Local Nature Recovery Strategies are a new, England-wide system of spatial strategies that will establish priorities and map proposals for specific actions to drive nature’s recovery and provide wider environmental benefits. The requirement for there to be Local Nature Recovery Strategies, what they are and how they should generally work will be established by the Environment Bill once it completes its current passage through Parliament.
Now the Environment Bill to be passed, we are waiting for secondary legislation and guidance from DEFRA on the process and content before starting work on the Oxfordshire Nature Recovery Strategy. However, there have been five pilot NRS to test the process which we have monitored. The pilots were in Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Greater Manchester and Northumberland and you can view what was produced through the Buckinghamshire pilot here.
We are working on the assumption that this will cover nature and the multiple environmental benefits that it can generate (i.e., natural capital and ecosystem services). The steps involved are very likely to be similar to those illustrated in the diagram below:
A very important aspect of the NRS is the strong focus on stakeholder engagement – going beyond ‘the usual suspects’ that have been engaged in conservation plans and strategies in the past. The process will be as important as the output; ensuring meaningful engagement from a breadth of stakeholders will be essential in ensuring the NRS delivers nature’s recovery on the ground.
This diagram illustrates the breadth of stakeholders who will need to be involved:
Meaningful stakeholder engagement takes time, particularly with groups with which we do have existing strong relationships. Wild Oxfordshire have identified that Farmers & Landowners and Businesses are two stakeholder groups who the environmental sector in Oxfordshire need to engage with more proactively. We have therefore started the Nature Recovery Ambassadors project to establish relationships with influential people in the farming, landowner and business sectors so they are primed to engage with the Nature Recovery Strategy.
The NRS will need to based on sound science and a strong local evidence base. The NRS will be action-focussed, and will need to identify areas where activities can be undertaken to support the ambition of the nature recovery strategy. Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) will lead on this area of work, helping to compile all baseline data, any modelling (e.g., natural capital or climate change), and opportunity maps.
We already have some excellent baseline evidence data. Although these will need reviewing in light of the DEFRA guidance, and adding to, they put Oxfordshire in a great position to start work on the NRS once the Environment Bill is passed. The baseline evidence base we have includes:
Oxfordshire State of Nature – This report is a comprehensive review of Oxfordshire’s Wildlife and provides vital baseline data. Over 60 species experts and over 40 environmental organisations contributed data sets and volunteer hours into the report, which highlights the natural jewels in Oxfordshire’s crown and considers what is currently being done, and what could be done better in future.
The report was led by Wild Oxfordshire, supported by RSPB, BBOWT, Oxfordshire County Council, CPRE, Environment Agency, Natural England, Oxfordshire County Council and Banbury Ornithological Society.
Oxfordshire (draft) Nature Recovery Network – This is map which shows where we need to focus our efforts, and some high-level policies which would help achieve nature’s recovery. It will form the spatial element of the Nature Recovery Strategy (‘local habitat map’ in Defra terminology). This was formally submitted to the OP2050 consultation in August 2019 to ensure that nature is taken into account in development plans in Oxfordshire. This work was delivered by TVERC, Wild Oxfordshire and the Berks Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust.
In addition to the State of Nature and draft Nature Recovery Network, Healthy ecosystems restoration in Oxfordshire (HERO) is working on collating background information which will help create and inform the Strategy. HERO is led by the University of Oxford, with guidance from Wild Oxfordshire, BBOWT and TOE.
The three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Oxfordshire (Cotswolds, Chilterns and North Wessex Downs) will all have Nature Recovery Plans, as do the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust and Catchment Partnerships which will need to be considered and engaged with (although they will be based on the same data which the draft Oxfordshire NRN was based on).
There is also work taking place across the Oxford to Cambridge Arc including Environment Principles which Oxfordshire Local Authorities have endorsed. The Ox-Cam Arc partnership will need to be engaged with to ensure cross-boundary alignment.
Funding for Delivery
Essential to meeting the ambitions of the NRS will be funding to ensure delivery of nature’s recovery on the ground.
Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment are leading the Natural Capital Investment Plan project to attract investment into strategic facility that will increase the natural capital of Oxfordshire through nature restoration projects. Initial work in 2021-2022 will involve the scoping and development of a Natural Capital Investment Plan to support the LNRS. This will include developing: a database to hold key information on investible projects, including environmental outcomes, costs and income potential; governance mechanisms to assess projects with a view to identifying priorities for investment; ‘Mentoring’ and other forms of support to stimulate and nurture the development of strong projects, alongside the partnerships that will deliver them; Forums to bring investors and investible projects together
The Environment Bill is likely to mandate that the responsibility for producing the NRS will fall to Oxfordshire County Council. OxonCC might ask the Local Nature Partnership to oversee the process.