- What does ReNature mean?
Renature, or nature recovery, is about letting nature thrive.
Following decades of human impact on biodiversity, nature and natural eco-systems have been devastated across the world.
The UK, and indeed the South Downs, is not immune to this.
Biodiversity describes the whole range of different varieties of living things and systems on Earth.
It includes animal and plant species, as well as genetic diversity and entire ecosystems and landscapes.
ReNature aims to restore the balance so that both wildlife and people benefit.
- Is ReNature the same as rewilding?
Rewilding activities are conservation efforts aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and wilderness areas.
This may include providing connectivity between such areas, and protecting or reintroducing apex predators and keystone species.
Rewilding could be considered one aspect of renaturing.
However, we must acknowledge that the South Downs landscape and key habitats are the result of hundreds, if not thousands of years, of human intervention.
So while we advocate natural processes and natural systems, some of the nature we value will need different forms of land management and interventions that mimic the role of apex predators and require active management from humans.
One example is chalk grassland, often described as “Europe’s rainforest in miniature” due to its incredible biodiversity, which is the result of human intervention and requires conservation grazing management.
- Why are we launching this campaign now?
There is a global nature and climate crisis. The UK National Parks are not immune to this situation, so it is time to step up our action significantly.
The campaign responds in a positive and innovative way to the Governments’ Landscapes Review and Environment Bill, which strive for protected landscapes to take a leading role in increasing biodiversity.
A recent report from the Government’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), showed that 15% of species in Britain are under significant threat. Among the richest G7 nations, the UK now has the lowest level of biodiversity and we want to help try to reverse this decline.
- Why is nature in crisis?
Nature is in crisis due to a series of factors, including climate change, intensive agricultural practices, fishing pressure, built development, water shortage caused by over abstraction and pollution.
There are also other factors, such as the impact of non-native invasive species, pests and diseases and different land management for wildlife that has seen the move away from traditional management, such as coppicing.
There is no single causal factor but the sum of all these parts, taken together over the past century, has led to the position we are in today.
Ultimately, not enough space is being made for nature to thrive in our countryside, villages, towns and cities and this initiative aims to create that space to help wildlife flourish.
- What kind of evidence do you have that biodiversity in the National Park is in trouble?
The State of Nature 2019 report shows a continued decline in biodiversity in the UK. In the report, 41% of species showed a decrease in abundance.
In the South Downs about half our sites of scientific interest are in unfavourable condition and only 20% of our rivers meet good ecological status under the Water Framework Directive.
While there are some local good news stories of species recovery, such as the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and the otter, many others continue to follow the national trend of decline.
- What does managed for nature mean?
Managed for nature means that the natural environment, including wildlife, key habitats, key species and natural processes, are a primary objective for an area of land.
- How are you going to create 13,000 hectares of land managed for nature?
The Authority works in partnership and this is the approach we will take for nature recovery.
The land in the South Downs is mostly in private ownership but has public assets. Therefore, we want to work with land managers to enable nature to flourish.
This will be achieved through a variety of existing and new mechanisms, such as agri-environment schemes, funding programmes such as Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL), biodiversity net gain from new development, individual projects and fundraising.
- Can you give examples of new wildlife-rich habitats you might create?
There are a myriad of examples and each approach is landscape-led and specific to place and location.
So examples include: restoring arable land to flower-rich grassland; increasing areas of lowland heathland or chalk downland through the removal and management of scrub; woodland creation including hedgerows and shaws; reconnecting floodplains to rivers and streams to enhance wetlands; enhancing amenity land such as public open spaces and road verges so they can support more “natural” areas.
- What are the current uses of the 13,000 hectares you are looking to ReNature?
It’s a mixture of land uses where nature recovery and biodiversity are not currently the primary objective.
So the land can be urban, urban-fringe or rural.
The land uses will include arable land, species-poor permanent pasture, amenity land such as public open spaces and linear features such as road verges and hedgerows that have huge potential to support nature and connect the landscape if restored and managed appropriately.
It could also be creating high-quality space for nature alongside new development.
- The campaign has an aim of making the land in the National Park 100% nature-friendly by 2030. What does this mean and what will be needed to get that 100%?
Nature friendly means that nature should be considered and taken into account, even if it is not the primary objective of the land.
Nature-friendly measures help to connect those sites managed for nature, through corridors, such as hedgerows, and wildflower-rich road verges.
Nature friendly can also be at any scale and can include bird boxes, bug hotels and bee banks in your garden, village, town or school.
- What makes up the 25% that is currently managed for nature?
This figure is based on our best available data and includes designated priority wildlife habitats, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Local Wildlife Sites, nature reserves, ancient woodland and agricultural land that has been set aside for biodiversity.
- Shouldn’t most of the land in the National Park already be nature-friendly?
National Parks are a landscape designation, rather than a purely nature designation. So we have two statutory purposes:
Purpose 1 – to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area
Purpose 2 – to promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park by the public.
There is also a Duty to seek to foster the social and economic wellbeing of the local communities within the National Park in pursuit of the purposes.
It is therefore incumbent on the National Park Authority to work with landowners, managers and other partners to support the special qualities, which includes wildlife.
There is, of course, lots of land in the National Park that is nature friendly, but it could be so much more!
- Why is £100m needed?
The target of £100m is approximate and based on best available data on what it would cost to restore, enhance, and maintain a step change of 25% of land to 33% of land to have nature as its primary objective.
This has been based upon agri-environment payment rates.
- £100m is alot of money, even over 10 years. Do you think you’ll be able to achieve this and how?
It is ambitious but we’re talking in the context of a decade, taking us right up to 2030 and it includes a variety of funding streams, including private finance, public funds, grants, and, of course, donations.
The campaign is a partnership between the South Downs National Park Authority and the South Downs National Park Trust.
The SDNPA and South Downs National Park Trust will seek to direct and raise the £100 million we estimate is needed to fund nature recovery projects across the National Park.
Some of this funding will be secured and distributed through us, but a significant proportion will come from other sources, with our role as a facilitator and supporter in securing it.
Examples of the different sources and routes are laid out below:
- Registered sites that have been submitted to our call and assessed as suitable for nature recovery could be packaged as part of a larger appeal, funded through existing grants such as Beelines and Trees for the Downs or through soon-to-be established new grant funds focused on hedgerows and ponds.
- Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL): A new Defra scheme specific to National Parks and AONBs which includes nature recovery. National farm support schemes (formerly called ELMS) that are England-wide and include a sustainable farming initiative.
- Biodiversity Net Gain: This is a key element of planning and generates funding from developers to create space for nature alongside development.
- Private Finance for Nature Recovery: The National Park family is working with global positive impact firm Palladium to create a facility that will direct private and public finance at scale into restoration and conservation in the UK. We will be looking to trial this approach in the South Downs in 2021, and if successful will be looking to scale up to help deliver our nature recovery ambitions.
Any fundraising bid will have an element of uncertainty, but we’re quietly confident that we can achieve our goals as there is such a strong appetite for green recovery.
- Do you have a timetable for the campaign in terms of what happens and when?
The fundraising campaign begins now and our aim to help raise the £100 million needed over the next 10 years to ensure an additional 13,000 hectares is managed for nature.
This is an ambitious goal and we need funders to come on board to deliver this plan.
Following the fundraising launch, a key next step will be a “Call for Sites” in the autumn where we’ll be asking landowners to express an interest in making land available for nature recovery projects.
- What other partners will you be working with in order to achieve your goal?
The National Park Authority is open to working with all partners and stakeholders to further the Purposes of the National Park, including nature recovery.
This will include farmers and land managers, other environment-sector organisations, as well as local authorities, private businesses, charities and local communities.
We all have a role to play!
- What will be the role of planning in terms of achieving the 33%
Strong commitments to Biodiversity Net Gain are a key element of the adopted South Downs Local Plan, which runs until 2033.
The Environment Bill, once it becomes law, will see net gain become mandatory across the country.
- Instead of raising this money, why don’t we just let areas rewild and nature be left to flourish on its own? Why do we need land managed for nature?
People and nature have interacted over thousands of years to produce the habitats we see today.
Some habitats are specialised – such as chalk grassland – and have come about from hundreds of years of sheep grazing which produces the incredible floristic and faunal diversity we see today. Other habitats, such as lowland heath which support all 12 of Britain’s native reptile and amphibian species, require active management to maintain the soil and vegetation.
- Will there have to be sacrifices made to achieve this 33%? Does it mean we may have to lose some farmland?
Farmland makes up around three quarters of the South Downs National Park and comes in a variety of forms, including grass and crops.
The way farmers and land managers manage this land has a big influence on how accommodating it is for wildlife.
By using sustainable agricultural practices and creating nature-friendly strips and plots within the fields, this area of farmland and the quality food it produces can be maintained while also contributing to the renature initiative.
Ultimately, this is about adapting farming to help nature rather than reducing food-producing agriculture which is so important for the National Park.
- How will funds raised be shared and when?
The funding will be shared through a variety of methods for both smaller-scale and larger-scale projects. Some funds will be channelled through our current grants, which are already helping to deliver nature recovery, for example, Beelines and Trees for the Downs. We also hope to expand these initiatives with two new funds focused on hedgerows and ponds.
We will also include a new fund specific to “nature recovery”. We will be launching a “Call for Sites” later in the year where landowners will be able to express interest if they have land available for nature recovery.
Projects will be prioritised and those presenting the immediate benefit for nature recovery will then be invited to make an application for support.
- How does the campaign tie in with other nature recovery campaigns, such as 30-30-30 by the Wildlife Trusts?
We admire and welcome other similar campaigns and ultimately we’re all working towards the same goal – helping nature to flourish once again.
This is not about competing with those campaigns and we can work in tandem to achieve our goals.
Organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and National Trust are key partners of National Park Authorities and we can all work together to help nature.
- How can I help the campaign?
You can make a donation at www.southdownstrust.org.uk/help-nature-renature/
We also have a dedicated webpage with lots more information about the initiative at www.southdowns.gov.uk/ReNature/
Small donations can go a long way:
£5 – Could pay for a square meter of wildflower meadow, which cleans our water and provides a vital food source for many of our bees and butterflies
£10 – Could pay for one meter of hedgerow, protecting our soils and supporting 80 per cent of our woodland birds, 50 per cent of our mammals and 30 per cent of our native butterflies
£20 – Could pay for two disease resistant Elm trees, helping to restore those native species which have been lost to pests and diseases.
Businesses, donors or investors interested in supporting ReNature, either by donating or purchasing local eco-system services (such as BNG or Carbon) should get in contact with the South Downs National Park Trust at email@example.com
The Authority has also set up a dedicated Nature Recovery email for enquiries: NatureRecovery@southdowns.gov.uk
- I think I have some land that may be suitable for renaturing. What can I do?
Please take a look at our website which has a number of useful resources for landowners looking to ReNature.
In addition, over the autumn we will be launching our “Call for Sites”, 6which will provide farmers and landowners the opportunity to put forward projects, to the National Park, for nature recovery.