Agenda item

Local Nature Recovery Strategy progress update and ambitions.

Simon Smith presents an update on the progress and plans of the LNRS steering group. The Board is asked to comment whether this progress and plans for next steps feel appropriate.


OLNP Chair presents some suggested ambitions for LNRS. The Board is asked whether these are the best ways to ensure Oxfordshire’ LNRS is as effective as possible.


The Board considered a report which highlighted suggested ambitions for the Local Nature Recovery Strategy, (LNRS) to add value to the LNRS process.


The Board was asked comment on the ambitions presented and to endorse the consideration of this approach to the Local Nature Policy group and the LNRS Steering Group.


A detailed discussion followed. A summary of the main points raised by Board members and the response of officers is as follows:


·           It was positive to see the recognition of the importance of the inclusion of arable habitats. The Regeneration of Agriculture was an important subject with significant potential to benefit wildlife, but it was important to be cognitive that this was not always the same as nature recovery and this needed to be understood in the context of the development of the LNRS and where the two overlap and where they did not. Performance measures needed to be developed for both specialisms.

·           Caution was needed in thinking about and applying distinctions around the breakdown of wildlife into habitats as in reality, the habitat of a particular species over its life cycle might feature in a number of what were often regarded to be distinct habitats.

·           It was important to consider the links to higher level political policy in the context of discussions around specific habitats. For example, in the case of grasslands there been discussions at the Forum about developers putting in low quality grass areas on sites under the pretext of BG40 bio-diversity net gain which actually contributed almost nothing to biodiversity. This suggested that the policy for biodiversity net gain itself was flawed and that the juxtaposition of the policy framework and reality on the ground needed to be considered.

·           Confusion existed around the term Regen Agriculture as it was possible for it to mean all things to all people so as the LNRS progressed it was important to become more specific.

·           Reference to food production was necessary and it was important to understand that it was possible to do all the landscape recovery possible over thousands of less favourable areas of land and still not make an appreciable impact on wildlife in terms of species. There was a need to address these issue on a holistic, whole farm scale.

·           The food system within Oxfordshire, nationally and internationally needed to change to a system that rewarded best practice, high environmental and welfare standards, Procurement, particularly public procurement had a role to play in achieving this change. The challenge was around how this changes might be assisted through the LNRS.

·           It was felt that this might be outside of the scope of the LNRS, but potential ideas that the LNP Board might consider in the context of supporting farmer that achieved high environmental standards.

·           The ambitions as set out in the Board paper were supported but it was felt there did need to be reference to agriculture over and above the environmental aspects of farming.

·           Alignment of ambitions around accessibility to natural green space within 15 minutes with Natural England’s criteria as where possible it was sensible to align with nationally set standards.

·           The LNRS should set out how its measures linked to and where compatible with HMG’s 25 Year Environment Plan and the Environment Improvement Plan. This would need quantitative targets which would require monitoring and evaluation.

·           It was important to set ambitious goals for the LNRS and to develop a finance plan in order to deliver it.

·           The interface between rural and urban habitats. The urban fringe and peri urban landscapes were incredibly rich in terms of access and also nature dividend potential. The contribution of those areas also interfaced with the role Green Belt.

·           Whilst it was valid that Regeneration Agriculture was not a direct proxy for good habitats, it was known that the manner of farming was a key part of the diagnosis that nature was in decline. Bringing back nature into farming systems would be highly significant in transforming nature outcomes.

·           There were opportunities to use nature finance through the agriculture space to mobilise nature recovery.

·           There was a need to put in place clear definitions for the priorities and ambitions, for instance what was meant by ‘nature rich’? This task could potentially be undertaken by the Nature Policy Group and it was logical that this be informed by any nationally available definitions.


At this point, the Chair suggested that in addition to the LNRS suggested principles and early objectives set out in the report his sense from the discussion to that point was that there was a body of opinion within the Board for some kind of numerical objective around the wider farmed environment. This needed to be expressed in a way that was meaningful and could be added to the LNRS ambition. For example, could this be through an objective around regenerative agriculture, perhaps 90%, or was a more exact metric needed?


A range of views were expressed with some members supportive, whilst others, also supportive of the aspiration behind it, expressed concern that a cautious approach would be needed because there was risk a KPI approach could sometimes not cover the nuance involved.


Other points raised by various Board members on the LNRS priorities and ambitions set out in the paper and additional suggestions, were in summary:


·           Was it important to recognise that there could be differences of opinion between the OLNP as a collective of nature and land management voluntary experts and the accountable body around the priorities and ambition for the LNRS that went beyond baselines required by Defra? This could be a potential matter for further discussion within the steering group, but it was felt to be the role of OLNP to seek to be as ambitious as possible and make the case for this.

·           With regard to proposed high level targets and target that 30% of land be managed for nature by 2030 there was a risk that because of the rigid criteria that applied, 30% would not be enough as an overall habitat extent target and Oxfordshire would fail to deliver 30% by 2030 as defined by Defra. If a nature recovery framework was to be delivered a target of 30%-40% would be needed.

·           An overall target would only be effective if it was supported by a breakdown of specific habitat targets as well.

·           Whilst the principle of proposed priority 4) Landscape scale projects was supported; a view was expressed that the proposed wording set out in the report around nominating specific flagship landscape delivery projects created the impression of a hierarchy when all landscape were of the same priority. A possible replacement priority was around local wildlife sites in light of the significant role of these sites in building the recover of nature. It was agreed to include both in the same point.

·           In considering what priorities and ambitions to follow, it would be necessary to engage with the public in order to secure their understanding and support of the measures as there remained a level of misunderstanding and resistance to wildlife initiatives such as reduced verge cutting, particularly in urban and semi-rural locations. This is in agreement with the discussions and outputs of the LNP Forum.

·           The process of suggesting LNRS priorities was about the challenge of making clear definitions and being able to demonstrate what had been achieved and delivered. Specifically with regard to the 90% regeneration target, data could be obtained from governmental bodies around the amount attributable to ELMs. The challenge was around this data was presented and it was possible to be creative with data to substantiate delivery whilst retaining confidence that targets were making a real difference.

·           ELMS was a structure that easier to follow than to seek to define regenerative agriculture and which lent itself to target setting. There were also links to fundraising and private finance top up.

·           More support and advisers were needed to support farmers in wildlife recovery.


A conclusion of the discussion, the Chair proposed that in light of the wide range or views expressed and number of suggestions for LNRS priorities and ambitions made it would be necessary to undertake further consideration and an updated menu of potential options drawn up and. It was possible that it might be necessary to return to the more difficult issues before final decisions were taken.

Supporting documents: