Reversing the decline of, and enhancing, biodiversity

Why this theme?

Biodiversity is the term used to describe the wide variety of animals and plants that exist in nature. This biodiversity is a vital part of the resilience of our natural systems (which we call ecosystems), without which they can collapse.

South West Wales has a huge variety of habitats and they support many species of international importance. We know, however, that whilst some species are doing well, overall biodiversity is in decline. There is a very real, and almost certain, risk that without attention, we will see further declines in biodiversity. Such is the scale and urgency of this decline that Welsh Government has declared a climate and nature emergency.

We therefore look to make improvements to the way we use and manage our environment to halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity.

We know that having a better understanding of our natural surroundings can lead to a greater connection  to, and a feeling of, care for our environment.  This, in turn, can lead to people getting involved in active conservation projects and the management of areas within their local communities.

When our natural resources (such as woods, rivers and coasts) are in a good condition, they provide us with more natural benefits. These benefits are important not only locally, but nationally and globally.

Top ‘national challenges and opportunities’ from the Natural Resources Policy addressed by this theme include:

  • Reversing the decline in biodiversity and restoring resilient ecosystems

  • Responding to the climate change threat and adopting ecosystem approaches to help

  • Reducing noise pollution and pollution levels in our air, and enhance air quality

  • Improving the quality and ensuring the quantity of our water

Biodiversity in South West

As we mentioned above, South West Wales has a rich diversity of wildlife habitats and species. It contains many internationally, nationally and locally important sites. We’re only going to be able to demonstrate some of the highlights here; however, further detailed information is held by us (e-mail and our local partners.

The most important areas for nature are awarded legal protection because of their importance and value to society. These ‘hot spots’ provide the area with a rich biodiversity and give multiple benefits including the provision of food, fresh water and wood, but many are in still in an ‘unfavourable condition’ (i.e. do not meet relevant conservation objectives). Protected sites provide important ‘safe havens’ for habitats and the species they support. Such sites are also becoming increasingly isolated due to human activity which then leads to an ecosystem becoming less resilient and fragmented. The challenge therefore is to ensure habitats are restored and connected so that they can function coherently and provide wider social and economic benefits.

This theme has much in common with our land management theme. Without the cooperation of our land managers, we cannot halt the loss of biodiversity.

Similarly, there is cross over with our climate change theme, as both climate change and biodiversity loss result from the same socio-economic activities and need to be tackled in an integrated way. It is also important to recognise that biodiversity loss itself can fuel climate change and so we need to make sure that action taken to support climate mitigation is not at the cost of further decline in nature. Evidence shows that if widespread extinctions, further ecosystem decline and the worst excesses of climate change impacts are to be avoided, urgent rapid and transformative change at every scale from local to global is required to address both emergencies.



FIG: Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) feature condition (most recent assessment) for SACs that fall either wholly or partially within South West area.

We have identified three key topics related to this theme:

We all understand the importance of and value nature

The actions taken by individual citizens, business and government often influence nature with significant pressures put on our natural resources and open spaces.  The threats facing wildlife include climate change, water and air pollution, the loss and breaking up of habitats for development, changes in land use, the growing problem of invasive species, pests and diseases.

These all have direct and indirect impacts on biodiversity. It is therefore crucial that we understand how our choices and actions can affect ecosystems and that we consider nature when we make decisions.  Being well-connected to nature and understanding its role alongside our activities is vital.

Person holding a common frog

Enhancing species and habitat connectivity

Achieving resilient ecosystems is at the heart of the Environment (Wales) Act. This makes sure our wildlife is connected through linked up habitats.  Other considerations include the diversity, scale, condition and adaptability of each habitat so we can see how resilient they are and how well they are able to adapt to change. We all need to act now to ensure that habitats are connected locally and at a landscape scale to achieve these resilient ecosystems.

We have appropriate expertise at hand and good data at our fingertips to make informed decisions

A key risk for the future management of our natural resources is ensuring that there is enough expertise and capacity to deliver the required actions. Site management is of key importance. We also need to ensure that we have enough meaningful data so that we all can make informed decisions. There is a concern that future decisions will be made on insufficient data. We need to ensure that we are collecting new, and scrutinise existing data, so that any future management decisions are based on sound evidence.

Painting of a leaping salmon by David Miller

What would success look like?

A key part of the development of this Area Statement has been our engagement with stakeholders and we say more about this in the next section.

Here we have set out ‘what success looks like’ as a series of you told us statements reflecting the general consensus from our engagement sessions. These sessions generated a wealth of information and ideas and the following represents just a summary of the opportunities ahead of us, where there was general agreement among multiple stakeholders. If you feel that we have missed something, please don’t worry, we want to carry on the conversations we have started. Please see the section at the end of this Theme which details how you can remain part of this process.

You told us that environmental education and communication is key to change people’s behaviours

If people know and understand more about their environment, they are more likely to develop long lasting and positive behaviour changes.  We need to engage with all ages and sectors to promote these behaviours. From school children to encouraging businesses to become more sustainable, we all have a part to play.  By working with the educational sector, businesses and public sector we can enable communities to make a practical difference through activities such as volunteering, land management and becoming an environmentally friendly consumer.  Through this we can also embed a local culture and sense of heritage.

