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Biodiversity 2020

Author:  Jago Keen
Last Updated:  10/12/2015

by Jago Keen

Biodiversity 2020, the government’s strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services, has been with us since 2011. A recent symposium hosted by the Planning Policy Exchange considered the challenge for local authorities and public bodies.

Like many policies, Biodiversity 2020 resulted from international and European directives. This English strategy takes account of modern thinking to conserve biodiversity at the landscape scale using principles of landscape ecology to conserve ecological networks.

As we know, trees are the heart of many of these ecological networks, often the only green infrastructure in the urban and peri-urban environments where the arboriculturist is oft employed.

I had expected to make a special effort for trees to be mentioned at this symposium but those concerns were unfounded. The message was made clear to those attending, from the rail network operators, utility companies, local and regional government to specialist bodies like the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, that trees are seen as a fundamental component of biodiversity.

The benefits of trees to human well-being were covered well, in part due to the presentation from Richard Barnes of the Woodland Trust. In particular, Professor Čedo Makzimović informed us how important trees are to his Blue Green Dream where trees in urban environments are key to water protection and part of flood protection.

Barry Gardiner MP, chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Biodiversity, who attended an AA conference some 25 years ago, echoed my sentiment that if we are to communicate effectively the benefits and value of biodiversity we need to use the right language for the audience to help them understand. Of course, I couldn’t resist an analogy so I termed it the Savile Row approach; in this case the language is chosen and tailored to fit rather than the cloth.

Use of a common language will help us work with our fellow professionals. A prominent message from the symposium is the integration of disciplines to deliver multiple benefits. Working together, accepting compromise and overcoming dogma are necessary to achieve pleasant places for people to live, play and work. Trees are important but they are not the only commodity of import.

I always thought of newts and bats as major constraints to development, yet hardly any applications are refused due to their presence as mitigation measures are well defined. Their presence is costly but not always a show-stopper. Compare that with trees where their presence is oft cited as a reason for refusal, perhaps because we do not have such well-defined and accepted mitigation measures. The notion of ‘biodiversity offsetting’ was raised as mitigation for tree loss. The loss of trees from a site could be directly translated into an increase in tree cover within the local area if we adopt well-considered ‘offsetting’: an increase in tree cover funded by development and not from existing budgets.

I am very comfortable that I know very little and for that reason I was pleased to learn from Gill Perkins of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust that the early flowering goat willow is of huge importance to pollinators. More knowledgeable tree people will already know this, but I wonder how many goat willows make their way in to tree planting schemes in urban environments? How many of Fortnum and Mason’s bees, let alone the bumblebees of Piccadilly, have fed on goat willow.

Helping people understand, through the use of language tailored to them, the value of nature – of natural capital in financial language – is key if we are to sustain trees for future generations.