Local Nature Recovery Strategies - no longer dust-gatherers?

Local Nature Recovery Strategies - no longer dust-gatherers?

Sue Young, Head of Land Use Planning, takes a look at Local Nature Recovery Strategies, and how they can be used to form the foundation of a Nature Recovery Network.

Some years ago, I sat round a table with colleagues at a conference workshop on the changes needed to stop the loss of nature and turn this round so that nature could recover. “None of this will work if there is no legal requirement to do it.” Everyone agreed. It was a head-in-hands moment. 

It’s not that we haven’t been trying. The Wildlife Trusts look after more than 2,300 nature reserves and have delivered many fantastic projects. But in the wider landscape nature is unravelling. Stopping and reversing the damage to nature will take change across society. Everyone, and every organization, needs to be part of this. But for most this simply has not been a priority.  

“None of this will work if there is no legal requirement to do it.”

I have been involved in two 10-year action plans for biodiversity; outside of the environment sector these were dust-gathering shelf-huggers. Despite 20 years of targets to stop nature’s decline, the results came in: Nil Points for England. The 3-yearly State of Nature Reports repeated the bad news, the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, and 13% of English species are at risk of extinction.  

There is now a light at the end of this gloomy tunnel. The Environment Bill will be enacted around the end of this year. 10 years ago, a Government review recommended that there needed to be more space for nature, over bigger areas, better managed and joined up, and that this must have statutory underpinning. It has taken a while, but the Environment Bill provides this support. It requires Local Nature Recovery Strategies to be produced, that cover the whole country. These strategies form the foundation for a Nature Recovery Network.  

What does this mean? 

The fact that there is legal requirement to produce them and report on their delivery means Local Nature Recovery Strategies won’t be dust gatherers – but it’s essential that neither are they only the responsibility of the environmental sector to deliver.

We are concerned that whilst the Environment Bill requires public bodies to have regard to the Local Nature Recovery Strategy, there is no requirement in the Environment Bill to actually apply and implement the strategies. 

In particular, it is not explicit that Local Authorities should use them in their day-to-day decision making, especially in land use planning decisions. We supported an amendment to the Environment Bill that would fix this, but so far it has not been successful.  

What is a Nature Recovery Network?

A Nature Recovery Network is a joined-up system of places needed to allow nature to recover and thrive. It is a combination of places where wildlife is still abundant, and the places where habitats need to be restored or created so as to expand and connect the remaining fragments. It will also help the natural world to adapt to a changing climate and other pressures on the environment. 

How should they be used? 

The Wildlife Trusts believe that Local Nature Recovery Strategies should plan the space that nature needs now and in the future. They should be used to help direct development away from areas that are important for nature and should form part of the environmental evidence for strategic planning. We are now asking that Local Nature Recovery Strategies should be legally embedded into the planning system, by being included in the forthcoming Planning Bill. 

Local Nature Recovery Strategies should plan the space that nature needs now and in the future.

To be effective, these strategies need to be ambitious – there is a risk that some Local Nature Recovery Strategies will simply set out existing plans for nature. This is not the big change that we need. The Wildlife Trusts, along with many others, has set a target of achieving 30% of land and sea in active recovery for nature. We currently only have a fraction of that amount that truly works for nature (around 3%). Local Nature Recovery Strategies need to identify and map not only where nature must be protected, but where it would be most effective to take action in the future.  

These maps will be based on the science that shows how to create the networks that nature needs to recover in diversity and abundance. They can be used to target some of the grants and payments that will become available for creating habitats and managing land for wildlife. For example, elements of the new Environmental Land Management schemes should be guided by Local Nature Recovery Strategies to ensure that not only do they represent the best value for public money, but their allocation is fair to farmers by being evidence led.  

We currently only have around 3% of land in active recovery for nature - a fraction of the 30% that is required.

Another potential source of funding for nature is Biodiversity Net Gain. The Environment Bill is about to make it a legal requirement for developers to leave biodiversity in a better state than they found it. Where a gain for biodiversity cannot be delivered on the development site, Local Nature Recovery Strategies can identify where the best places would be to achieve these in the local area.  

Nature’s recovery will benefit everyone. Healthy soils, clean water, cleaner air, carbon capture, slowing the flow of flood water – and all other the nature-based solutions that healthy habitats can provide. Cleaner water means lower purification costs for the water industry, healthy soils boost food production with lower inputs, access to nature has proven public health benefits – healthy nature is in everyone’s interest, and we need everyone to help nature recover.  

This is why working in partnership is so essential. We think the way to help this happen is for Local Nature Recovery Strategies to be produced by Local Authorities, with the help of a local partnership of interested organisations, landowners and individuals. That provides a local understanding of the pressures on nature and the opportunities to make more space for it, and gets all sectors working together.  

What are The Wildlife Trusts doing? 

The Wildlife Trusts have been working with Local Authorities in local partnerships on five pilot Local Nature Recovery Strategy prototypes (In Cumbria, Northumberland, Greater Manchester, Berkshire and Cornwall). Each of these pilots approached the task in a different way, identifying effective ways of working explored issues and finding solutions to problems along the way. 

We believe this has been a great start to developing Local Nature Recovery Strategies, providing a good basis for the next steps. A consistent approach now needs to be agreed, so that the strategies work as well for nature in every area, and to enable the strategies to link together at the borders.

Nature is not constrained by lines on maps and plans to enhance it must work across county boundaries.  

We have shared our experience of the pilots, and thoughts on what worked well and what needs to be developed further, with the Defra team. We hope that this will be useful feedback to help shape the guidance. These five areas are not the only authorities starting to develop Local Nature Recovery Strategies – several councils across the country are working with their local Wildlife Trust and Local Nature Partnerships on this.  

Defra is now consulting on what should go into national guidance on how Local Nature Strategies should be developed and what they should contain. We are working on a comprehensive response to this consultation, drawing on the Trusts’ long experience of working with Local Authorities on nature issues, and in particular on the experience of those Trusts working with Local Authorities on Local Nature Recovery Strategies and networks for nature’s recovery.  

We believe that the Nature Recovery Network will work best when it is: 

  • Spatially planned 

  • Evidence based 

  • Locally developed and nationally connected 

  • Statutory 

  • Our collective responsibility. 

It is through the Local Nature Recovery Strategies that these five criteria can be met and achieved.