People surveying a river bed for invertebratesImage by Jerry Griffiths

You told us that new and existing developments should embrace and enhance the natural environment

The planning system, at the Local Development Plan and individual application stages, is a key opportunity enhance biodiversity. All organisations need to put biodiversity at the heart of planning (such as the Swansea Green Infrastructure Strategy) and recognise the true value of biodiversity and not just the sites and species with legal protections.

Light and noise pollution can adversely affect our health and our wildlife.  We need to work with local authorities, businesses and communities to reduce the impact of these forms of pollution and promote well designed lighting for the benefit of tourism and biodiversity (particularly Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Gower/Clyne Valley).

You told us that rural land use will enhance biodiversity if nature is at the heart of decision-making

This is also linked to our land management theme and asks that when considering any new sustainable land management schemes, we need to take into consideration the importance of plants and pollinators in species-rich arable land at a landscape scale. In addition to specific actions, landscape scale designations such as BugLife B-lines  and Important Invertebrate Areas should be considered. Establishing appropriate grazing levels on some of our most vulnerable habitats is vital.

You told us that the public sector should better manage the land they own, and funding should be more sustainable

Smaller public sector organisations (such as community councils) require expertise and knowledge in order to manage their assets in a nature friendly manner. Networks such as Public Services Boards or Ystadau Cymru are recognised as key delivery mechanisms.

Nature needs to be built into procurement and land management agreements with effective public communication required where changes are highly visible.

Policies for grant payments should reflect different management types - such as coppice, glade creation, thinning for woodland management.  

You told us that actions are more effective when we work together, and organisations should take a collaborative approach

Local environmental coordination groups and partnerships are key delivery mechanisms. They can be used to create a better dialogue between communities, businesses, land managers and public bodies – we all need to ensure these are properly funded and coordinated to provide a method of delivery. Coordination on key subjects (such as ash dieback) is required to provide a more cohesive ‘whole area’ approach.

We need to continue monitoring the condition of key sites and share information to target environmental improvements. Using public knowledge and their participation will ensure we collect the best data whilst involving a wide range of expertise.

You told us that habitats and species need to be better connected and in better condition

There are a vast number of opportunities for connecting (and building the resilience) of our species and habitats throughout South West. We cannot possibly do justice to this huge array of opportunities here; there are however some key summary themes.

  • We need to look at the bigger picture when considering river catchment management. Rivers provide significant opportunities for habitats to be connected This includes woodlands and grasslands within their valleys, in addition to fisheries and freshwater mammals. We will utilise the ‘opportunity catchments’ (Swansea Bay, Cleddau and Teifi in South West) which have been proposed as part of the Water Framework Directive for future engagement. We would like to support the restoration and maintenance of bog and fen habitat, especially those of Carmarthenshire, Preseli and Crymlyn Bog/Pant y Sais

  • We are taking a ‘right tree, right place’ approach to woodland management. Our river valleys provide a valuable opportunity for increasing native woodland that is close to coastal fringes and we would like the focus to be on individual woodlands. Ancient and veteran trees are a key aspect of woodland biodiversity and should be protected

  • South West Wales has a number of nationally important bat and dormouse populations and their woodland habitats should be managed to improve how these species connect to each other (areas such as Gower, Pembrokeshire and Margam for lesser and greater horseshoe bats)

  • We should take a landscape scale approach (for benefit of wildlife, people and the economy) to restoring grasslands (e.g. for the Marsh Fritillary butterfly in Neath Port Talbot, Gower, Loughor catchment, Western Beacons, Tywi valley and upper reaches of the Cleddau)

  • We need to better support important amphibian species to help them connect to adjoining habitats to breed and populate new areas (such as at Llandarcy, Margam, Kenfig, Gower and Carmarthenshire)

  • Managing grazing on our upland heath is an important role in order to achieve greater biodiversity (such as Mynydd Preseli, Cwm Doethie-Mynydd Mallaen, Graig Fawr (Pontardulais), Mynydd Du, the Egel Valley Uplands and Mynydd y Betws)

  • The areas where we live can provide us with valuable nature corridors. This includes targeting the planting of native species and connecting nearby habitats (such as dunes and grasslands), where species and thrive and spread. Suggestions included installing bat friendly, light-free corridors and increasing blue spaces such as ponds

  • The coastal margin is important for South West Wales and we need to ensure that sand dune environments are re-vitalised (and connected), cliff-top grasslands do not become fragmented and are appropriately grazed, and saltmarsh is managed sensitively

  • The Marine environment is particularly important for South West Wales as there are opportunities to reduce disturbance of marine mammals and birds, minimise light pollution, and connect people to the marine environment (e.g. designate the coasts off Gower and Swansea Bay as a national marine park).

Who have we worked with to date?

