On 31 October 2006, I met the chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts together with the chief executive and volunteers of the London Wildlife Trust at Camley street natural park, where I saw at first hand the valuable contribution of the Wildlife Trusts and congratulated them on their work and their contribution to the delivery of the England biodiversity strategy and the UK biodiversity action plan.
On the target to achieve 95 per cent. favourable status for SSSIs by 2010, if my hon. Friend looks at the figures, he will find that this year, 73.5 per cent. are in either a favourable or recovering condition. That compares with a figure of 56.9 per cent. in March 2003, so he can see that considerable progress is being made. We are roughly on target, and we believe that we should still meet the target to restore SSSIs to a favourable condition by 2010.
When the Minister was in Derbyshire on Tuesday, did he take the opportunity to meet the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust? Had he done so, it would have explained to him its concerns about the recent incident at Stony Middleton, which I know he visited, and the quarrying that is taking place at Wager’s Flat, on Longstone Edge. Can he reassure the trust that the Government will take action to prevent this destruction of the countryside?
The right hon. Gentleman expresses his concern about the occurrence at Stony Middleton, where the lagoon gave way. Thankfully, on that occasion there was no loss of life and no one was injured, but it could so easily have been very different. He is absolutely right to say that, when I was in the area the other day and what had happened was made clear to me, I took the opportunity to visit Stony Middleton and to speak to a number of local residents. Unfortunately, I did not have time, in what was an extremely packed schedule, to meet members of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. However, I did, as I say, meet many local residents—as well as the park authority—who expressed clearly to me their concerns about what is going on at Backdale quarry and on Longstone Edge as a whole. I gave them my absolute assurance that, although this is in the first instance a local planning matter, we appreciate that it has real national implications. I explained to them that we wish to see a long-term solution to the problems that they are going through, but one that can be applied nationally.
The Wildlife Trusts recently published the excellent “A Living Landscape” booklet, which highlights the need to help wildlife adapt to climate change. When my hon. Friend met the Wildlife Trusts, did he discuss the specific measures needed to help UK wildlife adapt to the climate change that is already occurring, and which will get worse in future?
Yes, and in fact, about three months ago—on 2 November, I think—we held a meeting of the England Biodiversity Group, of which the Wildlife Trusts is a member. It attended that meeting, and the group is looking at how we can improve and refresh the strategy. It is a considerable time since the biodiversity action plans were put in place, and we have committed ourselves to refreshing them. The strategy now rightly places considerable emphasis on large-scale habitat restoration at an eco-system and landscape level. The document that my hon. Friend mentions makes the approach clear:
“we have been slowing the decline in biodiversity by protecting small oases of wildlife…Now, in the face of climate change, it is essential that we link these oases and restore our ecosystems”.
That is certainly the approach that we must take.