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In August 2020, Defra launched 5 Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS) pilots to test the preparation process, produce prototype strategies and look at how LNRSs can align with other environmental strategies at a local level.
The 5 pilots were coordinated by Natural England and hosted by Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Buckinghamshire Council, Cornwall Council, Northumberland County Council and Cumbria County Council.
The pilots concluded in May 2021. This report summarises the key lessons and findings, focusing on the preparation of LNRSs, resources and capacity, data and evidence, collaboration and use of the LNRSs in practice.
A key reason for piloting LNRSs was to inform the creation of regulations and guidance. These will play an important role in helping to implement the strategies consistently across England. Defra hopes to launch a public consultation soon to enable stakeholders in other areas to contribute their views and expertise to shape how these strategies should be rolled out nationwide.
The purpose of the report
The primary purpose of this report is to share the key lessons and findings from the 5 Local Nature Recovery Strategy pilots. The pilots ran from August 2020 until May 2021.
This report is a summary of the main lessons learned, organised around 5 themes. The pilots have provided a wealth of more detailed insights that will help inform future LNRS policy, including the development of regulations and statutory guidance, on which we hope to consult on soon.
It is important to note:
- the outputs of the LNRS pilots are prototypes and the process which the pilots followed may change in line with potential changes to the Environment Bill
- the pilots were run during the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted their ability to fully interact with stakeholders (most interaction was online) due to governmental restrictions
- the pilots were also constrained by the speed at which they needed to progress and capacity constraints - we expect more time to be available to develop the strategies once national rollout begins
Background to Local Nature Recovery Strategies
LNRSs are a new system of spatial strategies for nature, contained in the government’s flagship Environment Bill. The strategies have been designed to work closely alongside other measures in the Bill. They will, for example, support delivery of mandatory biodiversity net gain and provide a focus for a strengthened duty on all public authorities to conserve and enhance biodiversity. They will also underpin the Nature Recovery Network, alongside work to develop partnerships and to integrate nature into our incentives and land management activities.
They are designed as tools to drive more coordinated, practical and focussed action to help nature. Each strategy will, for the area that it covers:
- map the most valuable existing habitat for nature
- map specific proposals for creating or improving habitat for nature and wider environmental goals
- agree priorities for nature’s recovery
The production of each LNRS will be evidence based, locally led and collaborative, to help create a network of shared plans that public, private and voluntary sectors can all help to deliver. This will provide a locally-owned foundation to the developing Nature Recovery Network, identifying the places which, once action has been taken on the ground, will enable the network to grow over time. This is turn will help achieve wider environmental objectives, like carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change or managing flood risk, and contribute to green economic recovery objectives.
The government anticipates each strategy will cover an area roughly county sized and they will cover the entirety of England with no gaps or overlaps. The Defra Secretary of State will appoint a “responsible authority” to lead production of each strategy from the list of potential public bodies set out in the Bill. They are public bodies that, by and large, have a strong knowledge of the local area and democratic mandates, ensuring necessary legitimacy and local ownership.
The core purpose of LNRSs is to help reverse an ongoing decline of nature and biodiversity in England. To do this, a key feature of the strategies is that they will identify areas that are already of importance for nature, along with areas that could become of particular importance and where the recovery or enhancement of biodiversity could make a particular contribution to other environmental benefits. In other words, LNRSs will identify where we should take action for nature’s recovery as well as where nature-based solutions can help address wider environmental problems.
Key examples of environmental issues where LNRSs and nature-based solutions could play a role are:
- climate change mitigation through tree planting and peat restoration
- natural flood management
- improved water quality
The piloting process
Defra set up the 5 LNRS pilots in August 2020 and these ran until May 2021. Defra proposed the pilot areas from a long list of areas already active in spatial planning for nature so that the pilots were in good position to progress quickly and lessons could be learnt in a timely way.
The individual locations were proposed:
- to give a good geographic spread
- to reflect varying local circumstances
- because they presented a good opportunity to test how LNRSs could support the delivery of key policy priorities such as tree planting, peat restoration and natural flood management
One of the main objectives of the pilots was to test a new process for preparing LNRSs based around the requirements set out in the Environment Bill.
Local authorities in the areas the pilots covered were established as the “acting responsible authority” to lead locally. Other organisations were also involved in the pilots, including Natural England, who played a key role in helping Defra to set up and oversee delivery. Both the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission have also contributed nationally and locally to the delivery and review of the pilots. Environmental experts, like Local Nature Partnerships and environmental NGOs, also made important contributions throughout the process.
Finally, the process was supported by local conveners in each of the pilot areas, who were appointed by Defra to help develop an understanding of how the LNRSs could be used to support future schemes that reward environmental benefits (primarily Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery schemes).
The collaborative element to LNRSs was well tested by the pilots, as demonstrated in the ‘collaboration’ section of the lessons.
The pilots had 3 main objectives:
- Test a new process for preparing a LNRS based on the requirements set out in the Bill and to share experience to help develop future policy.
- Create prototype LNRSs to demonstrate what an LNRS could look like, to support national rollout.
- Consider how LNRSs will fit with existing spatial planning tools, such as National Park management plans, local plans, river basin management plans, and increasingly bring priorities together into a single strategy over time.
Overall, the pilots produced excellent prototypes of the strategies. These contained the 2 key LNRS elements, as laid out in the Bill:
- a statement of biodiversity priorities
- a local habitat map
The pilot leads worked collaboratively with existing local partnerships and stakeholders to agree the top priorities for nature recovery in their area (statement of biodiversity priorities) and to map where action might be taken to delivery those priorities (local habitat map). Each pilot area took their own unique approach to produce the prototypes. This has provided a suite of valuable lessons from each that will help inform the preparation of strategies across the county following national rollout.
Individual pilot prototypes are being shared online by the local authority leads.
The pilots followed a 6-step process:
- step 0: Defra group provides a map of each LNRS area, including habitats and national conservation sites
- step 1: locally held data is added to the map, including locally identified wildlife sites
- step 2: description of the LNRS area, including its key habitats and potential opportunities to create or improve them, based on ecological sub-areas
- step 3: identification of outcomes, achieved through creation or improvement of habitat, and categorisation of those outcomes into priority and other
- step 4: potential measures for creating or improving habitat to achieve the priority and other outcomes (a statement of biodiversity priorities is produced)
- step 5: mapping of suitable locations for the delivery of the potential measures onto map of existing habitat (established in Steps 0 and 1) ( a national habitat map is produced)
The lessons learned can be grouped into 5 themes.
Preparation of Local Nature Recovery Strategies
The pilots showed how responsible authorities can best set up for the LNRS process:
- strong leadership and transparency from the responsible authority was crucial in getting others involved from the outset
- establishing good governance quickly was important - all of the pilots had a ‘pilot area team’ which included Defra group arm’s-length bodies, environmental non-governmental organisations, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, other local planning authorities and Local Nature Partnership representatives.
- tapping into existing networks was crucial given the time constraints, but LNRSs require a wide range of inputs and no single existing group can provide this
Resources and capacity
LNRSs need to be adequately resourced with appropriate expertise and capacity to have the required impact:
- LNRSs require contributions from different parts of an organisation at different stages - for instance, Natural England and the Environment Agency required input from several different specialist officers
- existing capacity within the responsible authority is important to completing the process quickly and effectively - the pilot areas had existing capacity, but we recognise that this is not likely to be the case everywhere. The skills required included project management, stakeholder engagement as well as technical skills
- responsible authorities have to draw on partners to give them the capacity and expertise they need - they will not have everything they need ‘in-house’ so will need to draw on others, for instance by bringing in ecology, data analysis and geographic information system expertise
- resource needs will be different between responsible authorities depending on local circumstances like geography or administrative set up
Data and evidence
Good and accessible data is essential to the preparation of LNRSs. There were a number of important lessons here, including:
- national-level habitats information provided to the pilots by Defra and Natural England was too voluminous and hard to use locally - Defra will further consider how best to support responsible authorities with the information it provides to them, including via a national habitat map (a requirement in the Environment Bill)
- there is a need for guidance on what data responsible authorities should ideally be seeking to use to prevent LNRS partnerships spending too long gathering data
- assessing habitat quality was difficult due to a lack of recent data - similarly, trend data for some species and habitat types were hard to ascertain
- presentation of data needs to be accessible enough to empower non-specialists to make informed suggestions about what their priorities are
- data licensing is a significant issue but it is possible to include datasets whilst protecting their commercial value
The pilots took different approaches to collaboration. The main lessons include:
- early engagement of a wide range of people and organisations is crucial to secure genuine engagement - effective collaboration takes time, so it is one of the first things to think about in preparing an LNRS
- there cannot be ‘one-size-fits-all’ engagement - different stakeholders need to be engaged differently. In particular, land managers’ role as stakeholders and key delivery partners must be recognised
- local conveners performed a valuable role in bringing land managers into the LNRS process - aligning LNRSs with future schemes that reward environmental land management would likely require a local convener function
- professional facilitation expertise was brought in in several pilots to support stakeholder engagement workshops and was valuable
- use of stakeholder inputs needs to be transparent so individuals can see their priorities and views reflected
- establishing a common understanding of the purpose of LNRSs and the process with all stakeholder groups is essential to gathering constructive inputs.
Using the products
The end users of the strategies were an important consideration throughout the process:
- the prototypes will appeal to a range of potential end users (including local authorities, Defra group, public bodies, landowners, Local Nature Partnerships, environmental organisations and developers) as they cover a broad set of potential environmental benefits as well as more specific habitats and species requirements
- LNRS products should look to achieve consistency across boundaries to make it easier to use more than one at a time
- certain end users require specific guidance on how to use the LNRS products for their means, such as planners or land managers
- a delivery plan is wanted by stakeholders to set out how to implement the potential measures identified in the LNRS - some pilots are investigating what a delivery plan might entail
Next steps for the implementation of Local Nature Recovery Strategies
Defra group will continue to work on refining the LNRS process and developing regulations and statutory guidance based on the lessons learned from the pilots. We also intend to consult publicly on this shortly.
Defra group will continue to prepare for rollout of LNRSs swiftly following royal assent of the Environment Bill. We intend to begin conversations with prospective responsible authorities later in the year in preparation for national rollout.
Local areas can start building the partnerships and networks needed to prepare for LNRSs, including broadening out existing environmental partnerships, such as Local Nature Partnerships, to include a wider range of stakeholders.
Local areas can start to give thought to the local capacity, resources and expertise that are likely be required in their area, as well as considering what data is held locally.