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West Midlands Natural Environment Plan: 2021 - 2026

Supporting National Policy

Urgent action is needed to address the rapid decline in the UK's biodiversity. The UK's State of Nature1 report provides a detailed look at how the natural environment is changing across the UK against a 1970 baseline. The most recent (2019) report showed the following:

  • 15 per cent of species are under threat of extinction

  • The average abundance of wildlife has fallen by 13 per cent with the steepest losses in the last ten years

  • 41 per cent of UK species studied show a decline in numbers and 133 species have already been lost from our shores.
  • In addressing the challenges faced by nature in the UK, the Environment Bill is expected to provide a statutory framework for work on natural capital and biodiversity net gain. As a combined authority, we will be looking to play our part in the delivery of this and the 25 Year Environment Plan2, which has stated the urgent need for this generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it. Of the 6 themes prioritised in the 25 Year Environment Plan, this Natural Environment Plan particularly picks up on:
  • using and managing land sustainably

  • recovering nature and enhancing the beauty of nature; and connecting people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing.

  • It will also support the delivery of the national Nature Recovery Network3, with its focus on enhancing landscapes; improving connectivity between wildlife- rich places; climate resilience; protection of existing natural environments and supporting access to nature for health and well-being.

As the Environment Bill receives royal assent in autumn 2021, the plan provided here puts the West Midlands Combined Authority in a strong position to respond
to challenges around the natural environment. Local Nature Recovery Strategies, with their focus on comprehensive habitat mapping and biodiversity net gain, will be central to this. These are themes that run through all our work on the natural environment. Our focus is on genuine net gain, not just covering losses from new development. There will also be a commitment to following the mitigation hierarchy to avoid impact where possible before moving through 'minimise, restore and offset' (with the latter as a last resort).

Ahead of this formal requirement, however, we are looking to implement actions that could support the principles of biodiversity net gain, both through a better understanding of the data that we already have available as well as the implementation of some practical projects. We will work with regional stakeholders, including our local authorities, environmental NGOs, LEPs and private developers as a key element of our work on biodiversity net gain.

In addition to supporting measures around biodiversity protection and enhancement, this plan also identifies the importance of connecting people and nature more effectively. This emerged as a priority in The Landscapes Review 20194 (also known as the Glover Review). The report called for innovation in the way we think about our national parks and landscapes, how we connect them to urban communities, and how we ensure that there is representative diversity and inclusivity in their management. The West Midlands National Park (launched in July 2020) is cited as a positive example within the Landscape Review as a form of new, urban national park and we are working to turn the vision for this national park into a reality.

Finally, the fundamental benefits of our natural environment were highlighted in The Dasgupta Review5 on the Economics of Biodiversity, a landmark report commissioned by HM Treasury and released in February 2021. It calls for urgent and transformative change in how we think, act and measure economic success to protect and enhance our prosperity and the natural world, and puts forward ways in which we should account for nature in economics and decision-making. Its headline messages serve as a critical reminder of the importance of nature:

  • “Our economies, livelihoods and well-being all depend on our most precious asset: Nature.

  • We have collectively failed to engage with Nature sustainably, to the extent that our demands far exceed its capacity to supply us with the goods and services we all rely on.

  • Our unsustainable engagement with Nature is endangering the prosperity of current and future generations.

  • The solution starts with understanding and accepting a simple truth: our economies are embedded within Nature, not external to it.”

We will be taking this thinking into a Natural Capital Investment Plan, proposed as part of this plan.

Recognising the many co-benefits from investing time, energy and resources into the natural environment, this plan will support delivery against the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals6:

We will also explore the potential of working with other internationally agreed frameworks, for example in October 2021, parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity will meet
to determine the post-2020 global biodiversity framework7. The outcomes of this could have an important bearing on our actions, including scale and pace.