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Volume 451: debated on Thursday 2 November 2006

6. What assessment he has made of changes in the pattern of urban biodiversity over the last five years; and if he will make a statement. (98805)

12. What progress has been made on the Government’s policies on protecting biodiversity; and if he will make a statement. (98811)

Later today we will launch a report, “Working with the grain of nature—taking it forward”, on four years of steady progress under the England biodiversity strategy. Given climate change, we cannot afford to be complacent, but six out of seven of our headline biodiversity indicators are now showing positive trends. Moreover, the proportion of urban sites of special scientific interest in favourable condition has risen from 67 per cent. in 2003 to 76 per cent. in March 2006.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the destruction of gardens is causing great harm to some of our urban wildlife species, such as the house sparrow. Is the Minister aware of that, does he regard it as a problem, and has he made any representations to the Department for Communities and Local Government to change the relevant planning guidance, including the current review of planning policy statement 3?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner), who is responsible for biodiversity, is aware of the issue and has been in discussions with colleagues about it. [Hon. Members: “Where is he?”] I am afraid that he is ill today, which is why I am answering this question. The hon. Gentleman will be interested in the recent independent National Audit Office report “Enhancing Urban Green Space”, published in March this year, which said:

“The decline in quality of urban green space in England—including urban squares, green corridors and nature reserves—has been halted in most areas and there are signs of recovery in many places.”

The House should surely welcome the progress that has been made.

If the Minister would like to come to my constituency next spring, he would be able to see the black grouse lecking. We have had a successful project run by the public, private and voluntary sectors to stem the decline that has taken place. Can he confirm that under this Government resources will continue to be made available for English Nature to support that work?

I would be happy to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency. The situation as regards biodiversity and populations of wild birds appears to have stabilised. Given the threat of climate change that we face, and the temperature increases that we are likely to experience, we will have to learn to adapt our strategies and policies to reflect the changing climate. Our biodiversity strategy must be similarly capable of evolving to changing circumstances.

What representations has the Minister made to the Department of Trade and Industry concerning the closure of the three centres of ecology and hydrology, notably the centre at Wool in Dorset, which has particular skills and experience in assembling long data sets for natural wildlife and plant life, for the understanding of the impact of climate change on biodiversity?

The hon. Gentleman has asked that question on several previous occasions, so he knows the answer. I can assure him that the quality of the information on biodiversity that we have available to us across Government has increased significantly over recent years. I pay tribute to the people who have been involved with the biodiversity strategy.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the simplest, cheapest and most practical ways of improving biodiversity, especially urban biodiversity, is through the building of more ponds? Does he further agree that every home, garden and back yard should have one? Given that the Government are rebuilding every secondary school in the country, would not including the building of a pond in the specification of the schools building programme be an extremely effective way of increasing awareness of biodiversity among young people? Will he speak to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills about that?

My eight-year-old son really enjoys the pond in our back garden. When I let him into the house, he brings large parts of it back in with him, and they are in his bedroom at the moment. My hon. Friend has made a good suggestion, although I would not want to be nanny state-ish and say that every house should have a pond in its back garden. We must also take into account the fact that ponds can be dangerous for toddlers. He is right, however, to point out that they are great for encouraging biodiversity.