Local government needs defined duties, devolved powers, lasting finance to restore nature

In the wake of yet another damning report into central support for regionalised environmental action, Cllr Chloe Turner, Chair of the Environment Committee at Stroud District Council, outlines what local government needs from the nation’s corridors of power.  

woman in white shirt standing on green grass field during daytime

The UK is facing a nature crisis interconnected to the climate emergency. We are one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth, with more than a quarter of UK mammals at risk of extinction. Meanwhile, one in nine children didn’t have an opportunity to visit a park, forest or natural environment in the last year.

This crisis unfolded out of sight for decades, as biodiversity was repeatedly put on the national political back burner. Now, as it’s almost too late, we’re starting to recognise what is lost.

The best time for urgent nature recovery action was 30 years ago, the second best time is now. Which is why UK100’s Powers in Place: Nature report is so timely. It highlights the efforts of councils nationwide to lead on reviving wildlife. But it also reveals that disjointed policies, fragmented responsibilities and short-term funding often hamper ambitions.

UK100 is the UK’s only cross-party network of local leaders committed to ambitious clean air and climate action — and Stroud District Council is proud to be a member. Their new report is the most comprehensive assessment of local authorities’ duties and powers to restore nature and biodiversity.

In Stroud, we are committed to supporting and enhancing nature as the impacts of the climate crisis register ever closer to home. Our 2030 strategy “master plan” puts nature at the centre of strengthening our resilience to the crisis. It encompasses everything from expanding woodlands to restoring canals; enhancing public access to nature to natural flood management.

Our Stroud Valleys Natural Flood Management scheme spotlights our nature recovery efforts. The initiative has introduced over 800 natural flood prevention interventions, like planting trees and constructing leaky dams, to decelerate water flow and mitigate flooding. Beyond shielding communities, it has rehabilitated habitats and purified water quality across the Frome valley.

green grass field with trees during daytime

The project was co-developed with local flood action groups who generated the project and helped recruit an officer to deliver it. Working within a framework of local priorities and utilising local knowledge is a key innovation which has contributed to the project’s success.

This approach delivers climate adaptations, providing extra protection against flooding, whilst simultaneously supporting nature recovery and the wellbeing of local residents. By tackling the risk posed by flooding, it also ensures local businesses and residents can benefit from the improvement to their health and wellbeing

The link between nature, health and wellbeing is key. Square mile by square mile, we’re seeing Britain’s Natural Health Service disappearing with the risk that we will never know what’s gone until it’s too late. 

We need to urgently turn the tide. But, as Powers in Place: Nature makes clear, despite the best efforts of ambitious local authorities like ours, local leaders can’t take on the fight on our own. We need urgent support. 

The report calls for long-term support from central government to empower local authorities to deliver large-scale rapid action. It also calls for a clear national strategy and funding reform. 

The current local government policy and funding framework is ‘dysfunctional’ — in the words of the report — and confusing. Limited funding is parcelled out via short-term, competitive pots that have seen local government spend an estimated £130m on financing bids alone since 2019. Meanwhile, national nature recovery responsibilities are fragmented across various agencies and departments.

This is hampering efforts here in Stroud to match our ambitions with results on the ground. Like trailblazing councils, of all political stripes, from Greater Manchester to Oxfordshire, we urgently need ministers to provide proper long-term investment and a coherent statutory framework. Only then can we effectively tackle joint nature and climate crises in a strategic, efficient, and effective manner.

silhouette of tree during sunset

Alongside giving nature recovery priority, consistency and proper funding, as Powers in Place: Nature argues, ministers have an opportunity to pick the “low hanging fruit” of planning reform by supporting Lord Ravensdale’s ‘climate amendment’ to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. This aligns planning rules and Net Zero, and passed with a majority in the House of Lords earlier this month.

Across Stroud, we aim to ensure development supports nature’s recovery, but we urge the government to give greater weight to nature conservation in the planning balance, so wildlife is not automatically trumped by developer profit margins.

Beyond Lord Ravensdale’s amendment, the recommendations in the Powers in Place: Nature are echoed by those of us on the frontlines of local government: local leaders are willing and able partners in restoring nature and driving Net Zero. But we desperately need the proper tools to do our job.

The Powers in Place report underlines local government’s willing, but currently unfulfilled, potential to lead on nature recovery. We urgently require coherent national strategies, long-term investment, streamlined governance, and planning policies that give greater priority to nature.

With these tools, local leaders can restore habitats, expand woodlands, and reconnect endangered wildlife populations. Preserving our natural heritage for future generations is a shared duty. We stand ready, and call on the government to provide the means.

The twin tasks of reaching Net Zero and protecting people and nature from climate change impacts are a generational challenge needing urgent action. Place-based delivery by local authorities can achieve far better results than centralised schemes. But progress falters without clear strategy from Westminster, sustainable funding or powers for local leaders.

We can develop joint solutions, but need duties defined, powers devolved and long-term finance replacing fragmented pots. Above all, we must move fast before the window to preserve a liveable climate and planet closes. The natural world is our common heritage. With the tools outlined in UK100’s Powers in Place: Nature report, local government stands ready to secure nature’s future.


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