Over the past decade, there has been an increasing push from the environmental sector for a stepwise change in how we conserve our natural environment, moving from site-specific silo-thinking to a larger-scale, multi-site, multi-partnered approach.

The UK’s wildlife remains in trouble, with a continued loss and decline in many species and habitats, despite the efforts of many landowners, land managers and conservation organisations. The State of Nature, a collaborative report between 25 UK conservation and research organisations, published in 2013 detailed some stark headlines including a 60% decline in the past 50 years.

Designated wildlife sites provide an oasis for many species, but many of these sites are small (77% of SSSIs are less than 100 Ha in size) fragmented and isolated in the wider landscape. As intensive agriculture and development has augmented, these wildlife havens have become increasingly surrounded by an inhospitable landscape, with built development and associated infrastructure often creating a barrier to dispersal. The effects of this fragmentation is now being exacerbated by climate change, as species are being forced to shift their ranges in response to warming temperatures.

What is landscape-scale?

'Landscape scale conservation is characterised by the pursuit of multiple benefits across a defined area (e.g. water quality, biodiversity, access). The best examples also make links to wider economic and social priorities, where enhancing nature can provide benefits to the local economy and quality of life’

Natural Environment White Paper

Why the landscape scale approach?

'We need a step-change in our approach to wildlife conservation, from trying to hang on to what we have, to one of large-scale habitat restoration and recreation, under-pinned by the re-establishment of ecological processes and ecosystem services, for the benefits of both people and wildlife.’

Professor Sir John Lawton

Conserving wildlife at a landscape scale

To minimise the isolation of remaining habitat, and to enable species to re-colonise and disperse across the landscape, conservation emphasis is now on re-establishing linkages/corridors and create stepping stones between sites of environmental importance and relevance.

Given the distribution of mineral sites across the country, and the clustered nature of many these sites, mineral site restoration has a huge potential to contribute to landscape scale conservation.

A few case studies are detailed below, where work is already underway to realise this potential, and from which, inspiration and best practice can be drawn.

Landscape scale conservation is still a relatively new concept, and conservation bodies are currently reviewing the approach, to understand what actually makes a coherent ecological network, the role of restored land and how to monitor the resilience of these networks and the species using them.

Case Study 1 - Rare amphibians in Netherlands

Common midwife and yellow-bellied toads are both European Protected Species, and in the Netherlands their distributions are limited to south Limburg province. Populations within this area are very fragmented, and through the RESTORE project an NGO, IKL, will be undertaking an inventory of quarries within the area and implementing management measures, thereby creating stepping stones of suitable habitat for these species between existing populations.

Case Study 2 – Heathland creation in Dorset

In the UK 75% of our heathland has been lost either through conversion to agriculture and forestry or to built development. There is recognition in Dorset that mineral sites restoration could provide opportunities for delivering large scale habitat creation, linking existing fragmented habitat and providing greater resilience to climate change. An example of this are the mineral workings along the Puddletown Road, extending to over 230 Ha of sand extraction and located along both sides of a five mile stretch of road interspersed with heathland habitat, some of which is designated as SSSI, SPA, SAC, RAMSAR. Joint working between the mineral operators, landowners, planners and conservation organisations could go a long way in realising the vision for restored and reconnected habitat.

Relevant case study

See attached case study: Saving Nature in the Trent & Tame River Valleys through Minerals Planning.

The information set out within this advisory sheet in no way constitutes legal or regulatory advice and is based on circumstances and facts as they existed at the time Nature After Minerals compiled this document. Should there be a change in circumstances or facts, then this may adversely affect any  recommendations, opinions or findings contained within this document