The City of Nature 25 Year Plan has a Nature Recovery ambition for Birmingham. This includes:
Protect the wildest places
These are nature reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Local Wildlife Sites (107) – our core sources of wildlife in the city. These places need to be protected from harm, improved through good management and where possible increased in size.
Make connections between them
Smaller patches of habitat can act as ‘steppingstones’ and ‘corridors’ between bigger areas. This means creating and looking after features like hedges, ponds, streams, small woods, and meadows to provide habitat and make it easier for wildlife to move through the landscape.
Provide a bigger overall area for wildlife
By looking after our wildest places and creating habitat between them, the overall area of wildlife friendly land increases. This area then in turn needs to be safeguarded. Here land management or development should be required to strengthen the network of habitats and not weaken it. This makes wildlife populations less likely to decline. To protect them we need to be able to map them – we need to know where they are.
Find space for wildlife in the wider landscape
This Network should sit within a wider landscape characterised by nature-friendly development. This would include encouraging a wide range of people to support the increase in the amount of wildlife habitat in places like, parks, retail parks, churchyards, road verges, gardens and golf courses.
In 2019 The Government launched the 25 Year Environment Plan, that pledged to:
Return the environment in a better condition than it had inherited, over the course of a generation.
- Biodiversity Net Gain
Biodiversity Net Gain is now an instrument to compel all developments to ensure they generate or offset at least a 10% Net Gain for Biodiversity. This will be embedded into the planning process. This will provide a long-term income stream and delivery mechanism for the improvement and enhancement of biodiversity in the city’s parks and open spaces.
- Nature Recovery Network
The principles in the 25 Year Environment Plan came from an earlier report by Professor John Lawton, its recommendations were for Bigger, Better and More Joined-up nature. This forms the basis of what the Government are now shaping with their Nature Recovery Network Plans/Strategies.
As part of our FPA programme we have worked with the Wildlife Trust to produce a ‘futures’ map for Birmingham, showing how green Birmingham could become. Importantly this recognises the vital role of all of the city’s green space and trees. These future ambitious targets are therefore built into our 25 Year City of Nature Plan.
Critically for us these ambitions are being merged with our Environmental Justice work, as currently the city’s quality habitats are not all close to where people live. Thereby introducing areas of quality habitat into every park site is built into our Birmingham Fair Standard.
The next phase of the FPA project will seek to ground truth this 25-year ambition at a city scale. This will assess the habitat enhancement or creation potential across all existing city owned green space. It will also identify key protection and buffer sites. It will also identify critical gaps in the Nature Recovery Network- regardless of land ownership, for future closure through long-term development and infrastructure opportunities.
This will produce a Register of Sites (owned by BCC) that could successfully benefit from future Biodiversity Net Gain credits and embedded maintenance payments.
A mixture of desk study, Biodiversity Opportunity Mapping, Satellite imagery and ecological site audits, will ensure that the city’s biological record is sufficiently robust, to defend any challenge.
The detail of this commission will be informed by close working with the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country and its Biological Records Centre.
Project 2 will provide us with a roue into better Micro funding required for individual sites; as identified in our adopted sustainable finance model.
- Nature on your doorstep
What does rewilding a city look like? People’s place in nature | Rewilding Britain
Losing our natural cycles
Most of the human population, currently 77% but rapidly increasing, now lives in urban areas. They don’t rely on the immediate ecosystem around them but on complex and industrialised processes to provide for their daily needs. People in modern industrial societies spend 90% of their time indoors in artificial, temperature-controlled environments. Their lives are devoid of natural cycles, birdsong, bubbling streams and the freshest air. Even people living in rural areas are not immune to the disconnecting effects of increasingly technology-mediated, busy modern life.
