Nature Recovery Network

Nature Recovery Network

Nature Recovery Network graphic (by Nik Pollard)

A Nature Recovery Network

New proposals for a Nature Recovery Network to protect, join up and enhance the fragments of nature that remain – for people and wildlife.

Towards a Wilder Britain

The UK stands on the brink of big changes. Around 80% of our environmental regulations are affected by Brexit, and, as a result, the UK is writing its first farming policy for decades and new environmental legislation will be required before the UK leaves the EU next year.

Within our report ‘Towards a Wilder Britain’ The Wildlife Trusts have outlined how a ‘Nature Recovery Network’ could help bring wildlife back across our towns and countryside. The Network would be part of new environmental policy designed to achieve Government targets for helping species and habitats to recover and increase. Maps, created locally and linked to these targets, would identify existing important places for wildlife as well as key areas where habitats should be restored. 

There is widespread agreement that we need to do more to reverse the decline of wildlife and here we set out some ideas for how we could take the first step on that journey.

Read our report

Nature Recovery Network report

Read our proposals for a Nature Recovery Network

Read 'Towards a Wilder Britain' our proposals for a Nature Recovery Network of joined-up habitats to help wildlife and people to thrive. 

Read the report



Why are you putting forward these proposals now?

The UK stands on the brink of its biggest ever shake-up of environment regulations and policy. Around 80% of our environmental regulations are affected by Brexit. As a result, the UK is writing its first farming policy for decades and new environmental legislation will be required before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019. There is a risk that new legal frameworks could reduce protection for the natural world, when our own wellbeing and prosperity relies on a healthy natural environment and thriving wildlife. As well as risks, there is also an unusual opportunity to improve how we look after nature. For the first time, we could have environmental laws that explicitly aim to help wildlife increase and recover, rather than concentrating on restricting the damage or slowing its decline. The time is right to explore how to do this and here we set out some views on how we can take the first step on that journey. We welcome other people's views and we acknowledge that other, different approaches might also work. 

What does the report set out?

It explains how a ‘Nature Recovery Network’ could achieve key Government targets for increasing the diversity and abundance of wildlife by increasing the area, and quality, of natural habitats. The Network would be created by mapping existing important places for wildlife to be protected as well as key areas where habitats should be restored. We think ecological mapping is an effective way to make sure that regulation, investment, public spending and voluntary action work together.

Do these proposals cover the whole of the UK?

The ecological principles underpinning this approach, and the environmental, social and economic needs that it is intended to address apply across Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Many important government policies like land use and development planning are set at an individual country level, and political priorities vary from country to country. This document doesn’t go into the detail of individual country-level policy, but instead sets out guiding principles.

Why use Local Authority boundaries?

There are different ways that land could be divided into administrative areas for creating ecological maps, for example river catchments or ‘landscape character areas’. We are proposing that nature recovery maps should be developed at a local authority scale. There are several reasons for this:

1. Long-term – ecological restoration is long-term work and needs a stable, long-lasting public organisation behind it. 
2. Local knowledge - detailed decisions about where to create and restore habitats will need knowledge of local circumstances and needs. Maps need to be developed locally, with farmers and land managers involved, and local authorities are well placed to coordinate this, particularly with their access to Local Environmental Record Centres.
3. Land ownership - Local authorities often own and manage significant areas of land 
4. Integration - Most other public sector decisions that affect our landscape are already made at this level (with the notable exception of the allocation of agricultural payments). Local authorities already cover a wide range of policy areas and are well placed to integrate the actions of different government departments. 

Local maps could be produced within a national framework, so that there are shared criteria guiding their development. This would help ensure that they matched across boundaries and make it easier to join local maps together to inform decision making at other scales, such as river catchments.

Where do existing ecological network maps fit in?

There are already a number of similar maps – covering local ecological networks, protected areas and ‘habitat opportunities’. Some cover whole counties and some cover specific areas like river catchments. Where ecological maps like this exist, they should be used. By linking them to government targets for environmental recovery and funding opportunities, these maps could be used more proactively to drive habitat creation and enhancement.

How would this work with future farming policy?

You can read The Wildlife Trusts’ views on future farming policy here. At an individual farm level we are proposing that environmental work by farmers could be guided by whole farm plans, farm cluster plans and landscape or catchment plans. These would be funded through long-term contracts, similar to current agri-environment schemes. A nature recovery map would help to target and allocate public payments for land management. With the right maps, the work of individual farmers, developers and others won’t be isolated, but will link up to help wildlife at a landscape-scale. There are already some 'farmer clusters' that take a similar approach. Maps could help to direct public spending and private investment to make it as effective as possible, including public payments to farmers under the future farming policy. They would not extend statutory planning control to agricultural activities that are currently outside the planning system. 

How does this link to The Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscapes work?

Living Landscapes is the name used for Wildlife Trust large area conservation schemes. Typically, these are about working in partnership to restore habitats beyond our own nature reserves and in a target area of land, for example a river valley. A Nature Recovery Network is a nationwide network of joined-up habitats. Living Landscape schemes are a good example of how the Nature Recovery Network is delivered on the ground.

Where will the data come from?

Maps would need to be based on the best available ecological information, from a range of local and national sources. Local Environmental Record Centres would have a key role in providing high quality local environmental data to inform maps. They would require the investment to do this effectively.

Aren’t local authorities too under-resourced to deliver this mapping?

We are proposing that all local authorities should be required to create nature recovery network maps that identify priority areas for protection, enhancement, restoration and habitat creation in their locality. This area of Local Authority work (ecology) is critically under-funded. The recovery of our natural environment should be a central priority for government, but it will need to be accompanied by new funding and support for these services at a local government level.

Who will pay for the Nature Recovery Network to be delivered?

At the moment we all pay for having a degraded natural environment or restricted access to nature - in lower quality of life, poorer health, higher water bills, greater flood risk, higher carbon emissions as well as the loss of beautiful places and wildlife from our daily lives. Investing in a Nature Recovery Network to change this will need a mix of public and private funds to support a combination of statutory and voluntary action. Habitat creation and management on farms would be funded under a new farming policy providing public payments for public goods. With clear ecological maps, other public spending (such as on development and maintenance of roads, railways, hospitals, parks and schools) could be prioritised to be spent in ways that would contribute to nature's recovery. National Planning Policy supports a ‘net biodiversity gain’ principle which means that new developments should result in an overall gain for wildlife. In new developments, often considerable wildlife-friendly habitat creation and landscaping can be achieved with a very small percentage of the overall development costs Nature recovery maps would provide developers with a way to map and deliver habitat creation and enhancement as part of a wider ecological network. A Nature Recovery Network would also provide businesses and other investors with a systematic and visible way to invest funds in the environment, for example through natural capital accounting.

How does this relate to the Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment?

The 25YEP contains a proposal for a Nature Recovery Network. Our proposals here build on this concept and place it on a more statutory footing, tied to wider government targets for the recovery of our wildlife. Delivering a Nature Recovery Network would enable delivery of many of the policy areas contained in the 25 Year Plan.

I want to get in touch, how can I do this?

We’d love to hear from you. Please send your comments to:

Dr Sue Young, Head of Land Use Planning and Ecological Networks