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Ox-Cam Arc a ‘perfect’ opportunity to invest in nature

Words: Laura Edgar

With plans under way to deliver one million homes across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, conservation organisations have urged the government to look at this as the perfect opportunity to invest in nature.

Such an investment would improve people’s lives and contribute to a green recovery from coronavirus (Covid-19), say the groups. 

The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire (WTBCN); Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT); the RSPB; and the Woodland Trust have jointly published Nature’s Arc principles, a blueprint for restoring and increasing nature across the arc. 

It comes as a recent RSPB and YouGov survey highlights the public support for protecting and investing in nature as part of the recovery from Covid-19.

The organisations explained that their principles emphasise the importance of access to nature and natural green space for the health, wellbeing, wealth and resilience of people and communities. Using the principles, the government could commit to a “new standard” for sustainable development that benefits wildlife, tackles the climate crisis and builds healthier neighbourhoods for people.

Matthew Stanton, head of planning, policy and advocacy at BBOWT, said: “Given the nature and climate emergency we are in, business as usual for new development is not an option. Restoring our natural environment needs to be at the heart of plans for the arc. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a landscape in which people can benefit from a thriving natural environment that supports healthy lifestyles. Where growth is given the go-ahead, the needs of nature must be a priority.”

Jack Taylor, lead campaigner at Woodland Trust, added: “The Oxford-Cambridge Arc is still in its infancy. There’s a real opportunity here for government, local authorities and developers to put nature first so it can be delivered without damage. This could be a model for development that respects, protects and restores nature, in particular vulnerable natural heritage like ancient woodland.”

The principles are:

Step 1: Protect existing nature

  • Carry out strategic environmental assessments and habitat regulations assessments of the proposals as a whole, rather than in a piecemeal way that ignores the cumulative impacts. Understanding the total impact of the proposed arc is key to unlocking its full environmental potential.
  • Protect existing designated sites and undesignated priority habitats through full application of the mitigation hierarchy. 
  • Avoid loss of – or damage to – irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland, fens and ancient meadows. 
  • Demonstrate best practice in respect of existing and proposed environmental laws, policies and standards while aiming to showcase new and exemplar practices.

Step 2: Restore nature across the arc

This includes:

  • Establish a nature recovery network to create bigger, better and more connected places for wildlife around existing priority habitats and opportunity areas. 
  • Prepare a strategic spatial plan for the whole of the arc that sets out the government’s ambitions and intentions in a clear and transparent way.
  • Introduce a duty on local authorities to deliver a nature recovery plan.
  • Achieve a minimum 20 per cent net gain in biodiversity from all forms of development (including infrastructure), measured by a single system applied across the arc by all local authorities, government and delivery agencies.

Step 3: Set new standard for sustainable development

This includes: 

  • Be carbon-neutral (net zero) by 2045, but take steps to bring this target forward to 2030.
  • Achieve high standards of nature-friendly design and green infrastructure using the best existing case studies in the UK and across the globe.
  • Put nature first. The natural environment must be at the heart of proposals from the outset, and fully incorporated into decisions related to funding. Economic growth must respect environmental constraints.
  • Improve the quality of life of residents by increasing climate resilience, biodiversity and access to nature across the arc.

The Nature’s Arc principles can be found here on the RSPB website here.

Image credit | iStock