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West Midlands Natural Environment Plan: 2021 - 2026

Access to green and blue spaces

We know that there are considerable benefits from the natural environment for physical and mental health, as well as for reducing carbon and adapting to increasingly extreme weather events caused by climate change.

The UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA)14, funded by NERC, estimates the health benefits of living with a view of a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year, and that increasing green spaces could reduce run-off and urban flooding which costs around £270 million a year in England and Wales. Further, recent research by the RSPB15 shows that ‘people in the UK with an annual household income under £10,000 are 3.6 times more likely to have no outdoor space where they live, and about 40% less likely to live within a 10-minute walk of any publicly accessible natural greenspace than people with a household income of £60,000 or more’.

Research by Fields in Trust, using the 2020 Green Space Index16, finds there is the equivalent of 32.94 square metres (sqm) of publicly accessible park and green space provision per person in Great Britain. But as population increases, by 2040 this figure will reduce by 7.57% to 30.44 sqm per person. In the West Midlands, this same data shows significant variation across the Combined Authority area and, by 2040, the data is showing that the West Midlands will fall below the minimum standard of provision. We are determined to reverse this trajectory by taking action to improve availability of high-quality green and blue space to all people across the West Midlands through the actions described below.

We will also work with emerging standards being developed by other organisations, e.g. Natural England's Access to Natural Greenspace Standard and the Woodland Trust's Access to Woodland Standard.

WMCA-led flagship programme
Community Green Grants

Using data that WMCA and other regional partners have available, we know that access to green space is not equitable, a situation that has been brought into sharp relief during the Covid-19 lockdowns. The data shows the neighbourhoods where there is currently deficit of access to green space and we are seeking to work with delivery partners across the West Midlands to provide community green grants to roll out projects to create, enhance and improve access.

In response to the evidence base provided by the Five Year Plan, the WMCA Board committed £725,000 to support regional organisations and communities in delivering projects associated with widening access to nature and green space. It is anticipated the grant will launch in autumn 2021 for an initial two years, although the intention is to find ways to extend the grants to continue to support this important area of work.

Priority actions
  • Continue to work with the West Midlands National Park to transform their vision into practical action, encouraging new projects with an awards programme

  • Create a new national trail in the West Midlands, working with local authorities, national organisations (like the National Trust, Canal and River Trust and Natural England) and walking groups.

  • Develop a plan for including green infrastructure as part of the transport network at project development stage e.g. green roofs on shelters, semi-natural habitat into verges or leftover land.

  • Creation and enhancement of urban meadows to increase biodiversity and amenity value
    of under-used open spaces whilst reducing maintenance costs.

    We will also work to support regional projects that improve access to green space, where these align with our vision for the region’s natural environment ambitions, for example:

  • The opportunity to open the Duddeston Viaduct in Digbeth as a public green walkway.

  • The Black Country programme of nature and visitor improvements to go alongside the new UNESCO Global Geopark status.

Case Studies

Tame Valley Wetlands (TVW) is a strategic partnership established by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust in 2005, which oversees the delivery of environmental enhancements across the Tame Valley Wetlands Nature Improvement Area (NIA). The NIA includes the most extensive area of interconnected wetlands in the West Midlands straddling Tamworth, North Warwickshire, Solihull and Birmingham. The area is exceptionally important for both wildlife and people and it includes some of the key green spaces adjoining the conurbation such as Kingsbury Water Park, Middleton Lakes and Kingfisher Country Park. The vision is:

  • By 2030, the Tame Valley Wetlands will be a high quality, well- known and valued landscape, rich in wildlife, beauty and culture for all to enjoy.

The four key aims are to:

  • Landscape scale habitat creation and management
  • Maximising opportunities from strategic planning
  • Community engagement and ownership
  • Training and skills

In 2014 the partnership was awarded £2.5 million funding through Heritage Lottery Fund (now NLHF) to deliver a range of environmental enhancements across the area including:

  • Over 600m of river restoration
  • 16 ha wetland restoration
  • 1,196m of hedgerows
  • Offering educational sessions to 3190 children
  • 5362 people participating in events and training
  • Offering educational sessions to 3190 children

Further funding through schemes such as ERDF’s Water Environment Grant and GBSLEP Small Habitats Grant has allowed further enhancement works to be carried out on the wider Tame catchment on the rivers Cole and Blythe, both key tributaries of the River Tame. This has included sustainable urban drainage schemes and invasive species control at Brueton Park, Earlswood and Meriden Park in Solihull.

At a more strategic level the partnership has been involved in the West Midlands National Park and Birmingham City University’s Project Saturn. The partnership co-commissioned with the Environment Agency a strategic vision for the River Cole and secured £707,000 from Defra’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund for the Love Your River Cole Project (LYRiC). TVW are working closely with Birmingham and Solihull Councils and The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country and other partners to deliver a range of enhancements along 17km of the River Cole. A major element of the project has been working with the Princes Trust to develop and deliver a range of learning opportunities for 144 18-24 year olds and provide them with

skills to pursue a career in the green economy. The partners are also hosting 6 trainees from across the West Midlands.

TVW continues to offer a wide variety of education and outreach programmes based at the at Hams Hall Environmental Centre including schools from across Birmingham and the Black Country and bush craft

to variety of groups. The partnership also has its own volunteer group, Tameforce, working actively across the area.

Find out more about Tameforce

The FPA programme is funded by National Heritage Lottery Fund, National Trust and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. This was formed to respond to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Future of Public Parks 2016-17; which uncovered an out-dated approach to urban green space right across the UK.

Birmingham has come forward with a 25 year City of Nature Vision as a new city theme to run through all its policies, thinking and decision-making; reflecting the city’s declared climate emergency. The Vision will be a people's vision, challenging the old Victorian top-down system; putting people first and their engagement with nature and their natural environment, where they live. To illustrate this, over 150 Earth Stories have been submitted by (mainly) younger Birmingham citizens capturing their enthusiasm and passion for living with nature.

Birmingham City Council has looked right across its organisation and partners to come forward with a new
way of doing things. They have tested proposals within Children’s, Housing, Employment, Health and Wellbeing and Planning to help the city better see the value of nature and our green spaces. The programme has created a space for an “ecosystem” of organisations and individuals to come together and treat issues relating to nature together; across 5 themes:-

  • A Green City
  • A Healthy City
  • A Fair City
  • A Valued City
  • An Engaged City

A further innovation has been the development of an Environmental Justice Map for Birmingham that responds to the global issue highlighted through the COVID-19 lockdowns of unequal access to public green space. This map also captures climate change pressures through heat stress and flood risk; and peoples life expectancy affected by their postcode rather than their genetic code. This map highlights the need for urgency and action and a total rethink over the role of the natural environment in cities; and emphasises how this is everybody’s agenda.

What will the 25 Year City of Nature Vision Deliver?
  • Restore Birmingham’s Nature Recovery Network

  • Support the delivery of the West Midlands National Park

  • Increase the city’s tree canopy to 25%

  • Introduce a Birmingham Fair Parks Standard

  • Introduce a Sustainable Finance Framework

  • Establish a City of Nature Community Alliance

  • Mainstream healthy activities outdoors

  • Establish Green Champions and widespread community engagement