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Draft Green Infrastructure Strategy – summary

Foreword

As we respond to the challenges of the climate and nature emergency and the Covid -19 pandemic, how we plan, design, and manage all things green (our green infrastructure) is at the heart of our ambition and work for a greener, healthier and resilient future.

We all have a part to play in responding to the climate and nature emergency. This needs important changes to all areas of our work and lives.

From how we manage our green spaces, plan for new development to making our high streets greener.

Whilst the size of the challenge must not be underestimated, it is also important to acknowledge our partnerships and the work we have done so far together.

This strategy explains our priorities, what we want to achieve and the action we will take to green our places.

We want to work with everyone who lives in, works in, and visits South Gloucestershire to bring together and deliver a vision now and into the future for ‘greener places where people and nature thrive’.

Leader of South Gloucestershire Council stood in front of a green space
Signature

Councillor Toby Savage
Leader of South Gloucestershire Council

Green infrastructure (GI) is the term used to describe the natural environmental features of an area and the natural connections (or network) between these features.

Green infrastructure also includes ‘blue infrastructure’, which are areas of wetland, water bodies and water courses.

When green infrastructure is well planned, designed, managed and connected it gives many benefits for people and nature.

Why South Gloucestershire is a great place to live, work and visit

Two people looking at the fields and view of the bridge in South Gloucestershire

South Gloucestershire has a rich and varied landscape. Our area extends from the Severn Estuary across commons, ancient woodlands, rivers, and farmland, to the Cotswold scarp and the Bristol urban fringe.

In the heart of the Western Gateway partnership area, South Gloucestershire lies to the east and north of the City of Bristol and connects the West of England with the Midlands and Wales.

South Gloucestershire has 3 economic enterprise areas at:

  • Severnside
  • Filton
  • Emersons Green

And the South Gloucestershire ‘Tec Arc’ which includes the Bristol and Bath Science Park.

Over 40% of South Gloucestershire is a Green Belt which surrounds and separates Bristol and Bath. Our tree canopy covers approximately 11% of the area.

Our population is projected to rise to 354,000 by 2043, and this 25% increase is the sixth highest projected population growth in England.

Heritage, culture and tourism

We have many heritage, cultural and tourist destinations, including:

These reflect our rich landscapes and heritage.

Conservation sites

South Gloucestershire has international, national, and local nature and geological conservation sites and areas.

This includes the:

There are also 22 nationally important Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The rivers Avon and Frome are vital wetland corridors and habitat for wildlife that support our ecological network.

Public open spaces

Our parks and open spaces come in a wide range of shapes and sizes from urban parks, play areas, and allotments, to extensive woodlands, commons, and nature reserves.

Parks, nature reserves and other public open spaces provide vital green space for people and nature, right in the heart of our communities.

Improving how we manage and connect our public open spaces strengthens our green infrastructure network and makes our communities greener.

Public Rights of Way and highway verges

These are an important part of our green infrastructure that connect people and wildlife across our urban and rural areas.

We manage:

We are improving the way we manage our verges for more habitat for nature.

Our vision

‘greener places where people and nature thrive’

This strategy is our vision and plan for improving the environment and green infrastructure across our area.

It includes how we will:

  • create more habitat for nature
  • have quality public open spaces
  • manage green infrastructure to adapt to the changing climate and support health and well being
  • have green infrastructure at the heart of new development planning
  • work with our partners, communities, and residents to have more, improved and better connected green infrastructure

Our council plan

Our Council Plan sets out the priorities for our work across the council.

It recognises the need to work together in response to the challenges of the climate and nature emergency.

The benefits of green infrastructure

When green infrastructure is well planned, designed, managed and connected it makes the most of natural environment ‘ecosystem services’.

This includes:

  • natural flood management
  • improved air and water quality
  • habitat for pollinating insects who we need to pollinate our crops and fruit trees
  • locked in carbon that reduces greenhouse gases in the atmosphere
  • cooling and shading to help us adapt and be resilient to climate change

Having greener places can give us:

  • space for recreation to help our health and wellbeing
  • space for nature to thrive
  • somewhere to grow our food
  • green corridors and networks that people and wildlife can move through
  • social spaces to meet outdoors
  • more attractive and healthier places to live
  • a more resilient economy by making our high streets and business areas somewhere people want to be

The ‘green thread’

When we talk about ‘the green thread’ we mean how we link our work to manage green spaces with regional, national, and global commitments for the environment.

This is the thread that reminds us that we are connected to the environment, and the difference we can all make in our everyday lives.

Purple and yellow wildflowers in a meadow

Our outcomes

Our outcomes have been shaped by our engagement work and contribute to the:

They also support the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.

You can read our outcomes and commitments to take action.

Protect and restore nature

Our commitment

Protect, restore, connect and increase nature.

