Environmental economy threatened by cuts

Norfolk’s natural environment is worth more than �900m a year to the county but cuts in investment could threaten economic recovery, a conference in Norwich will hear today.

Conserving the county’s flora, fauna and outdoor areas is an “economic necessity”, delegates at the Norfolk Biodiversity Forum will be told.

More than of 100 leading conservationists and economic experts attending the conference will hear how making the most of Norfolk’s natural assets, including the Broads, Brecks and north Norfolk coast, could provide the green foundations for the county’s economic recovery.

The forum, being held at the Abbey Conference Centre, Bracondale, is organised by the Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership, founded in 1996 and comprising organisations including local authorities, conservation charities, private-sector companies and statutory agencies.

Bodies represented include Natural England, RSPB, the Broads Authority and Anglian Water.

A presentation by Norfolk County Council will explain how the county’s wide variety of habitats and species act as a powerful draw to visitors, as well as providing a healthy and pleasant environment in which to live and work.

A case study will reveal that visitors to the Broads generate some �320m a year, while the value of drinking water sustained by the Broads is at least �17m a year.

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The Norfolk Coast area of outstanding natural beauty between Weybourne and Snettisham provides turnover of �111m for tourism-related businesses and an income of �18m for local producers and suppliers.

A Department of Health-commissioned survey carried out by the British Heart Foundation found that physical inactivity in the Norfolk PCT (Primary Care Trust) area was costing �13.3m.

Delegates will be told that this figure could be greatly reduced if people took advantage of the countryside for exercise and recreation.

Dr Gerry Barnes, environment manager at Norfolk County Council and chairman of Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership, said: “It’s about time biodiversity was mainstreamed and people need to know that it has to be integrated into the very fabric of economic practices.

“It’s not a peripheral add-on in the contemporary world; it’s an economic necessity. A 21st century economy has to have the world’s natural resources at its core.

“People need to appreciate the value of the natural environment and recognise it’s not just a luxury add-on.”

Heidi Thompson, the council’s biodiversity and countryside manager, said: “The natural environment needs to be seen as part of the solution, not the problem. It’s not a constraint to growth; it’s part of the answer in finding our way out of the downturn as a county.

“Norfolk is one of the leaders in this field. We have a lot to boast about: we’re a phenomenal county in terms of the quality of our natural environment and quality of life it offers to our residents and visitors.”

The report she will present concludes: “It is easy to overlook the natural environment when times are difficult and priorities are conflicted; when other sections of society seem to claim a higher important importance than the environment. However, the natural environment represents an important foundation for local economic recovery.”