Spatial Nature Planning Stocktake for DEFRA


The overarching ambition of DEFRA’s 25 Year Environment Plan is to “leave our environment in a better state than we found it and to pass on to the next generation a natural environment protected and enhanced for the future”. The plan highlights six key areas for action, one being to establish an England-wide Nature Recovery Network. This aims to protect and restore nature, provide greater public enjoyment of the countryside, enhance climate change mitigation and adaptation, and lead to improvements in water quality and flood management. Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs) will underpin the creation of a Nature Recovery Network by delivering better spatial planning for nature, mapping the most valuable sites and habitats for wildlife in specific areas and identifying those where nature can be restored. The intention is that the whole of England will eventually be covered by LNRSs. As such, they have the potential to drive forward joined-up nature recovery on the ground, bringing together different policies and mechanisms and leveraging local knowledge and expertise.

Project brief

In 2020, Ecosulis was commissioned by DEFRA to undertake a systematic study of current Spatial Planning for Nature initiatives (SPfN) in England. The overall aim was to document current SPfN activities in a tabular format, and assess the data, evidence and models underpinning these plans, together with the best practice and lessons learned, in order to improve the quality and impact of future Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS) initiatives.




manage Biodiversity

A collection of Local Nature Recovery Strategies informed by high quality nature maps and models is a crucial first step in reducing ongoing biodiversity decline in England.

Protect Habitats

The overall aim of the Nature Recovery Network is to protect and restore key habitats and create new ones – this will enable species to move and disperse across landscapes. Creating “bigger, better and more connected” nature areas was the key recommendation of the 2010 Lawton Review.

empower-us-to-act People

By supporting the development of wilder nature, a Nature Recovery Network will enhance the delivery of so-called “nature-based solutions”. These provide a whole range of benefits to people, such as cleaner air and water, health and wellbeing, flood risk mitigtion and fertile soil.

How we added value

A two-phase approach

The Ecosulis study was divided into two phases: 1) identification of landscape-scale initiatives active in the last five to 10 years and collation of key information in a structured, tabular format; and 2) “deeper dive” case studies involving interviews and focus groups. Drawing on Phase 1 insight, five counties were selected for these case studies: Somerset, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Norfolk. Representing rural and more urban areas, NGO-led initiatives in these counties were identified as examples of best practice.

The importance of local skills and knowledge

A key finding of the Ecosulis study was the poor nature of the species and habitat data underpinning many SPfN initiatives. Our study also revealed the importance of establishing local “communities of practice”, where staff in local authorities, wildlife trusts and local ecological record centres can combine data, expert judgement and their local ecological knowledge when interpreting and combining data layers. Frequently referred to as “knowing the county”, this collective expertise has assumed new relevance in the production of natural capital maps, where expert judgement is required to assign values to ecosystem services generated by natural capital assets. Another key insight was the importance of staff retention in SPfN core teams; the mix of local ecological knowledge, a critical mass of technical skills and close professional relationships was seen as critical to the continuation and quality of SPfN.

Nationwide LNRS coverage and mapping

In its requirement for LNRSs to cover the whole of England, the proposed Environment Bill calls for the preparation and publication of a national habitat map for England. The stocktake found that habitat classifications and maps are the fundamental data layer for production of nature recovery and national maps. In our view, the delivery of an open access national habitat map would overcome data gaps, accelerate roll-out of LNRS and promote the creation of a coherent NRN. A future habitat map should integrate with standard land-use classifications and its value would be increased significantly if it integrated connectivity mapping using proven techniques.

Want to learn more about rewilding and nature recovery?

Read more insights or explore our previous work.