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West Midlands Natural Environment Plan: 2021 - 2026

Enablers of change

This plan has highlighted some ambitious nature- based solutions for the West Midlands to implement in its mission to address the ecological emergency. Their success will require us to also create the right conditions amongst all stakeholders, from communities to NGOs businesses to play their part. We also need to understand how to take account of nature more effectively in decision-making, understanding how we value it, and enable a consistent approach to mapping and data so that we have a clear idea on the state of the region’s nature.

The actions described in this section start to bring together opportunities and communities of action to implement the different projects and programmes that will be necessary. These range in scale and size, from citizen science programmes that can be run in an adhoc way, through to apprenticeship and trainee schemes to ensure that we are able to provide opportunities in jobs related to nature. In particular, we will work to ensure that these opportunities represent the West Midlands population and that all opportunities focus on inclusion and improving access for everybody.

WMCA-led flagship programme
Spatially defining the region’s natural environment through maps

Understanding how and where we should protect, restore and enhance nature needs to be driven by data and an understanding of the different needs, requirements and opportunities across the region. Central to our work on the natural environment needs to be an understanding of the right kinds of interventions in the right places, including where priority action should be focused. Without this understanding, we risk implementing projects that could be detrimental to the region’s biodiversity. As
a result, we are aiming to complete full habitat mapping across the WMCA area before the end of 2022; this will build on existing work undertaken by the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country.

In addition to this more technical mapping, we also aim to create and share an interactive map to provide up-to-date information on nature across the WMCA area. This will enable additional layers to be added to build up a comprehensive overview of the natural environment and its potential contribution to climate adaptation and resilience and air quality improvements, for example. It will also allow understanding of where areas could be targeted for investment into nature, building in the work around access to green space, and existing/ developing programmes of activity, e.g. West Midlands National Park awarded programmes or the new West Midlands trail as it progresses.

Having a clearly mapped evidence base will also support the understanding of potential impact of the different projects and programmes contained within this plan, which will be important for all regional stakeholders in terms of targeting investment and action in a coordinated way to support biodiversity net gain outcomes. The WMCA will work with existing extensive data held by Eco Record and Habitat Biodiversity Audit, to avoid duplication of data gathering and to draw in extensive local knowledge and expertise.

Priority actions
  • Build natural environment into the WM Net Zero Business Pledge so businesses understand how they can support nature.

  • Implement effective data collection and monitoring of the region’s natural environment as a foundation for a Local Nature Recovery Strategy.

  • Develop a Natural Capital Investment Plan and explore new finance mechanisms, e.g. leveraging of private sector finance.

  • Work with the proposed Net Zero Citizen's Panel (to be set up in response to the work developed for the Five Year Plan) to support natural environment initiatives.

  • Run a programme of citizen science activity to support engagement in natural environment activities.

  • Trial a natural capital apprenticeships scheme as part of the Green Skills Strategy (to be delivered as part of the FYP), working alongside existing programmes of activity such as the successful Level 2 traineeships offered by the Wildlife Trusts.

  • Include natural environment projects as part of the region’s Net Zero Neighbourhood demonstrator.

  • Implement behaviour change initiatives to support the natural environment vision and outcomes, e.g. provide information on planting climate resilient species on on the WMCA website; support initiatives on water efficiency to conserve resources; provide guidance for planting for climate resilience, e.g. rain gardens and other SUDs initiatives; or using trees to provide shade and mitigate urban heat.

Case Studies

The West Midlands National Park (WMNP) is a concept, developed and led by Birmingham City University, that unites the people of the West Midlands with their landscape, culture and heritage. Its purpose is to create a better quality of life, opportunities and environment for the future with thriving, healthy and resilient communities. Recognised in the UK Government’s Landscape Review, it is backed by many local stakeholders. It resonates with the aims and projects in this Plan, as well as the region’s climate emergency response, WM2041, and our ‘brownfield first’ approach to development.

Potential WMNP projects include:

  • Sequences of parks and squares connecting communities across and through the West Midlands to create a walkable region.
  • Publicly accessible clean rivers, canals, streams and working floodplains to walk and cycle along, and the start of long- distance journeys to the UK coast.
  • The sight and sound of nature all around, clean air, limited traffic, extensive garden and street planting, forests and woodlands to define the region.
  • Housing/development designed to exploit views, horizons, skylines and inherent beauty of the region.
  • Celebration of regional food, through allotments and urban agriculture networks, local food markets.
  • Networks of local supplies, shops, working places and circular economies.
  • Projects demonstrating carbon capture, the storage, cleansing and purification of flood and storm water.

The WMNP Lab at Birmingham City University has identified a range of initial projects and they are considering the following as priorities for a WMNP award:

A plan for using parks and the public realm as part of the regional recovery from Covid-19. This has four elements to it:

  • Creating alternative futures for Birmingham City Centre. This would be a collaborative study to inform the radical rethink of the purpose, scope and economic viability of dense city centres in a post-Covid economy, climate emergency and the urgent need to kick start a green recovery.
  • The Knowledge District, including The Birmingham Central Park. Developing a spatial strategy for a Birmingham Central Park, the creation of the Knowledge District and the relationship of HS2 Curzon Street with its environment, all in the context of its canal and river network.
  • Birmingham National Ring Parks. This project will develop the economic case and the spatial strategy for the Birmingham National Ring Park; a green, healthy alternative to the notorious ring roads that encircle our cities, starting with Birmingham.
  • The WM City Centre Parks Building on the success of the Black Country Urban Park and the Black Country Garden City, the WM Central Parks project will create a strategy for a series of central parks in each major city of the West Midlands.
  • A vision for the region’s waterways. Development of a vision for canal and river navigations, including the green energy and social agendas etc.
  • A spatial strategy for the Tame Valley and HS2. A strategy to improve Multiple Deprivation Indices, encouraging integrated working and holistic solutions, bringing different disciplines, external investment and expertise together to achieve more whilst lifting aspirations and design quality.

This work will bring together the many partners already active in this space across the region, acknowledging the significant visioning and delivery work that is already taking place.