By politics.co.uk staff
Cutting short-term spending on Britain's countryside as part of the coalition government's austerity drive could lead to huge long-term costs, a conservation group has warned.
Wildlife and Countryside Link warned on its 30th anniversary that the loss of public money for protected sites such as sites of special scientific interest had already left the country's best wildlife sites sadly degraded.
It said England's uplands were in decline, years of work to manage coastal habitats had been undone through cuts and millions were being barred from the countryside as there was no cash to keep paths and bridleways open.
"Defra and its agencies like Natural England spend just 0.5 per cent of the government's budget, yet their investment in the countryside brings huge benefits in wildlife, clean air and water, flood alleviation, carbon sequestration and pollination," WCL chair Paul de Zylva said.
"A healthy natural environment is not a luxury but fundamental to our existence."
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has cut its arms-length bodies' funding by five per cent as part of this year's efficiency savings.
Its budget for the remainder of the parliament will be announced as part of the government's wider spending review in October.