Developing a Devon Local Nature Recovery Strategy to deliver a national Nature Recovery Network (NRN)

National Nature Recovery Network

Devon is rich in wildlife and natural capital, which provides hundreds of millions of pounds to the tourist economy, carbon storage, natural flood management and health and wellbeing benefits. However, these resources are severely depleted. Instead of acting as a carbon store, over 80% of the UK’s peatland is damaged, leading to losses of 23m tonnes CO2 per year, 15% of UK species are at risk of extinction and only one third of Devon’s protected sites are in favourable condition.

As a key part of its commitment to address the decline in nature and achieve net zero, the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan included a commitment to develop a Nature Recovery Network (NRN) across the country  The national NRN Partnership was launched by Natural England on 5th November.

Natural England defines the NRN as:

                ‘a national network of wildlife-rich places’

 

‘The Network will be an expanded, improved and better-connected set of nature-rich places that also support our net zero ambition and deliver wide benefits for people. It is a recognition that in order to recover nature, we need to improve our existing network of protected sites and other wildlife-rich habitats, providing a greater area of better connected, higher-quality habitat and that we need to do this is a planned way to ensure that investment can be targeted strategically.’

Local Nature Recovery Strategies

The forthcoming Environment Act is likely to require high tier Local Authorities to produce Local Nature Recovery Strategies, which will set out the priorities and actions required to achieve the NRN at local level. Defra has provided funding to pilot five LNRS, including one in Cornwall.

Devon LNP partners will be working closely with Cornwall Council / LNP on their LNRS pilot to ensure both cross boundary working and learning.

In Devon we want to:

  • Double the area of high quality habitat in the county, so that 30% of Devon is wildlife rich.
  • Ensure that we maximise the potential for sequestering carbon across our landscape and coastal waters and minimise carbon emissions from land.
  • Achieve a step change in water quality and reduced flood risk across all river catchments by targeted wildlife habitat enhancements in key zones.
  • Ensure that everyone has access to good quality wildlife habitat.

Stage 1 of the Devon LNRS:  Developing a Devon Nature Recovery Network Map (Local Habitats Map)

Due to the Climate and Ecological Emergencies we urgently need to identify land for carbon sequestration, net gain and flood management as well as identify priorities for wildlife across the county. The majority of counties in England are already developing NRN maps and toolkits, and some are completed. In Devon, this mapping is being taken forward under the umbrella of the LNP. Work is led by a small Steering Group of LNP partners with a broader stakeholder group who will be consulted when a proposed methodology is in place (an initial meeting of the stakeholder group took place in Sep 2019).

NRN Mapping Steering Group:  DCC (Chair), DWT (Project Management), DBRC (Technical lead), NE, EA, Local Authority reps,  AONB rep, National Park rep, Woodland Trust, North Devon Biosphere Partnership.

The map will form the basis of the Devon LNRS and is an action within the draft Devon Carbon Plan.

The map will build on existing wildlife mapping and data e.g.

Purpose?

Providing the basis of the Devon LNRS

Informing Local Plans / Neighbourhood Plans

Targeting funding e.g. net gain, carbon offsetting, ELM (environmental land management grants)

Targeting conservation effort

Avoiding impacts on sensitive habitats e.g. through development, tree planting, agriculture and other land uses

What will the Devon NRN map include?

The Devon Nature Recovery Network Map is likely to be composed of the following (details are being discussed by the Steering Group):

  • Core Nature Areas = existing areas of wildlife rich habitat or supporting habitat.  These include statutory and non-statutory designated sites (SACs, SPAs, SSSIs, CWS), Priority habitats (species rich grasslands, woodlands, heath, ponds, hedges) and habitats critical to supporting species associated with designated sites and protected / key species e.g. high tide roosts along the estuaries, sustenance zones around significant bat roosts and great crested newt habitat.  Gaps in our knowledge of Priority habitats will be identified and work done to fill these gaps as budget allows.

 

  • Nature Areas = existing habitats which have wildlife value (or potential value) but don’t meet Core Nature Area criteria.   These may include parks, churchyards, allotments, plantation woodlands and areas of farmland such as rough/tussocky grasslands (important for bird and bat foraging).  We may not be able to map all of these areas at the county scale.

 

  • Priority areas for habitat creation. DBRC and DWT are working closely with the EA to develop a methodology for Habitat Suitability Mapping using soils information and other data.  This will identify areas suitable for creating specific habitats such as heathland, culm grasslands, calcareous grassland and woodlands.  This information will be valuable in targeting funding such as net gain, carbon offsetting and Environmental Land Management.  It will also be used to identify areas where woodland creation should be avoided e.g. priority areas for heathland creation.

 

  • Nature Recovery Areas.  Large areas of countryside with considerable coverage of Core and other Nature Areas where landscape-scale restoration will contribute significantly to nature recovery in Devon.

 

  • Wildlife everywhere!  We need to inspire everyone to take action for wildlife everywhere – not just in the mapped Nature Areas.  This needs to be made clear through the mapping process and associated guidance.

 

A key principle behind the map is that it should not be too prescriptive – we need to allow for natural processes / dynamism within landscapes whilst also managing important wildlife habitats such as ancient hedges, heathland and species rich meadows.

What will the Devon NRN map provide? 

  • An online accessible NRN Map that shows priorities for protecting and restoring our natural capital to get the best gains for wildlife, people and the climate.   This will be used to help target funding from sources such as net gain, carbon offsetting, flood mitigation and the new Environmental Land Management scheme.  The plan can also be embedded into new Local Plans helping to identify areas that need to be protected and created for multiple benefits.

 

  • An NRN user guide.  This has yet to be discussed but will set out how authorities, organisations, landowners and communities can help deliver the NRN.

 

  • A ‘live’ monitoring tool.  Again this has yet to be discussed but should ideally be developed so that we can demonstrate how well we are all doing in achieving the Devon NRN.  We need to be able to measure the success of different schemes e.g. net gain / carbon offsetting / ELM.

 

Access to the map and ongoing management

 

There will be ongoing costs to DBRC of data licences and maintaining and updating the datasets.  To ensure that these ongoing costs can be met the current proposal is to create a free but simplified public-facing version and a costed professional version of the Map, both accessible in interactive online format.

 

  • The public version will provide sufficient information for communities and individuals to plan nature recovery activities but will remove some ecologically and commercially sensitive data.

 

  • The professional version will provide all available data and will have downloadable elements. It will be protected by a paywall that fulfils data licensing requirements and protects businesses reliant on data income. It is anticipated that professionals accessing this version will do so in a number of ways e.g. Local Authorities via the existing SLAs with DBRC and developers via commercial fees.

 

 

For further information on the NRN mapping work contact:

Ed Parr Ferris (PM)

Sarah Jennings (St Grp Chair)

For a discussion about a future Devon LNRS contact Sarah.