Nature is in decline. We are facing a biodiversity emergency that is intertwined with and exacerbated by climate change. Species and habitats are declining in number and diversity – this is threatening the natural systems and processes that provide us with food, water, clean air and protection from flooding, and with the green spaces that are so important for our physical and mental health.
The Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and the subsequent Environment Act, passed into law late last year, seek to reverse this decline. Over the next couple of years, the Government will introduce several new measures aimed at recovering nature and building a national Nature Recovery Network.
One of these is the introduction of Local Nature Recovery Strategies. These new spatial strategies will plan, map, and seek to drive more coordinated, practical, focussed action and investment in nature’s recovery. Everywhere in England will be covered by a strategy – they will be a place’s plan for recovering nature, outlining its priorities and who needs to do what to achieve them. Local and Combined Authorities will need to start developing them later this year.
In Greater Manchester, we were selected by Defra in mid-2020 to pilot the development of a Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS), along with four other areas. Our experience has informed how Defra will roll out the policy across the country. This will be particularly important for areas covered by Combined Authorities and those that have a mix of urban, peri-urban and rural landscapes.
Over nine months, we worked with a range of partners across the city region to develop a prototype LNRS for Greater Manchester. Our experience will help put us in a strong position for when we come to develop a full LNRS alongside other areas in England, which we have been sharing with other areas across the country. Some of the key things we learnt during the pilot were the importance of:
- Engaging a wide range of people – everyone can play their part in recovering nature, but engaging people in the development of a strategy is challenging. Whilst we managed to harness the views and expertise of a wide range of individuals through online workshops and surveys during a period of restrictions on physical gatherings, we are thinking about how to extend this reach even further, particularly to groups who are often under-represented in conversations and decisions about the natural environment.
- Using the right data in the right way – more and more ways of mapping the natural environment are being developed, and increasing amounts of data are being collected on the state of nature. We managed to bring together data from a range of national and local sources but want to cast the net even more widely and offer people and organisations the opportunity to bring more of their information and expertise to bear.
- Integrating with other plans – the natural environment is integral to delivering many local government priorities on health and wellbeing, planning, active travel and tackling climate change, to name but a few. We need to make sure LNRS do not sit in isolation but inform and influence policy and decisions made across local government.
- Considering how nature recovery can be funded – new funding streams such as Biodiversity Net Gain and the new Environment Land Management Scheme will provide opportunities for greater investment into nature. Tree planting and peatland restoration are benefitting from government investment already. Making sure funding is used in the right way, in the right place, and bringing private finance in alongside public funding will be key in making sure LNRS deliver change on the ground.
Developing LNRS will present us all with the opportunity to put nature, alongside the climate emergency, at the centre of local government plans for the future. Getting this right will help us to recover nature and deliver the wider benefits this will bring – for the economy, for people and for the environment.