COUNCIL leaders have agreed to declare an ecological emergency - but hope not to spend "huge amounts of money" on tackling it.

Durham County Council has committed to drawing up an action plan in six months after councillors heard of a "catastrophic decline in nature".

Councillor Richard Bell, deputy council leader and cabinet member for finance, said: "Environmental sites and ecological sites require active management.

"Active management may or may not come with a cost. We will be planning for the cost of this strategy.

"It is my fervent hope that we consult widely with stakeholders in developing an action plan that delivers a lot of bang for our buck, delivers a lot of income without requesting huge amounts of money to go with it.

"But I very much support the report and the initiative," he told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday (April 6).

Read more: Call to combat County Durham ecological catastrophe

The drive follows a impassioned call for local government to "up its game" from Chris Woodley-Stewart, director of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The Northern Echo: Chris Woodley-Stewart. Picture: Chris Booth.Chris Woodley-Stewart. Picture: Chris Booth.

He told a council committee in February: "Were this a football match, nature and we would be 5-0 down.

"We can and must fight back.

"There is unquestionably a catastrophic decline in nature that will come and bite us hard on the backside sooner rather than later."

Read more: Conservation director - 'Stuff will just slip away'

His warnings on the crisis were referenced by Cllr Bev Coult at this week's cabinet meeting.

She said the environment scrutiny committee she chairs unanimously agreed to recommend declaring an ecological emergency.

Cllr Mark Wilkes, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and climate change, said the council already worked tirelessly "to protect and recover our native and natural landscapes" and conserve and revitalise ecosystems and habitats.

He said: "I wholeheartedly support that we should declare an ecological emergency.

"This will reflect the robust and ambitious approach that this council already takes in the area of climate change.

"We must back up these fine words with real tangible action.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Mark Wilkes. Picture: Durham County Council.Cllr Mark Wilkes. Picture: Durham County Council.

"Once again cabinet is setting a challenge, this time to our officers, to prepare an action plan that reflects our ambitions in this area within six months to bring this declaration to life.

"In this year's budget we have significantly increased our investment in our natural environment, preparing ourselves for this potential declaration.

"By declaring this ecological emergency, we are making a clear statement to the region and to the world that Durham County Council will stand up and do its bit to reverse habitat and species decline.

"We will build it into the work of our teams across the organisation."

Alan Patrickson, the council's director of neighbourhoods and climate change, said they and their partners could be proud of their work for landscapes and the countryside.

But he said "more needs to be done collectively to address and reverse the decline in species and habitat both globally and locally".

Cllr James Rowlandson, cabinet member for resources, investments and assets, said: "This is a practical issue and it will require very practical solutions.

"We are in a strong position to build on our ongoing work, not only to preserve and protect but also to grow.

"Our county is an absolute treasure trove of natural assets. And a vital part of protecting these for the future is ensuring that people, especially the young, understand the importance of what we have around us."


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