From the chamber: Stepping up for nature

14 Mar 2024
Ian looking at a dying tree

Biodiversity is a word of the moment, but what does it mean? It’s shorthand for biological diversity, which put simply, is the variety of life on Earth in all its forms. Not just the familiar and visible, such as animals, plants and insects, but also the unfamiliar and invisible, at least to the naked eye, such as bacteria and the vanishingly small inhabitants of soil.

But biodiversity is under pressure and species are dying out at an unprecedented rate, both globally and locally. In part that is due to climate change, which is changing habitats faster than species can adapt, although other human activity is also taking a heavy toll.

And it’s not just a problem affecting the Amazon rainforest or the jungles of Africa, because the UK is one of the most-nature-depleted countries in the world. In other words, we have lost a larger share of our species count than almost anywhere else in the world.

So why does any of this matter? It matters because of the interdependency of species through their food chains. Even the tiniest of soil dwellers have a vital part to play, enabling the growth of plants in a way that science is only just beginning to understand. Without plants there would be very little human food, and so if they go extinct, so do we.

The government has belatedly and hesitantly responded to the UK’s situation by requiring developers to accompany their developments with a Biodiversity Net Gain of 10%, which they envisage being achieved by trading Biodiversity Net Gain Units. However, the BNG Units are not required to be on the associated development, or even in the local area.

As a result, we are taking steps to ensure that the BNG Units for developments in Wokingham Borough are created in our Borough by entering the market for BNG Units. This will have the benefit of locking up the land used for at least 30 years, under our management, at no cost to our residents. And we are aiming for a higher target than the government’s 10%.

As an administration, we are not stopping there. We have recently declared an Ecological Emergency, joining a growing band of councils that have done the same. This will require the Council to consider the effects on biodiversity of everything that we do, alongside our actions within the already declared Climate Emergency. We will act on both together.

Meanwhile, the government fiddles while nature burns.

Ian Shenton, Liberal Democrat Councillor for Evendons Ward and Executive Member for Environment, Sport and Leisure

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