Cities Team Researcher
The Kent Biodiversity Strategy 2020-2040 is a plan that aims to protect and recover threatened species through habitat maintenance, restoration and creation. The strategy specifically addresses the need to ‘climate proof’ nature, and how nature in a good condition can act as a carbon store. The strategy also sets ambitions to help local communities access the health and wellbeing benefits created by nature.
The strategy was written by the Kent Nature Partnership, a collection of organisations working to safeguard Kent’s biodiversity. Kent County Council hosts and manages the Partnership. The strategy was published and adopted by the county council in 2020; it sits alongside the council’s 2021 Plan Bee pollinator action plan and the council’s commitment to plant 1.5 million trees – one for every Kent resident.
The Kent landscape is hugely varied and supports 20,000 species (nearly 30% of the UK total). 3,400 of these species are rare and threatened, including the Lizard Orchid, Shrill Carder Bee and Black-veined Moth.
Kent is also home to 98 Sites of Scientific Interest, 2 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and 5 out of the UK’s 7 rarest bumblebee species. Kent’s rich habitats include vegetated shingle at Dungeness, the chalk grasslands of the Kent Downs, and numerous marine habitats – the most diverse of any coastal waters in Europe.
This variety means Kent, nicknamed the Garden of England, is host to species unique to the county. Protecting the Kent ecosystem is of local and national importance. The biodiversity strategy aims to deliver net biodiversity gain (leaving nature in a better state than before) over 25 years. It has four central aims:
While the strategy covers a 20-year period, it is intended that it will be reviewed every 5 years and features a range of actions taking place over a shorter period. Its detailed goals are extensive and precise, often divided into habitat and species-specific targets. If the strategy is a success, future impacts will include:
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The Kent Nature Partnership’s strength is in its connections and ability to bring organisations and people together to combine their efforts. Consultation at all levels was essential to put together such a comprehensive and ambitious plan, and fill gaps in the council’s own knowledge.
The long list of partners, including local conservation groups, government agencies, district and parish councils, evidences the power of collective action.
The value of nature as a source of food and raw material, and as a regulator of air, water, soil and climate, is embedded throughout the strategy. In it, the Partnership argues that ‘by investing in biodiversity assets we are investing in our own future and wellbeing’.
Aside from the cultural and psycho-social benefits of nature, Kent’s natural beauty drives the tourism that contributes £2.5m to the county’s economy every year. The strategy also notes the financial damage avoided by the buffering effects of coastal wetlands during storms and flooding. Consideration of natural capital makes good business sense.
Whilst some environmental issues at the council have resulted in debate, the nature strategy passed with unanimous support from councillors.
A good evidence base
The council has led and supported multiple nature surveys, providing a strong evidence base for the strategy, including:
The level of detail included in the strategy is critical to its eventual success. Long-term overarching goals are combined with detail that ensures progress in the interim, avoiding action being delayed to an abstract ‘future’. For example, the strategy divides each of its four objectives into ‘priority species’ and ‘indicator species’ with accompanying action points.
Funding for the various nature restoration projects highlighted in the strategy comes from a range of sources:
Kent Wildlife Trust were commissioned by the Partnership to begin writing the strategy. The Trust received funding of £10k but delivered work beyond this as a contribution in kind. It is estimated that the Trust’s work was worth roughly £20k, showing the importance of local partners. Two Kent Wildlife Trust officers and two Kent County Council officers worked on the strategy and were supported through the strategy’s Task and Finish Group by a further 13 officers from a range of Kent Nature Partnership organisations.
Four members of staff at the council were involved in developing the strategy.
Work on the strategy begun in 2018. Stakeholder engagement and formal consultation followed in 2019, with approval by both the wider Kent Nature Partnership and Kent County Council in 2020.
Shifting national policy and priorities
The spatial side of the strategy – interpreting and mapping the county-wide biodiversity goals at a district level – was put on hold as the Environment Bill progressed. Previously, Kent used its Biodiversity Opportunity Areas as a spatial framework and initial plans were to update these with the 2020 strategy. However, at this time the forthcoming Environment Bill looked set to introduce Local Nature Recovery Strategies as one of its flagship measures. Local Nature Recovery Strategies are spatial plans which establish biodiversity priorities specific to an area and map its habitats. A ‘responsible authority’ is assigned for each recovery strategy.
Kent decided these would be a more appropriate delivery mechanism and agreed to wait for the bill and associated secondary legislation to pass.
Consequently, the Kent Biodiversity Strategy has not yet translated its broad goals down to a local level. Similarly, the strategy does not outline an in-depth reporting and monitoring mechanism, again because the Environment Act will bring in a reporting requirement for biodiversity at the local authority level. A key lesson is to keep close track of national level changes to avoid disruptions and prevent local strategy clashing with government policy.
Uncertainties due to EU exit
Leaving the European Union has also led to uncertainties, because it provided significant environmental funding and regulation. There are still questions about the new UK farmer payments schemes outside of the Common Agricultural Policy which will have important implications for biodiversity management in rural areas.
Pressures on nature
Some ecosystem pressures are specific to Kent – for instance, its closeness to London and status as a gateway to Europe via road, rail, sea and air. Its international connections also risk bringing in invasive species and plant or animal diseases, something the strategy addresses.
However, Kent also faces challenges presented by growth targets experienced by local authorities across UK. The county must accommodate a predicted 178,600 new homes and 396,300 extra residents by 2031 in an already densely populated region of the country. There is fierce competition for the same land needed to restore and expand habitats.
Another challenge experienced in Kent was being realistic about the power and influence local authorities have to tackle the big issues. For example, it wasn’t feasible for the Kent Nature Partnership to commit to a target of zero microplastics in its marine waters, because too many factors were out of its control.
County level partners do not have the power to address the wider national and international threats to biodiversity that are felt at a local level. Reviewing which issues the Partnership could positively intervene and have impact in was important to keep the strategy pragmatic. Councils may also want to consider getting behind initiatives to increase the power, capacity and resources available to them to implement nature strategies, such as the Blueprint Coalition.
Include delivery partners
A related key lesson is to have a diverse and broad steering group which represents all relevant sectors. By including partners who are involved in implementing the strategy, Kent has kept its goals ambitious yet grounded in deliverability. The strategy identifies 15 priority habitats and assigns a ‘champion’ organisation which has ‘ownership’ of the targets for each. Having a wide variety of partners made this possible.
Protect and restore
New habitats must not be the sole focus. Instead, prioritising the protection and enhancement of existing habitats offers the greatest potential for results, because new habitats take years to reach maturity and become fully functioning. The two aspects must complement each other. The principle of the right intervention in the right place is crucial to keep things in balance, because the creation of one habitat may negatively affect another.
To find out more, contact Elizabeth Milne – firstname.lastname@example.org
The extended Kent Biodiversity Strategy is available here. Kent’s Plan Bee is also available.
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