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Farmers create haven for stone curlew

February 16, 2011 by  
Filed under News & Business

FARMERS have helped helped turn East Anglia into a haven for one of England’s rarest birds.

Farmers, landowners and conservationists have helped to maintain 13,400ha (33,100 acres) of the Breckland Farmland Site of Special Scientific Interest to provide the ideal habitat for the stone curlew.

The area was singled out by Defra as a prime example of agriculture and wildlife flourishing together as working farmers improve and safeguard the countryside for future generations.

England’s rural environment has undergone a dramatic improvement, suggests a Defra survey. More than 95% of the country’s SSSIs – covering some 1m hectares – are now in favourable or recovering condition.

There are over 4,000 SSSIs in England, covering around 7% of the country’s land area. SSSIs habitats range from flower-rich meadows to remote upland peat bogs and protect wildlife that might not otherwise survive.

Just eight years ago, only 57% of these important wildlife and geological sites were in the same condition. Their improvement follows work by Defra and its agencies – as well farmers, landowners and conservationists.

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman said: “As well as protecting wildlife, these sites give opportunities for rural businesses, space for recreation and scientific research.”

Natural England chief executive Helen Phillips said the achievement owed much to the efforts of those involved. “The turnaround in the fortunes of England’s SSSIs is one of the great conservation success stories of recent decades.”

But the Country Land and Business Association warned that government austerity measures may make it more difficult to restore sites in the future.

Improvements were often carried out at landowners’ own expense.

CLA president William Worsley said: “Financial incentives available to support the conservation management of habitats within SSSIs may fall short of the costs of the work required.”

Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

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