My talk is about the challenges that the natural environment faces in the future. I shall focus on biodiversity. The theme of the day is how evidence is captured and communicated by scientists, how policy makers use and/or interpret that evidence, and how their policies play out on the ground. So I shall try to pick up on the key evidence in relation to the natural environment, the challenges faced, such as climate change, and the policy approach and actions needed to address this. In doing this I shall make specific reference to the sea, the coast and the uplands. I’ll also give an example of how NE is bringing scientists, policy makers and practitioners together to paint a picture of the future within the Dorset Downs & Cranborne Chase Character Area. I’ll ask the question ‘is our planning system fit for the future’, stress the importance of making decisions based on an understanding of the true value of our natural resources, and raise the spectre of ‘nature deficit disorder’, which could be a major barrier to sound decision making in the future.
The South West has the largest area of semi-natural habitat of any English region (10% of the region has been designated as nationally or internationally important for wildlife). We have 60% of the UK’s calcareous grassland, 57% of the UK’s lowland meadows, and 37% of the UK’s saline lagoons - the Fleet in Dorset is England’s largest brackish lagoon. These sites are unique and irreplaceable. As a ‘breathing space’ they are vital to our mental health. The value of the SW coast path to the regional economy is £307 million per year generated through the associated spend of those who walk the path. There are many, many goods & services that we depend upon from these habitats. For example, a third of all food production is dependent on pollinators. What state are they in? Well, the bad news is that, since WWII we have destroyed 97% of our flower-rich meadows. Since the 1970s, the regional farmland bird index has shown a 40% decline. We will not meet our 2010 target to reverse the trend in biodiversity loss. However, there is some good news. Currently 85% of the region’s SSSIs are in ‘favourable’ condition, an increase from 68% in 2003. This shows how a challenging target, innovation, partnership & sufficient funding can yield results. However, we need better evidence on the condition of habitats outside designated sites.
What are the challenges? Climate change Climate change is accelerating as a consequence of human activities. After the record melt of sea ice in the summer of 2007, the Arctic ocean is predicted to be ice-free by 2015, eighty years ahead of previous predictions (Public Interest Research Centre, 2008). In the South West, the annual average maximum temperature has increased by 1.5°C in 45 years. By comparison, it took 20,000 years for the earth to warm by 5°C from the last ice age. In the last 40 years, there has also been a 30% increase in autumn rainfall and a 10% decrease in summer rainfall in the region. Since 1946, extreme high water level has increased by 125mm. Data from ‘A climate change action plan for the SW – technical appendix (July 2008)’. Of equal importance, we need to know how society will respond to global climate change. Will there be a migration of people out of the SE, where the pressure on water resources, and the risk of flooding is greatest?
Food production – intensive versus ‘low carbon’ Energy production – there is no doubt we have an energy crisis but we must take a strategic, measured and sustainable approach to proposed renewable energy schemes. There is little point having such schemes if they offer short or medium term gain for irreversible damage to our natural environment. It is possible to sensitively site many renewable energy schemes by adopting a strategic and sustainably led approach, particularly the smaller scale schemes. However, larger schemes are much more difficult to site and in the case of a possible Severn Barrage a very convincing strategic case needs to be made together with measures to address its status as an internationally important site to warrant any serious consideration of its implementation. Recession (short term), knee-jerk responses and diversion of resources away from long term solutions.
How do we work out the vulnerability of ecosystems to climate change? Environmental vulnerability consists of three main components: - sensitivity of the feature/asset - exposure to bioclimatic change - adaptive capacity of the system
Our spatial ecologist Dr Roger Catchpole has given an indication of overall adaptive capacity. For the detailed method I can give you his contact details! The least adaptable areas (in red) cover approximately 6% of England and are the more intensively managed, low-lying areas of eastern England . The most adaptable areas (in green) covers approximately 11% of England and include the more extensive, northern upland areas as well as the SW. Next steps will be to consider the sensitivity of “valued assets” aka wildlife. Also need to determine the degree of exposure to climate change (UKCIP09). This will give the final vulnerability assessment and is work we are proceeding with over the next two years.
In the south west we are a bit ahead of the national game! The SW Nature Map shows the areas where conservation effort is most likely to yield a robust landscape. Basically, larger , topographically varied landscapes with a greater number of soil types and land cover diversity will have a greater adaptive capacity to climate change. Whilst the evidence supporting Nature Map was carefully gathered and involved a methodology developed by the SW Wildlife Trusts and ‘ground truthed’ by over a hundred experts across the region we know it is not perfect. It is however a pragmatic and well informed framework. We do not have the time to develop a perfect analysis as the challenges, such as climate change, are upon us now...and we need to act now. Projects are already underway by a variety of organisations – for example the SW Wildlife Trusts ‘Living Landscapes’ projects across the region.
Fish & shellfish landed in the region’s ports were worth £53 million in 2005. That wealth is eroding rapidly – 80% of world fish stocks are either fully or over exploited (UN FAO 2007). A solution? Highly Protected Marine Reserves. We now have the policy to establish them (Marine Bill). At Lundy, we have demonstrated their economic benefit. A ‘no-take zone’ established in 2003 had seven times more lobsters within it than outside it by 2006. They have another vital role. We know more about the moon than the sea! What do ‘natural’ marine ecosystems look like? Monitoring within Highly Protected Marine Reserves will provide the answer. Could offshore wind farms be sited within Highly Protected Marine Reserves, a win-win solution? Are marine engineers working with marine ecologists on this?
