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.