Working with nature
Nature based solutions (NBS) describe natural responses to challenges including development, climate change, food and water security or emergency risk management (such as flooding).
NBS come in many shapes and sizes, from protecting or restoring existing ecosystems to innovative approaches to new projects that protect or enhance the natural environment. These can range from the restoration of hedgerows, rivers and peatland to introducing beavers and planting seagrass meadows.
As we emerge from the effects of Covid 19, we have the opportunity to embed a zero carbon, nature-based solution approach within economic recovery decision-making. This will not only increase our resilience to future economic or environmental shock, but will also provide productive opportunities, space for innovation and new jobs and skills. It is vital that we do not revert to business as usual, but “build back better”.
We should be working with nature and not against it
The principles of nature-based solutions
The key principle is that we should work with nature and not against it.
For example, a revitalised wetland area may create a valuable carbon store and flood defence, while a new city park or green roof can contribute to urban cooling and benefit mental and physical health. Of course, sometimes ‘hard’ solutions are unavoidable, but NBS often cost less, are more effective and provide wildlife-rich places for people to enjoy.
It is important that a NBS approach supports biodiversity. For example whilst tree planting schemes can have positive effects on, amongst others, carbon sequestration and recreational space, they can also have a negative effect and cause local extinctions. NBS should be embraced by local people and provide clear social, economic and cultural benefits rather than being imposed on a community ‘for its own good’.
The following statements describe the principles which we would like to see as part of an integrated approach to recovery.
A sustainable land use, spatial approach, embedding Nature Recovery Networks, creating resilient landscapes and ensuring the restoration of a healthy natural environment.
Health & wellbeing
Developing cohesive, productive communities, residents and workforces supported by quality, accessible, well managed greenspace, actively reconnecting all age groups with nature.
Ensuring a zero carbon, nature based solutions approach delivering resilient businesses, jobs and sustainable environmental and economic outcomes.
Build Back Better
Ensuring opportunities for technology, innovation and creativity in driving a sustainable approach; the opportunity to ‘build back better’.
Recognising the leading role the South East can play in the ‘knowledge economy’ around delivering zero carbon and nature based solutions.
We already apply the NBS approach to our work
Case studies from Surrey
As the Wildlife Trust for Surrey we are uniquely placed to help deliver more NBS across the county, applying a biodiversity net gain approach through our own work and by helping local companies and organisations use NBS to offset the impact of their activities.
Examples of NBS in action that the Trust has been involved with across Surrey:
Priest Hill, Ewell
Surrey Wildlife Trust worked closely with housing developers and the local planning authority to turn abandoned playing fields and other previously developed land into a new 34-hectare nature reserve alongside a 1.7-hectare development of 15 residential homes. The site had been largely abandoned, which led to problems such as fly-tipping and arson. Although nature was steadily reclaiming the area, its true potential was being missed.
Surrey Wildlife Trust has restored and created species-rich calcareous grassland, hedgerows and five field ponds. 1,500 tons of tarmac and rubble were removed, and the newly exposed bare ground and chalk now provides significant habitat for invertebrates and wildflowers, which in turn support many bird species. Permanent fencing has also enabled us to introduce conservation grazing.
Priest Hill now represents an important stepping-stone between our nearby Howell Hill nature reserve and Epsom Downs to the south. Targeted management has benefited priority species such as small blue, white-letter hairstreak and brown hairstreak butterflies, common lizard, skylark and linnet. What’s more, the human residents of Priest Hill and the surrounding area are enjoying the new natural asset on their doorstep.
Coast to Capital
Coast-to-Capital is the first local enterprise partnership in the UK to invest local growth funding in ‘natural capital’. The growth fund is enabling SWT to deliver a nature recovery network between Redhill and Godstone by creating and managing green corridors of woodlands, wetlands, community orchards and hedgerows in the Holmesdale area.
This will enable wildlife to thrive and provide recreational space for people to enjoy. This part of Surrey has already been designated a Biodiversity Opportunity Area (BOA), which means it is a priority area for restoration and creation of wildlife habitats.
Development should leave biodiversity in a better state than before
Biodiversity net gain
Biodiversity net gain is an approach to development that leaves biodiversity in a better state than before. It encourages developers to provide an increase in appropriate natural habitat and ecological features in a defined area of land over and above any habitat and features that are affected by development activity.
Nature-based solutions need to be both effective and sustainableSurrey Wildlife Trust