Coastal flooding costs taxpayers £0.5 billion per year and could rise to £13.5 billion without adaptive measures. We want to work jointly with landowners, EA & Local Planning Authorities to produce Shoreline Management Plans which use natural processes as a response to sea-level rise, and create 100 ha of new habitat by 2010 & 1000ha by 2015, by managed realignment. At Porlock Bay, the natural breach of an artificially maintained shingle ridge in 1996 is now creating new saltmarsh with benefits to biodiversity, fisheries, nutrient recycling, and carbon storage. Monitoring of the ridge will advance our understanding of coastal processes as climate changes.
The uplands At present, the Earth’s carbon sinks effectively provide us with a 50% discount on our greenhouse gas output, by absorbing almost half of all manmade emissions. The peatlands of our region are hugely important. Dartmoor peat store is equivalent to 7 years of greenhouse gas emissions for Devon! 70% of our drinking water comes from the uplands. But summer drought poses a great threat, desiccating peat and lowering stream flows. Intense winter rain storms will wash bare peat into watercourses. The Exmoor Mire Project has restored 200ha of peatland since 1996. Very exciting collaborative project to extend Exmoor project to Dartmoor - £5million bid to Ofwat by SWW. More evidence on the health of the peat needs to be gathered by this project, to focus restoration actions.
Preparing for the future NE is trying to create a culture where thinking about the future is ‘normal practice’. Good data and scientific rigour are vital ingredients, but whilst science can reduce uncertainties, it cannot eliminate them. Therefore it is important for us to embrace uncertainty, use our imagination, expose and challenge assumptions, and bring minds together from different sectors. NE’s policy on landscapes is that they “all matter”. We are funding a Future Landscapes project; To understand how and why the landscapes of the SW have changed, and will change in the future; To identify how current and future policy and actions at the local and regional level can be used to ensure that future landscape change is for the benefit of landscape character, quality and local distinctiveness; To engage the general public and decision makers in understanding the causes and effects of landscape change and the role they can play in delivering the landscapes they want - ensuring that landscape management and planning is a responsibility shared by all in the SW; To work towards matching the delivery of necessary landscape services with the maintenance and creation of desired landscapes. One of the exciting outputs we’re working on are stories of landscape change through maps, aerial photos and artists impressions, which will engage people in conversations about landscape change.
In four areas of England, we have initiated a debate about the impacts of climate change on the natural world. In the south-west, we have looked at the impact of summer drought on the Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase. If we fail to ameliorate greenhouse gas emissions, by 2080, we can expect the climate of this area to resemble that of present day Portugal. Portugal has arid chalk landscapes and some parts of the country (which has a population 20% that of England) experience water shortages every other year. At the outset of this project in autumn 2007, national specialists used the climate data published by UKCIP (UK Climate Impacts Partnership) in 2002 to set out how they expected chalk habitats to respond. This information was critically reviewed in a workshop with partners in Feb 2008. A second workshop in Sep 2008 set out adaptation responses that would deliver resilience. For example, the re-establishment of chalk grassland and/or woodland on ploughed slopes experiencing erosion now, would reduce pollution and siltation of chalk streams and rivers. A third raft of workshops taking place now is attempting to visualise the resilient landscape for specific parts of the area. It has been fun! In the Frome floodplain we have water buffalo grazing and rice being grown! Early indications suggest that being forced to think about changes on specific areas of land yields a richer debate, challenging assumptions. We hope to use the visualisations to stimulate debate across the land management and planning sector.
Decisions about land use are based on what society is interested in, wants and expects from land. An ICM survey shows that half of children aged 7-12 years are not allowed to climb a tree without adult supervision. The erosion of our contact with the outdoors may prove an obstacle in attempts to coordinate collective responses to macro-level problems (e.g. climate change).
Our planning system has evolved to deliver growth and economic development. Environmental limits are at best poorly defined. The global annual cost of forest loss is between $2 trillion and $5 trillion (adding the value of services forests perform - providing clean water and absorbing CO2) [The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, Pavan Sukhdev, German Federal Ministry for the Environment and European Commission, May 08]. Do we understand the true value of a healthy natural environment? Here is a thought. If planning applications were required to set out a balance sheet of good and services, it would create a market for this information, which is presently hidden from society.
Biodiversity is hugely important to our welfare. Giving it more space must become as high a priority as delivering the housing figures set out in the Regional Spatial Strategy. Climate change and the manner in which humans respond to it, either through a push for more food or energy, is a new threat. We are starting to assess the vulnerability of habitats on a national scale but we know that the sea, the coast and our uplands are most at risk, and that looking after them will secure benefits for society; clean water, high protein food, climate regulation. But perhaps our planning system needs to change to properly account for, and therefore protect, benefits that are hidden from us. The new challenges to the environment require us to think and act very differently now ; to make decisions which allow for uncertainty, to work pro-actively across disciplines, and with good data. The emerging generation spend much less time in the outdoors than we did at the same age, and there experience is more constrained. Simple, effective solutions are needed to address this. Thank you!
South West Observatory Annual Conference Weathering Storms: Regional Resilience and Future Proofing Janette Ward Regional Director
Overview <ul><li>Challenges facing our natural environment </li></ul><ul><li>The sea </li></ul><ul><li>The coast </li></ul><ul><li>The uplands </li></ul><ul><li>Thinking about the future – an example from Dorset/Wiltshire </li></ul><ul><li>Nature deficit </li></ul><ul><li>Planning for the future </li></ul>
Summary <ul><li>Biodiversity is hugely important to our welfare </li></ul><ul><li>The challenge of a changing climate...food and energy security </li></ul><ul><li>Look after the sea, coast & uplands </li></ul><ul><li>Embrace uncertainty, work pro-actively, and with good data </li></ul><ul><li>Thanks </li></ul>