Rewilding North Somerset

At the full Council meeting this evening I spoke in support of the following motion tabled by Cllr Catherine Gibbons.

The motion was carried unanimously.

“NSC declared a Climate Emergency in February, and the new administration is committed to taking what actions it can to mitigate the effects of climate change.

In this context I would like to propose one of those actions – that NSC puts in place a re-wilding programme and actively seeks to identify as many areas as possible, of the verges, parks and open spaces it operates, where this can be done.

NSC should take the lead and help Towns, Parishes and community groups with their own rewilding and tree-planting projects.

This will be beneficial in creating additional habitats for bees, insects and other wildlife and provide attractive “wild” areas of educational value to the community.

These areas will be easy to maintain and send a positive message out to our residents that North Somerset is a forward-thinking, environmentally aware, eco-friendly region.”

My address to Council:

“I would like to commend Cllr Gibbons for bringing this motion to Council.

“As the motion suggests, this is entirely consistent with the Climate Emergency Declaration and indeed, the paper to be presented by Cllr Petty later… which states that “new contracts for ground and tree maintenance will seek to take advantage of opportunities to re-wild North Somerset where possible…”

Re-wilding is a specific kind of term – I think the way forward is obviously a complementary package of measures. I wanted to add three points to the discussion…

1. Local intelligence

“We need to be more open to using local intelligence in the drawing up of what you might call neighbourhood management plans. In doing so I think we need to recognise we will be building on previous work. This Council led a ‘biodiversity conference’ a couple of decades ago; groups like YACWAG, the Backwell Environment Trust and NEWT were all established at that time.

“With an Executive Member sponsor… this Council should convene a district-wide workshop of these local environmental groups, Wild Portishead, etc… in September or October to share strategies and formulate tactics for moving this agenda forward quickly.

“This is about more than cutting and maintenance regimes. We need to revisit local Biodiversity Action and Habitat Plans, which I think were published 14 or 15 years ago.

“This would recognise this Council’s duty towards biodiversity and we need to update and enforce our existing biodiversity policies (which are hard to find) and consider re-introducing volunteer (but supported) town and parish biodiversity (climate emergency?) wardens.

“We need a mapping exercise; I think a green infrastructure map does exist somewhere… but can be built on… so I think a mapping exercise will lead to greater clarity and understanding of who is responsible for our green spaces – this Council… or town and parish councils. A district-wide workshop could use this green infrastructure map to gain a lot of information from local people and to produce a tangible action plan.

“I’ve been reading The Good Verge Guide (published by Plantlife) – but people much more knowledgeable than I am have told me we need a change in our planting policy. I’m told adaptation for climate change will probably have to include consideration of what species are now more suitable. There is a load of knowledge out there in our communities to tap into.

2. Education and communication

“There needs to be resourced effort to educate and communicate any plans to communities… to encourage a different attitude to wild flowers and weeds… e.g. why some verges, open spaces and closed churchyards need to be cut and others left uncut to flower and set seed.

“We should consider adopting the Blue Campaign – where a blue heart symbol, made out of recycled materials, is staked in the ground over the area being rewilded. This communicates to residents that rewilding is in process (and that it is not just the Council seeking to cut costs!)

3. Our changing role

“As councillors I think this is all consistent with our changing role. We are stewards of the places we live and represent; we are catalysts and conveners – working with residents to encourage local vitality and to help broker new connections in our neighbourhoods.

“As a Council we can bring people together to share their thoughts and actions. 15/20 years ago the environmental groups I mentioned met regularly at the Goblin Coombe Environment Centre and formed a cohesive group which received ongoing training and mentoring… and lobbied within their towns and parishes and carried out work for wildlife.

“So, finally… there is a lot of goodwill out there. It is also worth noting that all this might also save on costs – or at least be cost neutral if we offset reduced strimming and maintenance with training and education.”

Special thanks to Faith Moulin, Tony Moulin and Colin Higgins for their support and guidance.

Photo by Jenna Lee on Unsplash

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