Have you ever heard of the fancy-legged fly, or the depressed river mussel? Not many people have, but as JOHN GRANT reports, they are among a roll-call of rarities for which Suffolk has special responsibility

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Most people know something about Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, or at least could have a stab at defining such a designation.

Some people might know what an SSSI is – it’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Not many would know what a Ramsar site is – it’s a wetland of international wildlife importance. And it is a fair bet that just as few would know what a BAP is – and in this case it isn’t a type of bread roll.

And yet in counties as fortunate as Suffolk, where a wealth of wildlife habitats as diverse as wet woodland and lowland heath or acid grassland and mudflats are homes to a stunning array of rare and specialised species, BAP is one of the key designations that underpin nature conservation efforts. BAP stands for Biodiversity Action Plan and in Suffolk there is much biodiversity that needs plenty of action, and the action needs plenty of planning.

Suffolk has one of the UK’s highest county totals of BAP priority species – more than 260 – and BAP priority habitats – more than 20 – and its importance in the UK BAP framework has long been a source of pride. Now, after radical changes in the way such matters are handled across the UK, Suffolk has emerged with a new, more sharply focused BAP vision that will be delivered by the Suffolk Biodiversity Partnership.

The partnership, which is hosted by the county council and is based at Ipswich Museum within the Suffolk Biological Records Centre, unites more than 20 environmental organisations and forms a powerful consortium that has worked since 1998 to protect and enhance the county’s biodiversity.

Against a backdrop of the Government deciding in 2012 to replace the overall UK Biodiversity Action Plan with frameworks for each of the countries in the UK, responsibility for biodiversity delivery in England is now devolved to each county. The devolution led the Suffolk partnership last year to carry out an “extensive consultation” with partners and the public to guide it into the future. Suffolk biodiversity officer Genevieve Broad said the gathering of views had “successfully identified the most important and valued aspects of our work, which has led us to revise and more clearly define the focus of our activities”.

“Our services will now focus on providing advice on, and facilitating communication about, priority species and habitats in Suffolk. The partnership will continue to engage with a range of organisations to support the delivery of wildlife projects and to raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity.

“We will work particularly with Suffolk’s local authorities – the county, district, borough, town and parish councils – community groups and schools and our strong links with Norfolk will be maintained,” she said. “Our aim is now sharply focused and clear. It is to provide guidance on Suffolk’s priority species and habitats, which make up the Suffolk BAP. This will be especially relevant to those organisations with associated statutory duties, such as the local authorities and utility companies, but is also important in supporting community groups and schools.”

In addition to its new sense of reinvigoration, the partnership was carrying out its remit to communicate in two new and exciting ways which put it “ahead of the game” nationally, said Ms Broad.

One was the preparation of new, detailed and user-friendly factsheets on the county’s priority species and habitats which would be available as hard copies or for printing from the partnership’s website. The other was the creation of an online gallery of stunning photographs of virtually all of Suffolk’s BAP species and habitats. The gallery and the factsheets would hopefully raise awareness of Suffolk’s “incredible diversity” of species and landscapes - and assist in their conservation, she added.

• The Suffolk Biodiversity Partnership can be contacted at www.suffolkbiodiversity.org

The online gallery of Suffolk’s Biodiversity Action Plan priority species and habitats can be viewed at www.pinterest.com/biologicalrecor/

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