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04/08/2021

Nature tool launched

Words: Laura Edgar
Nature / iStock-172752178

A tool that is intended to help built environment professionals play a greater part in nature recovery and climate resilience has been launched.

The Nature Assessment Tool for Urban and Rural Environments (the NATURE Tool) has been developed by consultancy WSP in association with Ecosystems Knowledge Network. Northumbria University provided support and Innovate UK supplied funding.

The tool records the extent to which new infrastructure or development projects deliver net gains for the natural environment.

It brings together information on net-zero, improving people’s health and reducing flood risk, among other considerations, in one place to inform design, planning and long-term management.

It has been designed to serve a variety of projects, such as housebuilding, transport infrastructure, mineral sites and wind farms.

Developers, landowners, local planning authorities including the Vale of Glamorgan Council, planning professionals, NGOs and government agencies were all involved in testing out the tool.

Nathan Slater, senior planner at Vale of Glamorgan Council, said: “Currently, there is no standard tool for planning professionals to use to assess the net gains to the environment. When making decisions, planners rely upon submitted ecological reports or advice from council ecologists to help determine whether there is a net gain to the environment. This can add additional time to the process and result in different expectations between developers and local authorities. An industry standard tool would help to address disparities between different sectors of the development process, help to create an efficient planning system and improve understanding among the different professionals involved in decision-making regarding net gains to the environment.”

He added that the findings from the tool will be shared with the relevant departments responsible for the developments trialled and the council’s ecologist to demonstrate whether the proposed measures represent a net gain to the environment and whether more could be achieved to improve the natural environment on the sites.

Dr Oliver Hölzinger, associate at WSP and creator of the tool, commented: “The NATURE Tool is practical and easy to use, allowing the assessment of up to 17 ecosystem services plus physical and mental health benefits through a scoring system indicating both the direction and magnitude of project impacts. These scores are aggregated based on policy priorities resulting in an overall ‘people score’ for the project. This assessment aims to encourage both better decision-making and clearly demonstrate the results of positive sustainable action during development.”

The tool is freely available and can be found here.

Image credit | iStock

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