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Regional geo-conservation

Introducing geodiversity conservation in the East of England


Conserving geodiversity is part of nature conservation, which has been defined as ‘the protection, preservation, management or enhancement, and the improvement of understanding and appreciation of flora, fauna and geological and geomorphological features'.’Definition taken from 'Planning for Biodiversity and Geological Conservation - A Guide to Good Practice' (ODPM 2006).

1. Official and statutory geo-conservation

The statutory conservation of geological and geomorphological features is part of the remit of the National Parks, National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). The region has one national Park (The Broads) and 48 NRs. There are 573 SSSIs in the region, of which 111 have been designated primarily for there geodiversity interest under the Geological Conservation Review (GCR) process. The breakdown across the region may be seen in this table  

View the table

The GCR classifies sites according to their main features or ‘blocks’ of geodiversity interest. Some sites are cited for interest in more than one category. The region is particularly important for the Earth heritage of the Quaternary period (the last 1.8 million years), particularly the evolution of vertebrate species and the development of East Anglia and the ancestral River Thames. The breakdown across the region may be seen in this table

View the table

The European Landscape Convention (ELC) of the Council of Europe was signed by the UK government in 2006, and has added a new type of landscape dimension to geodiversity conservation. It promotes the identification of diverse, perceived landscapes and, through understanding and valuing them, developing landscape quality objectives for public policy. There is an emphasis on public participation in landscape conservation and management. 'The public is encouraged to take an active part in its protection, conserving and maintaining the heritage value of a particular landscape, in its management, helping to steer changes brought about by economic, social or environmental necessity, and in its planning' (Presentation text). While the long-term impact of the ELC is not yet clear, it provides a new context for landscape conservation in Britain, and hence the East of England region.

Geo-conservation is embedded in government planning policy through Planning Policy Statement 9 : Biodiversity and Geological Conservation (PPS9), which views it as part of a policy drive towards sustainable development, nature conservation and social renewal. It says regional and local planning authority policies should attach ‘appropriate weight’ to designated sites and also ‘geological interests in the wider environment’. It states that regional planning bodies should liaise with the British Geological Survey and local RIGS groups on geodiversity issues such as provision of baseline geodiversity information. The associated Guide to Good Practice states that preparation of the Regional Spatial Strategy should be informed by this stakeholder dialogue and should be aligned with regional geodiversity strategies and objectives where these exist. Geological conservation should be an integral part of the regional spatial vision, as part of sustainable development. Other Planning Policy documents are relevant to geo-conservation, including Planning Policy Guidance 16: Archaeology and Planning, and Minerals Planning Guidance 7: Reclamation of Mineral Workings.

2. Voluntary geo-conservation

The non-statutory conservation of geodiversity sites is mainly carried out under the Regionally Important Geological / geomorphological Site (RIGS) scheme. RIGS fall under the category of non-statutory 'Local Sites’, but the network is not yet fully extended across the country. RIGS are treated by PPS9 under a category of Regional and Local Sites. Although RIGS enjoy no legal protection many local authorities give them conservation status in their planning policies such as Local Development Framework (LDF) and Minerals & Waste Development Framework documents. An opportunity exists to include baseline geodiversity indicators in the Sustainability Appraisal process which is part of the LDF process. The condition of RIGS may be adopted by local authorities as an indicator of natural environmental protection under the local authority performance framework target NI 197: Biodiversity.

Non-statutory geo-conservation may also be an important part of landscape designations such as the AONBs and Heritage Coasts in England. Important landowning organisations such as the National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts are examples of conservation organisations which routinely protect geodiversity as part of their remit. Many local landowners conserve geodiversity on their land as part of enhancement of landscape, habitat and historic features. Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship Scheme contains measures which may support the conservation of local geodiversity features, for example maintaining and enhancing landscape quality and character, and protecting the historic environment and natural resources.

Local Geodiversity Action Plans (LGAPs) provide an important framework for geodiversity conservation at a local level. The concept was first proposed by English Nature in 2001 and modelled on the successful Biodiversity Action Plan format. LGAPs aim to provide a sustainable framework for regional and local geo-conservation in defined areas, involving a wide range of partners to ensure local support for their objectives. The LGAP process is gathering momentum across Britain. As at 2007, 27 LGAPs had been launched or were in development, covering areas such as counties, AONBs and National Parks, and at least three mineral aggregate companies were preparing GAPs of their own; GAPS are currently in preparation in Norfolk and Suffolk. A national UKGAP is at an advanced draft stage, to provide a national framework for geodiversity conservation. Typically, a GAP will
      • audit the geodiversity resources of a given area,
      • plan the conservation and management of its Earth heritage resources,
      • promote geodiversity in the policy and practice of local agencies and organisations,isations,
      • promote geodiversity awareness through education and communication, and
      • sustain the LGAP process by securing ongoing resources for its implementation.
GAPs are currently (March 2009) under development in four counties of the East of England region (Beds, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk).

3. Linking geodiversity, biodiversity and landscape

While much effort has been put into biodiversity conservation in Britain over the last two decades, geodiversity conservation has until lately been a poor relation. However the linkage between geodiversity, biodiversity and landscape is being increasingly recognised and promoted at a national level (English Nature 2004). In 2006 English Nature, the Countryside Agency and DEFRA’s Rural Development Service jointly published ‘Natural Foundations: Geodiversity for People, Places and Nature’ as a step towards an integrated approach to environmental conservation by linking biodiversity, landscape and human life. This linkage is reflected in the National Character Areas programme of Natural England, which is taking a strategic, landscape-scale approach. This is based on the Natural Areas concept developed by English Nature in the 1990s. This linkage also has an international dimension through the vision and policies of the European Landscape Convention. The East of England Geodiversity Partnership is using money from the implementation of the ELC to develop its Chalk East project, to interpret the importance of the Cretaceous chalk to the region’s landscape, biodiversity, economy and culture.

4. Practical geo-conservation

For more information about the practical side of geodiversity conservation see the Practical Geo-conservation page.



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