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Improving Biodiversity and Woodlands in Harborough


Here is a really interesting proposal from Harborough Climate Action member Mike H., who has been working for years to try and improve the amount of freely accessible woodland in the Harborough area. It is clear to see how frustrated he is that so little progress has been made.


If you would like to join Mike in progressing this project, please email us hca@SustainableHarboroughCommunity.co.uk


Purpose

Over the past 25-30 years local government strategies have failed to halt the decline of our natural environment. The Environment Act 2021 and the Environment Improvement Plan 2023 places a duty on local authorities to act now to halt further decline and aid nature’s recovery.


This brief paper proposes a Project, based on a multi-functional model of woodland creation, that will improve local biodiversity, aid nature recovery and benefit the health and wellbeing of local people. The proposals will enhance the attractiveness of the area and increase tourism.


Strategically and politically the Project will support Leicestershire County Council’s (LCC) Local Nature Recovery Strategy and Harborough District Council’s (HDC) need to achieve Biodiversity Net Gain.


History

This section will give an overview of past attempts to improve our natural environment.


During the 1980’s there was a growing awareness that nature and biodiversity in the UK was in decline. Millions of trees were dying from diseases or from the destructive effects of house-building, road construction etc.


In 1988 LCC produced Countryside 2000 – a Strategy for Action in Leicestershire. This report stated that the county had lost about 300,000 trees since the end of the war and these were to be replaced. This ambition was not realised though a significant number of trees were planted, principally on existing Country Parks. As Market Harborough has no Country Park the area failed to benefit from the scheme.


By 1992 there was international concern about the depletion of nature worldwide and a Biodiversity Convention in Rio Janeiro called for all nations to halt and enhance the decline in the natural world. Two years later the UK government produced a Biodiversity Action Plan. In 1998 Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland produced Biodiversity Challenge which aimed to halt the decline in nature. A further report the Landscape and Woodland Strategy, promised to plant 14,346 hectares of woodland by 2021.This strategy failed.


In 2006 the UK government passed the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act that made it a duty for local authorities to protect and enhance nature and biodiversity.


In 2008 the government passed the Climate Change Act. This legislation includes a strategy for planting millions of trees. Tree-cover in the UK was about 10% in 2008 and by 2050 it should rise to 16.5%. Tree-cover in Harborough District is about 4% and even lower in the environs of Market Harborough. Very few trees have been planted here.


In 2021 Leicestershire Conservatives election manifesto promised to plant 700,000 trees – one for each county resident. It appears that most of these trees will be planted in the north of the county (where tree-cover is twice that of Harborough) in the National Forest. No mass tree-planting is scheduled for Harborough.


HDC has a poor record regarding the natural environment. Over the past 30 years numerous studies, reports, strategies and action plans have been produced. Each report has stressed the paucity of trees, and very low levels of biodiversity and geodiversity and a decline in the natural environment.


In 2011 the Core Strategy Sustainability Appraisal stated “the district is poor in biodiversity and geodiversity, there is only one Site of Special Scientific Interest (1.21% of land), one Local Wildlife Site (0.42% of land) and the second lowest (4%) tree-cover in England”. These statements were echoed in the Open Spaces Strategy 2016 and 2021, Harborough’s Local Plan in 2019, and this year’s Climate and Nature Pact.


The Environment Act 2021 and the Environment Improvement Plan 2023 has directed LCC to produce a Local Nature Recovery Strategy and HDCl to include Biodiversity Net Gain as part of its planning regulations.


LCC have created a Local Nature Recovery Team (LNRT). Once fully operational, this team will determine how best to support nature’s recovery and allocate new resources throughout the county. This process will take time and there is no guarantee that significant resources will be used in Harborough.


The Project – a Nature Improvement Area

HDC should embrace environmental legislation regarding nature recovery and implement their existing action plans. For example; plans to create a Country Park, rebranded as Multi-functional Green Spaces, rebranded Nature Improvement Areas (NIA), and nature reserves. Given that Market Harborough and its environs has no designated Country Park it can justifiably be nominated as a Nature Improvement Area as envisaged in legislation.


Numerous grants are available for such projects. Legislation also calls on NIA’s to be created in partnership. This partnership can include organisations such as Defra, Forestry England and Natural England. Also, charities like the Woodland Trust, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust or Harborough Woodland Community Volunteers. All of this in collaboration with the Local Nature Recovery Team.


A Nature Improvement Area on the outskirts of town would need to cover a substantial area of land (30 to 40 hectares) and be planted with native trees and shrubs to provide space for nature and amenity for people. Ideally, the site would have a water source – a stream, river or ponds for riparian planting. Land adjoining the Welland river would be ideal.


The site should be designed to accommodate a Visitor Centre/Ranger’s Office, “multi-purpose discovery rooms”, Café and toilets. Outdoor activity areas could include an Adventure Playpark for older children and Playground for younger children. Outdoor exercise and fitness apparatus could be installed for adults.


These recreational facilities will be attractive to local residents, community groups such as scouts and guides, ramblers, etc. It would also provide a much-needed resource for Forest Schools in an area that has no forest and very limited access to woodland.

A car park and a footpath/cycle way linked to town will need to be provided. Parking charges will contribute to running costs.


A small Nature Reserve could be created from “flood-plain” land nestled between Coventry Road, Farndon Road and Welland Park Road. With the River Welland running through here it will provide an ideal place in which nature could flourish. Whilst a local authority would need to purchase this land the reserve may possibly be managed by a charity such as the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust.


Funding

The Project should be able to attract grants from central government and other grant-givers. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) regularly funds environmentally orientated initiatives and there is a published strategy for funding such projects The 10 Point Plan for financing biodiversity - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)


Numerous funding organisations provide support for environmental orientated projects with over 100 currently signed up to the Association of Charitable Funders ( www.acf.org.uk ) “Funder Commitment To Climate Change” initiative FCCC Signatories (acf.org.uk) and links to environmental priority funding can be monitored via Latest Environmental Grants To Apply For - grantfinder.co.uk


Locally, Harborough and the Bowden’s Town Estates charity may provide support given its priority areas for funding align to elements in the proposed projects.


Substantial funding could be obtained and utilised from CIL funds and from Section 106 funds which have stated objectives of supporting residents and can include open space, recreation and play.


The Project will eventually become a significant ‘visitor attraction’ and encourage tourism to the area. Income will be generated through parking fees, use of the facilities and via sponsorship / advertising.


If you would like to join Mike in progressing this project, please email us hca@SustainableHarboroughCommunity.co.uk



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