To do this we will:

  • think about nature and the environment in all our work, plans and decisions
  • have a ‘Local Nature Recovery Strategy’ that delivers on the Environment Bill
  • increase our woodland, wetland, and grassland (Nature Recovery Network)
  • work with our partners to take action to improve the water quality and biodiversity of our rivers
  • work with our partners to restore and improve pollinator networks
  • double our tree cover
  • reduce pollution, litter and pesticides (Resources and Waste Strategy 2020 and Beyond)
  • improve water, soil, and air quality
  • increase populations of insects and other wildlife

Our work with residents, partners and other landowners will lead, enable, and inspire action to protect and restore nature across our area.

Why this matters

Globally we are facing a dramatic decline in nature because the environment is under growing pressure from many causes, such as development, agriculture and the changing climate.

The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services 2019 (IPBES) says:

60%

of the worlds wild animals have been lost since 1970.

The UK Stage of Nature Report 2019 tells us that we have:

46%

fewer butterflies in the UK

95%

fewer hedgehogs, swifts and swallows across the West of England

We need to act now to ensure we have a healthy, natural environment, now and for future generations where people and nature can thrive.

Greater resilience to the changing climate

Our commitment

We will respond to the Climate Emergency by strengthening our green infrastructure to support adaptation and resilience to the changing climate.

To do this we will:

  • deliver our commitments for green infrastructure and nature recovery in our yearly Climate Emergency Action Plan
  • manage land we are responsible for so that it is resilient to the changing climate
  • have a ‘Green Investment Scheme’ to bring in more funding for our climate and nature emergency work
  • work with our partners to support communities to adapt and be resilient to the changing climate
  • work with our partners to have better local walking and cycling routes as set out in the Joint Local Walking and Cycling Infrastructure Plan and Joint Local Transport Plan 4

Green infrastructure plays a vital role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere, through the natural life processes of trees, vegetation, algae, and plankton.

This is called carbon sequestration.

When we lose our green and blue infrastructure (our waterways) carbon is released back into the atmosphere which is a big cause of climate change.

We must help protect captured carbon that is stored in plant materials, soils, sediment, rocks and ‘fossil fuels’.

We can do to this by restoring and creating natural habitats.

We will aim to:

  • have natural rainwater drainage and storage
  • plant more trees to give cooling and shading
  • have well-connected, nature rich land and local public open spaces
  • improve our walking, cycling and wheeling routes to encourage car free travel

This holistic approach will help us be resilient to the changing climate and have zero carbon communities where nature can flourish.

Why this matters

Average UK temperatures have increased by nearly 1°C since the 1980s. This impacts nature and people, including increased flooding, heat and drought.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that:

30%

of species may be at risk of extinction if the climate warms by an average of 1.5°C

We know that climate change impacts on those already experiencing inequality more.

Globally, we need to act to help achieve the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development central commitment to ‘leave no one behind’.

Sustainable water management

Our commitment

We will take action to respond to and manage flood and drought risk, improve water quality, restore our rivers, and connect wetland habitat.

To do this we will:

  • work with our partners to improve water quality, restore and reconnect our river catchments, reduce pollution and flood risks
  • connect and restore wetland habitat in our Nature Recovery Network, including the Severn Vale
  • plan and design green infrastructure to help manage flood and drought risk
  • have sustainable drainage in our planning policy for new development
  • deliver the Avonmouth and Severnside Enterprise Area (AESA) Ecological Mitigation and Flood Defence Project

Why this matters

The rivers Avon and Frome give vital wetland habitat and networks for wildlife.

We also have many ponds, lakes, streams, drainage ditches and watercourses.

Locally and globally our river catchments, lakes, ponds, coastal areas, and wetlands are under growing pressures. This comes from pollution, development, agriculture, unsustainable fishing, and climate change.

The World’s Forgotten Fishes Report, World Wildlife Fund, 2021 says:

33%

of freshwater fish are threatened with extinction

The government wants all waterways in England to meet good ecological status by 2027.

The Bristol and Avon catchment has only:

11%

of waterways classed as having good ecological status

This shows how much work there is to be done to restore our rivers across the UK.

We are already seeing flooding and rising sea levels because of climate change.

Our Local Flood Risk Management Strategy says what we are doing to manage flood risk.

This includes using green infrastructure to give natural and sustainable flood management in existing communities, new developments and roads.

Well designed and managed green and blue infrastructure is crucial to sustainable water management.

It helps us to:

  • respond to and manage flood and drought risks
  • create resilient communities
  • improve water quality
  • have connected wetlands that help nature

Improved health and wellbeing for all

Our commitment

We will improve health and wellbeing and reduce inequalities by creating and maintaining greener places which boost the health and wellbeing of everyone.

