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West Midlands Natural Environment Plan: 2021 - 2026

Wildlife Corridors

Increased development of land, through housing, road building, or even agricultural activity, can be prohibitive to the mobility of wildlife. Areas become isolated, which can have detrimental effects on biodiversity. In order to prevent this, there needs to be more active creation of wildlife corridors, which can include river corridors, canals and contiguous corridors of high quality semi- natural habitat including woodlands, heathland and grasslands, but can also be constructed, for example, green bridges over new infrastructure. The National Trust describes wildlife corridors ‘as a link from one environment to another allowing wildlife to move freely and safely between them, without threat from predators or traffic’.

Climate change, and its effects, mean that wildlife corridors could become increasingly important as species migrate to compensate for the change
in temperature and natural environment. The West Midlands is significant geographically in this context as it will be an important part of the pathway for species moving north or south due to climate change. In addition, the role of the WMCA facilitates the ability to work across boundaries in the creation of new wildlife corridors.

We also need to ensure there are high quality areas of wildlife and biodiversity for the corridors to link together. Achieving nature recovery will need large areas and blocks of land in environmentally sensitive management, and considerable creation of habitat, in addition to having ecologically functioning corridors. We will work with partners to create, protect and enhance wetlands, grasslands and heathlands. Alongside tree and hedgerow planting, these environments also create important carbon sinks.

WMCA-led flagship programme
Wildlife Corridors Commission

The WMCA will establish a Wildlife Corridors Commission to understand how the region could maximise the connectivity, for both people and wildlife, through green and blue corridors – a ‘doorstep to landscape’ vision for the region. The Commission will also explore the ways that we can address barriers and blockages for wildlife due to transport and infrastructure. The overall aim of this work will be to support biodiversity net gain for the region; being able to take a pan-regional view across constituent, and into non-constituent, authorities maximises the spatial reach of impact.

The Commission will work with the evidence coming through mapping to identify priority areas of focus. This could be in terms of protecting and enhancing existing strategic wildlife corridors as well as creating new ones. The mapping will use the work undertaken by the Wildlife Trusts in anticipation of the Local Nature Recovery Strategy.

The initial six corridors of focus include those along the Rivers Cole, Rea, Stour, Sherbourne and Blythe as well as that being created by HS2. We will also support work on the region's canals as important wildlife corridors. Regional partners are already engaged in work in these corridors and the WMCA would use the work of the Commission to support this.

The Commission will also work closely with existing stakeholders and partnerships operating in this space, for example the Local Nature Partnerships.

Priority actions
  • Explore creating a regional ‘Wildlife Ways’ programme, building on the work in Solihull. Projects would include: tree, hedgerow and wildflower planting, small habitat grants for local conservation projects and improved cycling and walking access.

  • Use our wildlife corridors to boost species recovery. The work towards a Local Nature Recovery Strategy will identify focus species (for example, those included in the draft Black Country LNRS Statement of Biodiversity Opportunities).

  • In addition to these actions, the WMCA will support partners in delivering projects that are regionally significant in enhancing wildlife corridors. These include:

  • Support for the regional region’s world-famous canal network, which provides important nature recovery networks, linking otherwise fragmented habitats. We will work with the Canal and River Trust on the natural environment on and around the canals; on improving towpaths, access and signage; and exploring opportunities for community engagement with nature and through their Explorers schools programme.

  • Work with the Environment Agency to use nature-based solutions for flood alleviation and corridors, where appropriate. This will be included as part of a Regional Adaptation Plan.

  • Work with farmers and landowners to enhance the rural and urban fringe agricultural land for biodiversity e.g. the Arden Farm Network across Arden Character area, led by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.

  • Work with Natural England and partners on projects to deliver the Nature Recovery Network including restoration of heathlands and exploration of peatland restoration as a nature-based solution.

Wildlife Ways is a £16.8 million programme (run by Solihull MBC) and part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and WMCA. It opens up and improves existing routes, allowing wildlife to flourish and helping people to walk and cycle across the borough. In total, over 73 hectares of improved wildlife habitat has been created of benefit to the environment – through such things as local climate amelioration, surface water control and air quality improvements. These contribute to the health and well-being of the borough’s residents and visitors, education and regional economic investment and productivity.

The aims have been to improve the wildlife value and biodiversity of open spaces and highway verges and connect these areas together by improving 24 hectares of wildlife habitats along 69km of existing cycle ways and 23km of new shared surfaces. The highway verges act as green corridors for some fauna and flora to move and spread; without these, large open spaces can become isolated. These open spaces and parks support a variety of different habitats including woodlands (of which 11 have had works carried out through Wildlife Ways), 9 grassland sites (with over 25 hectares enriched with wildflower seed) and 1 watercourse, re-profiled with gravel riffles, changes in depth and new marginal vegetation. Habitat enhancements to a stretch of the Kingshurst Brook enable an increase in natural river processes, reconnect the brook to its floodplain, diversify the morphology of the brook and reduce flood risk downstream. The work also included planting over 300 native riverside trees along the brook including black poplar, alder and willow to provide habitat diversification and shading to sections of the watercourse to mitigate future increases in water temperatures due to climate change.

Alongside the main Wildlife Ways programme, lots of smaller programmes have been developed as part of the Wildlife Ways / Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership’s Small Habitats Grants Programme (part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund).

  • £16.8 million programme
  • 73 ha of improved wildlife habitat
  • 23km of new shared surfaces
  • 300 native riverside trees

In partnership with Birmingham City Council, Environment Agency, The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country and part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Natural Rivers and Green Corridors aims to improve Birmingham’s natural wildlife habitats and green spaces. In doing so, the project will benefit communities by making local green spaces more attractive and deliver wider environmental benefits including mitigating the impacts of climate change, air pollution and flood risk.

The programme includes restoration of the Bourn Brook through removal of weirs and deculverting of a watercourse in Senneleys Park to improve public safety, reduce flood risk and restore natural processes to allow wildlife to thrive. Invasive species alongside water courses in the upper Rea catchment are being managed to reduce flood risk and restore native biodiversity and public woodlands are being restored through thinning and planting of native ground flora.

This £1.25m investment supports the delivery of strategic green and blue infrastructure objectives set out in Birmingham’s Green Living Spaces Plan, the Environment Agency’s Humber River Basin Management Plan and Birmingham and Black Country Nature Improvement Area Ecological Strategy 2017-2022.

The project will result in 125ha of improved wildlife habitat.

Love Your River Stour is a project working to improve the River Stour catchment for wildlife and people which has recently secured substantial funding (> £600k) including from the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The Stour and tributary, the Smestow Brook, are key ecological corridors identified as priorities for restoration in the draft Black Country Local Nature Recovery Opportunity Map (April 2021), however, the wildlife of the river suffers from problems including poor habitat and water quality (diffuse pollution), artificially modified banks, artificially created barriers to fish movement (e.g. disused weirs), litter and invasive species.

The project takes an ecosystem services approach, investing in green and blue infrastructure to provide high quality open space for deprived urban communities, restore aquatic and terrestrial habitats for ecosystem-critical species such as salmon and otter, and addressing environmental issues including flood risk and pollution through nature-based solutions.

Love Your River Stour is a partnership of The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country, Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, Severn Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency.