LGA webinar: Place-based leadership for biodiversity

The LGA Webinar, Place-based leadership for Biodiversity, was organised as part of the LGA’s green webinar series. It covered how councils and farmers can work together, how councils can put together a Local Nature Recovery Plan, how the use of greenspace data can help inform a biodiversity action plan and lastly, and how councils can undertake biodiversity net gain.


As councils look to tackle their net zero targets, it is important to factor in the balance of emissions and the sequestration of carbon by nature. Therefore, a key component in council climate action plans is to help nature to do its job. In the year when the UK hosts COP26, it is more important than ever for councils to take action to protect biodiversity in their local areas.

Over 120 people attended the webinar with four speakers presenting their thoughts and reflections on the impact of the pandemic on council climate change strategies. The session was chaired by Councillor Liz Green, Vice-Chair of LGA Improvement and Innovation Board and Councillor for the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.

Councillor Liz Green began the webinar by highlighting how councils have declared climate emergencies but may have forgotten about the equally important ecological crisis. Biodiversity is featured in the mitigation and adaptation goals for COP26, and the LGA will be going across the country to collect case studies and highlight the best practice from councils. If your council would like to be featured, please email climate@local.gov.uk

Claire Robinson, Senior Countryside Adviser, National Farmers Union (NFU)

How can farmers and councils work together to protect biodiversity? It is important to point out that there is a lot of work happening with farmers already, this was demonstrated throughout the presentation. The simplest example of protecting biodiversity is by planting trees, which is already being taken forward seriously. Councils will need to recognise a farm as a business, everything that happens with the land affects that farmers income. The co-benefits of the plants they grow are a big opportunity, the example of rapeseed was highlighted in the slides.

Furthermore, farmers are well placed to do more, they are managing land and have a number of reasons for doing so. It needs to be clear what the mutual benefits are which may not be as straight forward. Biodiversity is many things to many people. If you are looking to explore what can be done with your farmers, reach out to your regional NFU offices to make that contact. You can’t assume what you want to do will work for both of you, but something positive could still come out of it. It is key for councils to realise that a lot of land may already be in an agreement with central government and it may be difficult to partner on projects.

Farmers may also be tenants and so their tenancy may not allow them to take forward plans, it is vital that the small details are closely looked at, as this may be an opportunity the tenant farmer can help with. Developing a relationship is the most important next step, really investigate how you can mutually benefit each other rather than seeing one another as a means to an end.

Matthew Lipton, Commons and Biodiversity Coordinator, South Gloucestershire Council

Matthew began his presentation by asking the question, how do we restore nature as well as tackling the climate emergency? South Gloucestershire is part of the West England Combined Authority, a rural county with a high urban population. Looking at the breakdown of greenspace has helped them map out their Biodiversity Action Plan. They recognise that climate change solutions should benefit nature as well.

As part of their plan, they realised they need to plant enough trees by 2030 to double the tree canopy and with this, there needs to be a balance across all the different landowners. A way they looked to tackle this was by starting the South Gloucestershire Tree week, supporting local businesses like tree nurseries, and getting the residents involved and giving them ownership of the trees.

They also released a toolkit on “Local Nature Action Plans (LNAPs): guidance for towns and parish councils”. It was designed to take all the resources of a local authority and make it easily accessible for residents through their Town and Parish Councils, with the hope it will reduce fear to take positive action for nature. LNAPs cover biodiversity background, partnerships, communications, mapping, stakeholders, funding, land ownership, reference materials and example projects.

The key point Matthew explained to attendees was that they needed to use the resources available to them and not try and go beyond that. Just making a start is a huge achievement and the benefit of creating an LNAP will be the reduction of pressure on councils.

Chloe Smith, Partnership Manager, Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL)

GiGL is the local environmental records centre for London who work with most London authorities. Chloe presented on how councils can use an evidence base for creating a biodiversity action plan, as biodiversity can and should be thought about strategically. Habitats and species populations need to be thought about in the long term and actions need to be taken timely. Making space for nature – when looking at an urban setting, a key focus is the need for spaces to be better quality more joined up is. Wildlife records, habitats, open spaces, and non-statutory sites are a range of data sets managed and shared by GiGL.

Wandsworth has a long-term service agreement with GiGL, GiGL share quarterly data sets with them so they can use them to shape their biodiversity action plans. It is critical to mobilise and digitise data so they can be standardised and shared easily. A large proportion of wildlife data are generated by the London Natural History Society (LNHS), frequently the biggest provider in the local area.

Chloe gave a mapping project example which explored focus habitats and how local authorities could prioritise expansion and restoration. Defining actions can be done in action plans, referencing the evidence base and then communicating how to then take action. Collecting and mobilising data, including citizen science, means engagement and monitoring. A citizens’ survey means you can ask residents to engage and mobilise data. GiGL provide maps and statistics for reporting, which means partner councils can have a wide overview of their local areas and clearly see where targeted action is needed.

The Biodiversity and Climate crises need urgent and strategic action, local knowledge and evidence may indicate restoration of particular habitats is a priority nature-based solution. Records centres like GiGL manage a rich local evidence base and support the digitisation of new data so that councils can have all the necessary tools to inform local action.

David Lowe, Delivery Leader: Ecology, Historic Environment & Landscape, Warwickshire Council

Warwickshire was the DEFRA pilot for biodiversity net gain. They adopted a green infrastructure policy 2009-2013 where planning advice was given to help develop local nature action plans. The support given included, strategic context, assessments, recommendations, assets, and maps. They use Phase 1 data that is annually updated at twenty per cent per year to identify core areas of grassland, woodland and pastureland. This means that every LA decision has site, local, regional and national implications.

Warwickshire is critically important for biological species which want to travel through the country because of its location. Their Biodiversity Impact Assessment summary sheet shows if a development is making a gain or loss in each habitat type. You are also able to show what is going up and down regarding ecosystem services. Offsets are secured with a landowner through a Wildlife and Countryside Act section thirty nine Agreement plus thirty plus year ecological management plan. The market has formed in Warwickshire, where there is enough supply and demand of biodiversity units.

The council is now taking more of a regulatory role where unique transaction codes are provided for offset units to be ‘traded’ within the market, for a fee. By 2030 it is anticipated that local wildlife trust and others will have nature banks. Looking to the future, they are hoping to develop flood alleviation, nature tourism and catchment service markets and create a Natural Capital Investment Strategy where investment area repaid, and surplus can be re-invested into more natural capital.

Conclusions

How can local authorities take action to protect the natural environments and make space for biodiversity to thrive?

  • Take up of the “right tree, right place” approach and to recognize the other habitats that also have a role to play in carbon sequestration
  • Having the correct dialogue with residents and empowering them to take action
  • Integrating urban habitats also has a critical role and local authorities should look into how they can do more to protect these
  • Woodland areas now have a buffer zone, planning now has put a financial value on woodlands
  • We need to breakdown biodiversity into different themes to make it accessible for farmers
  • Making things better before starting something new, we need to safeguard and improve the quality of what we have
  • Biodiversity net gain has shown you need a strategy, a whole concerted effort with partners – nature recovery networks, service level agreements
  • The tree is a living species that needs to be managed. We already have some of this, it might be tweaks in what we already have and do to protect our existing trees.