Whilst the big story this week is COP26, and developments that come out of it are dominating the news, it is important not to forget the ongoing biodiversity crisis. Indeed, there is synergy between biodiversity and climate change – a change in one can, and will, effect the other. This means that nature, and recovery of biodiversity, is one of the solutions that we need to embrace if we want to restrict climate change to 1.5C.
Any agreements and positions that come out of Glasgow will be high-level international targets and priorities for countries sign up to. These are important for driving policy and action in the right direction but what will really make the difference is delivery on the ground and this will often be at the local level.
This week saw a deadline for a consultation on the potential guidelines and regulations of a policy that could play a significant role in halting the decline of nature in England. The, prosaically named, Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs), could be rolled out as soon as April 2022. There will be a series of about 50 LNRSs throughout England, most delimited by county boundaries. Whilst they might not capture the public imagination as much as, say, sewage contamination of our rivers, they will be locally created spatial strategies identifying areas that will be a priority for nature recovery and will guide this work for the foreseeable future.
What makes these different to past efforts is that they will engage as wide a range of people as possible, going beyond the usual suspects of environmental NGOs and farmers/land managers to include businesses, local communities, healthcare and public amenities amongst others. Combined with this, most if not all, LNRSs will be he responsibility of a local authority. This will result in local co-production and local ownership, which means that there should be a better chance of the opportunities actually being delivered because people will be invested in the LNRS.
However, to make sure the process works and is not just another expensive tick-box exercise, there are a few things that need to be highlighted.
They must be properly resourced
Although this was beyond the scope of the consultation, which concentrated on what needs to go into LNRSs, sufficient resourcing is a must. We estimate that the upfront costs to set up 50 LNRSs will be around £36m, with subsequent running costs of £16m a year. Local Authorities have been squeezed and will struggle to find the resources required. Putting together a LNRS will be especially hard for the 61% of Local Planning Authorities that don’t directly employ ecologists. This means that around £8m of the set up costs will be required by local authorities, with a further £7m annually to keep the LNRS live, ensure it is complied with, and reviewed and updated regularly.
Don’t forget the experts and land managers
The process, quite rightly, will require input from as many different stakeholder groups as possible but the final LNRS list of priorities must be evidence-based. This means that experts, be they eNGOs, Local Environmental Records Centres or individuals, need to be able to give their input and their work given appropriate weight, otherwise tree planting, beavers reintroductions and wildflowers for pollinators will predominate because they are currently in the news.
Furthermore, landowners and farmers need to be brought on board as early as possible to help shape the LNRS and identify opportunity areas. In the past, the NFU and CLA have often been consulted as a matter of courtesy but this time we must bring as many individuals on board as possible. With 70% of England being agricultural land, they are the people who we will be asking to deliver a significant amount of the outcomes that LNRSs identify.
Connecting up LNRSs is essential
There are two aspects of connectivity that need to be considered - connectivity of sites and opportunity areas across a LNRS, and link up with neighbouring LNRSs. To ensure that LNRSs come together to form the National Nature Recovery Network, the opportunity areas identified by LNRSs must join up. This will allow isolated sites for nature to be connected to allow movement across the landscape. This is what is needed to halt the decline of our biodiversity, increase species abundance and allow nature in England to have some resilience to climate change.
If we can recover our biodiversity, we can help nature play its part in reaching our climate change targets. Find out more about how LNRS’s can help deliver the change we need, in our consultation response here.
Bruce Winney is a Policy Officer at Wildlife and Countryside Link
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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