrazing or undergrazing can adversely affect the condition of sites. We are addressing these problems on a number of fronts. For example, we continue to expand agri-environment schemes, which can assist many of these habitats. In addition, the sheep quota purchase scheme announced on 26 June is an example of the development of more direct and innovative measures to help alleviate grazing pressure.

Grazing regimes also affect these habitats on common land. We shall shortly announce our plans for improving the legislation to enable better management of common land.

In relation to SSSIs, English Nature are also able to enter into management agreements with land managers to prevent activities which can be damaging to these sites. Currently 201,000 hectares are subject to such agreements.

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