Hidden havens which support rare and threatened wildlife are being lost and damaged to development and neglect every year, Northumberland Wildlife Trust has said.
New survey results provide an insight into the secret places where nature thrives – known as Local Wildlife Sites – and highlight some worrying trends.
Local Wildlife Sites are often little-known, sometimes hidden yet vitally important wild havens – identified and selected locally for their high nature conservation value.
They range from ancient woodlands to vibrant meadows abundant with butterflies, quiet churchyards home to bees and birds, bustling flower-rich roadsides and field-bordering hedgerows.
They act as refuges for a wealth of wildlife such as the green winged orchid, marsh gentian, the pearl-bordered fritillary, noble chafer beetle, harvest mouse and water vole.
The Wildlife Trusts’ new report, Secret Spaces: The status of England’s Local Wildlife Sites, draws on new evidence gathered throughout the whole of last year which suggests that more than 10 per cent of the 6,590 Local Wildlife Sites monitored have been lost or damaged in the last five years.
According to Steve Lowe, head of conservation at Northumberland Wildlife Trust, if this trend is allowed to continue, more of our most valuable and treasured wildlife and wild places will be lost forever.
He said: “There is a real and pressing need for Local Wildlife Sites – one of England’s largest natural assets – to receive the recognition of their true value to society.
“In some counties, they are the best places for wildlife, but they continue to slip through our fingers like sand.
“Local Wildlife Sites are the Cinderella of the natural environment. Many are quiet, unnoticed wild places in which nature thrives.
“All act as links and corridors between other important habitats and are crucial to securing nature’s recovery.
“They are vitally important for people as well as wildlife; bringing tangible benefits to local communities and contributing significantly to our quality of life, health, well-being and education.
“We need to secure greater recognition and protection for them in the planning and decision-making process.
“We need action now to prevent further and ongoing loss of these wildlife-rich treasures by investment in them.”
Every three years, The Wildlife Trusts publish an assessment of the sites.
This report is based on a national survey of Local Wildlife Site partnerships of local authorities, ecologists and local nature experts which identify and select Local Wildlife Sites using robust, scientifically-determined criteria and detailed ecological surveys.