In developing this Area Statement our aim has been to work collaboratively and represent the views and ideas from all stakeholders in South West Wales. Our goal has been to involve you in helping identify the key risks that we all face in managing our natural resources sustainably, as well as the opportunities.

This has required a different way of working.

We have undertaken a wide range of engagement activities, including targeted planning workshops with selected experts to larger multi-sectoral workshops. The latter have been well attended and included elected representatives, community groups, environmental Non Government Organisations (eNGOs), as well as officials from the public sector. We’ve also ensured that representative groups (such as farming unions and angling associations) have been included. The business sector has mainly been represented by larger industry.

As many different sectors have been included as possible to capture the widest range of views and expertise. 

Internally we have been working closely with our colleagues developing the South Central Wales, Marine and Mid Wales Area Statements to ensure that actions link up where appropriate. In particular, the coastal zone and marine environment are very important for us in South West Wales and we recognise that what happens on land often impacts the sea and vice versa.

What are the next steps?

We need your continued support to progress the opportunities and actions we set out earlier and in this section. We will be continuing our conversations with you on how best to take this forward – both in terms of delivery and in refining the detail where further work is needed. This is likely to involve more focused work on specific themes or around particular geographical areas (e.g. the opportunity catchments).

So, we encourage all stakeholders, existing and new, to get involved - further details on how to do this are in the next section.

Throughout this theme there are clear areas which you told us were important for implementing effective interventions to reverse the decline in and enhance biodiversity. These include improving habitat and species condition and connectivity, utilising the legal framework (planning and designating), education, sharing advice and expertise.

Next steps:

Improve the connectivity and condition of habitats and species

  • Implement large-scale conservation projects and develop bids for future initiatives; with grant funding aligned to these outcomes

  • In designated Special Areas of Conservation such as Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries, increase the level of saltmarsh and deliver wider sand dune improvements

  • Increase native woodland networks. Encourage the retention and sensitive management of ancient and veteran trees in addition to the restoration of Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) on the Welsh Government woodland estate

  • As part of our catchment-based approach re-naturalise river habitats for the benefit of fisheries and work with land managers to connect habitats suitable for freshwater dwelling mammals

  • Take a landscape-scale approach to restoring grasslands habitat and species connectivity. Such as introducing traditional seasonal grazing, improving flight paths and planting in Neath Port Talbot, Gower, Loughor catchment, Western Beacons, Tywi Valley and upper reaches of the Cleddau

  • Restoring and maintaining Bog and Fen habitat, especially those of Carmarthenshire, Preseli and Crymlyn Bog/Pant y Sais

  • Work with the third sector, businesses and communities to reduce disturbance of marine mammals, reducing light pollution from coastal communities and industry, and connecting people to the marine environment

  • Work with local authorities to raise the profile and protection of sites of ecological importance including those with no legal protection and continue with site designation in line with NRW’s remit.

Support others to ensure that biodiversity is appropriately taken account of in decision-making

  • Linked to our land management theme, work with policy makers, farmers and land owners to ensure that biodiversity is appropriately valued and enhanced through rural land management practices, especially in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire

  • Provide effective advice responding to strategic and local development planning by ensuring plans and applications are ecologically robust to reflect the true value of biodiversity

  • Work with non-government organisation, businesses and the education sector to embed environmentally sensitive behaviours within communities and encourage recreational and educational use of publicly owned forests and nature reserves

  • Share expertise and knowledge in order to manage public sector assets (such as community council land) in an ecologically friendly manner, utilising the public services boards and other networks such as One Voice Wales

  • Use the Area Statement in the future as a source of information for all environmental projects happening in the area and also as a communications and information tool

How does what we’ve proposed deliver Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR)?

Our environment depends on functioning ecosystems – without a healthy and thriving environment, we cannot benefit from the services that it can provide. It is clear from the evidence that biodiversity is in decline and we all have a part to play. By ensuring that our habitats and species are resilient, we can maximise the benefits they provide.

In delivering any actions an integrated and collaborative approach is required, reflecting the principles of Sustainable Management of Natural Resources from Environment Wales Act 2016 and incorporating the five ‘ways of working’ from the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

A vision for South West Wales

  • Environmentally sensitive and responsible behaviours are embedded into all actions and a key part education at all levels

  • Sympathetically designed developments fully embrace the species and habitats around them and, in built-up areas, reduce their impact (e.g. light pollution)

  • Habitats and species become more resilient to changes by increasing connectivity and improving the local environment. In South West Wales this includes (but is by no means limited to) re-naturalising rivers (and corridors for freshwater mammals), increased native woodland cover as part of the national forest, link nationally important bat and reptile populations, less fragmented dormouse habitat, landscape-scale grassland restoration, appropriate grazing on uplands and dynamic dune systems

  • Marine and coastal habitats valued and responsibly enjoyed by communities and visitors

  • Sustainable funding and management schemes for special and protected habitats and species

How can people get involved?

This theme is only the beginning of the journey as we work with people to improve the management of South West Wales. If you would like to be part of this process, please get in touch with us using the form below. Alternatively, please email us direct at:

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