There is a wealth of research that illustrates how disconnection from nature is linked to mental and physical illness, from anxiety, depression and poor body image in women, to heart disease, fatigue and lowered life expectancy to name but a few. Nature-deficit disorder is a recognised condition in children, which has been identified as a contributor to obesity, depression, ADHD, behavioural problems and lowered cognitive ability. Communities that are disconnected from nature show higher levels of conflict, violence, crime and racial tension. On a societal level, a culture of disconnection feeds an alienated consumer culture and the continued over-exploitation of nature required to fuel it. Not only that, this disconnect has been shown to be a major barrier to transitioning away from this way of life to a just and sustainable future. People who are less connected to nature are less likely to take positive action, whether they are an average citizen making lifestyle choices or a top politician making policies.
How do we reconnect?
It’s clear that an important part of reversing the trend of accelerating ecological disaster we are heading towards is reconnecting with nature. Where do we start? How do we reconnect? Getting outdoors into nature is an obvious starting point, and this will have immediate positive well-being and health effects. However, research shows that in order to really connect, we need intentional rather than passive interactions. We connect with our senses, emotions, intuition, imagination, spirituality, and creativity. And we need to intentionally engage with the natural world using these faculties rather than simply being
outside or taking a walk. This may require a different way of being than we are perhaps accustomed to in our busy daily lives.
Not everyone has easy access to nature though, so part of this work is about creating more equity in opportunities for connection. Access to nature can be affected by economic status, ethnic background, geographical location and how we design the world around us both physically and socially. Providing opportunities for those with the least access, and rewilding residential and urban spaces to include nature rather than exclude it will support this.
Biophilic cities such as Singapore, which are welcoming nature back into urban spaces, offer much inspiration here. Research demonstrates that more green space, natural features and natural design lead to a deeper sense of connection to nature and all of the associated benefits. These benefits include the reverse of all of the ills experienced from disconnection: improved mental and physical health, more cohesive and peaceful communities and a more sustainable society.
In rural areas this could include increasing nature-friendly farming practices, and rewilding areas of land where it’s appropriate and has the support of local communities. If there is more wildlife and wildness around, then our experiences in nature will be richer and more meaningful. Just picture the difference between walking through an industrially-farmed green desert compared with a wildlife-rich landscape with sightings of eagles and beavers.
Our five principles of rewilding brings together the importance of people, scale and long-term thinking to the success of rewilding.
- Engage people and communities to ensure maximum benefits for the many
- Let nature lead and minimise interventions
- Look to create opportunities for resilient new nature-based economies
- Work at nature’s scale to rewild whole systems and not just fragments, ensuring nature is connected (so that species can move and adapt) and enabling peak potential for carbon sequestration.
- Ensure that your rewilding project is for the long-term, for the benefit of future generations.
Together with the long term city wide ambitions for bigger, better, more joined up nature there is much that can be done quickly to give areas of the city a wilder or more natural feel and start to bring nature to everyone’s doorstep and provide homes for wildlife.
Rewilding is comprehensive, often large-scale, conservation effort focused on restoring sustainable biodiversity and ecosystem health by protecting core wild/wilderness areas, providing connectivity between such areas, and protecting or reintroducing apex predators and highly interactive species (keystone species).
At a capacity building level, we will establish a mechanism for people in most need to benefit from the enjoyment of the natural world by becoming involved with their green spaces, Nature on your Doorstep.
We will support the development the City of Nature (CoN) Operations Group and the CoN Alliance to work with communities to deliver this work by:
- Focusing on three wards identified by our Environmental Justice map as high priority – Bordesley and Highgate (B&HI), Balsall Heath West and Nechells.
- Activating those wards using the Birmingham Fair Standard method.
- Providing support to BCC Park Rangers to provide a digital “Parks at Home Service” (“Explore Parks”?) offering a range of online information and opportunities to involve new audiences in green spaces.
- Promoting how nature can deliver health based solutions and providing opportunities to benefit from these (This work will join up with our developing Health and Wellbeing Strategy).
- Trialling a Community Impact Assessment app in all three wards, to monitor and report on this work.