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

8 comments on “Rewilding North Somerset

  1. Martyn Watson

    Interesting “blog”, hopefully now we have new members on the council who are looking far, far beyond the short term but how their decisions will impact this area over the next 25 , 50 & 100 years and beyond.

  2. Steve Bridger

    Hi Martyn – yes, absolutely. So that the climate emergency implications of the council’s business can be considered across the organisation, from September decision papers will be required to include a section on the climate emergency implications of proposed policies and projects. This is just one small step. There will be many others.

  3. Wayne Davey

    This is absolutely fantastic! Thanks so much for this, I love it

  4. Christine Rodgers

    The new councillors are making all the right noises as far as I am concerned. I hope nothing prevents these plans from happening. With any luck and good contracts this will save the council money (and us taxpayers) while creating a more beautiful environment. Keep on Steve.

  5. Anna Clements

    Hi Steve, I am based in Portishead. My councillor is Nicola Holland but I couldn’t help but comment on your blog. As a resident of Portishead, and indeed North Somerset as a whole, I am thrilled with the urgency around re-wilding wherever possible. However, I also see a need to retain public open spaces where the space is used by children of all ages. I live very close to Black Down Road Park, a recognized Open Space managed and maintained by NSC. The children and the families from the local roads and estate use this park and if offers a safe place to play esp riding bikes (off the main roads which are pretty dangerous for youngsters to navigate). Some months ago NSc decided not to cut the park at all. They left the football pitch and goal, seats and the fields either side of a very very small play area. This has left weeds knee high in over 2/3 of the park. With no public consultation taken place at al!. It is regularly, or was, used by 30-40 kids a day particularly during the summer hols. I am in touch with my local councillors but how can I and others with young children have a voice when it comes to this mapping exercise. Wild portishead is focused on creating wild areas across portishead. What about others that actually use the park, open space?

    • Steve Bridger

      Hi Anna – thanks for posting. Of course, I don’t know that particular small park in Portishead… but have had a look on Google Maps and can see the football pitch, etc. The intention would absolutely not to leave all the open spaces in North Somerset to re-wild. I’m talking about some roadside verges (mindful of sight lines), some areas within ‘closed’ churchyards for which NSC now has responsibility, and so on. Certainly not places which children use to play. In terms of the ‘mapping’ exercise… I intend to meet representatives of the parish council and local groups in September to begin this process… but in Yatton – my ward. You’ll need to get in touch with the appropriate councillor(s) in Portishead… but I agree this isn’t something that should be ‘imposed’ without consultation. Communication will be key.

  6. Anna Clements

    Thanks for coming back to me. I agree with what you are saying and where there is an opportunity to leave wild then I’m all for it. I’m talking with Nicola Holland and John Cato about my concerns about our local park. I hope that the needs of my friends and neighbours are considered and I will endeavour to be involved in future planning for our local park. NSC contractors are already saying the park is now going to be a meadow, without any consultation. As you say, communication is key if the right balance is to be found.

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