To do this we will:

Why this matters

A healthy environment is essential for our health and wellbeing. And good green infrastructure is central to improving the quality of our air, water, soil, and biodiversity.

Greener places help us:

  • relax
  • connect with nature
  • play sport
  • go walking or running
  • grow food in our communities

Research from the The University of Exeter shows that:

2 hours

a week in nature improves health and wellbeing

Where we have areas with higher levels of nitrogen dioxide (from vehicle emissions) we will plant more trees and have better walking and cycling routes. This will improve air quality.

Being able to enjoy nature has been even more important during the Covid-19 pandemic and making our places greener is at the heart of our work.

We want everyone to enjoy local, high quality green spaces and will work with equality and diversity groups to reduce inequalities.

Sustainable places

Our commitment

We will maximise the multiple benefits of green infrastructure in both new and existing communities to create nature rich, resilient places where people and nature thrive.

To do this we will:

  • use our core strategy to make communities sustainable
  • refer to our supplementary planning documents when planning new developments
  • make sure our core strategy is up to date and meets the Environment Bill and best practice
  • think about green infrastructure and biodiversity at the start of design for all new projects
  • take the lead in mitigating risk and increasing biodiversity when planning infrastructure and transport projects
  • plan and design new development in line with national requirements and Local Plan 2020 priorities and principles

Why this matters

The West of England is a significant region for growth.

Meeting the needs of our growing population over the next decade and beyond is both a challenge and an opportunity.

We need to balance the need for new housing and infrastructure with what it takes away from our natural environment.

The United Nations Department of Social and Economic Development says that:

68%

of people across the world will be living in built-up areas by 2050

In South Gloucestershire our population is made up of:

  • 63% of people living in suburban areas (on the outskirts of town)
  • 17% of people living in market towns
  • 20% of people living in villages and rural areas

Improving our green infrastructure is even more important as we respond to the climate and nature emergency. It will help new and existing communities be resilient to the changing climate.

We must make sure that the environment and how it supports us is thought about when we start planning for new places.

Creating nature rich sustainable green places will benefit everyone.

We encourage standards like Building with Nature accreditation and BREEAM Certification to be used at the start and heart of design.

We have clear guidance on ‘what good looks like’ and standards that need to be met as part of the planning process.

This helps us to have high quality sustainable development.

Valued healthy landscapes

Our commitment

We will create and manage green infrastructure to conserve and enhance our landscapes, heritage, sense of place and culture.

To do this we will:

  • work with our neighbouring authorities to improve and maintain green infrastructure which extends across our region
  • update our planning policy to improve how we care for and celebrate our historic, archaeological, natural, and cultural heritage (including our landscapes and conversation sites)
  • restore and improve Hawkesbury and Inglestone common with funding from Countryside Stewardship
  • enhance and restore our valued landscapes through green infrastructure programmes like River Frome Reconnected and Common Connections

Why this matters

Our landscape character, views, and historic, archaeological, and natural heritage are an important part of our places and who we are.

We want all these things to be looked after and improved so that people can enjoy and celebrate them. We also have a legal duty to protect and manage our environment.

Our landscapes and heritage are increasingly at risk from climate change, nature loss, land use pressures and rising maintenance costs.

We want ‘to protect and enhance the character, distinctiveness, quality and intrinsic features of the local landscape’. Good planning, design, and management of our green infrastructure is important.

We also want to encourage everyone to get involved and feel connected with our natural and built heritage. This can help wellbeing and bring communities together.

Sustainable and local food production

Our commitment

We will protect the best agricultural land and enhance our pollinator network and increase opportunities for local food production and food markets.

To do this we will:

  • protect the best soils and agricultural land when planning new development
  • improve habitat for bees and insects
  • have a grazing policy for council owned land that helps food production, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration
  • look at our allotment regulations to make sure they help the climate and nature emergency
  • have a hedgerow management policy for the hedges we manage (which we will share with other landowners)
  • work with local farmers and landowners to get investment for sustainable land through Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS)
  • work with local food producers, businesses, our partners, and residents to support local food production and markets
  • plant fruit trees and new community orchards and restore existing orchards and fruit trees on council owned land

Why this matters

Agricultural land use covers approximately half of our area and includes land managed for pasture, crops, and mixed farming. We also have allotments and community food growing networks.

Soil health is vital. A single hectare of soil can store and filter enough water for 1000 people. But soil can take hundreds of years to form.

Since 1945 (after World War 2) policy, machinery, and intensive food production has caused overgrazing, pesticide use and removal of hedgerows.

Because of this our soils, environment and landscapes are not as good as they were.

Globally around:

75%

of crops grown need to be pollinated by insects

But insect numbers are plummeting, causing the Nature Emergency and increasing pressure on our food production and economy.

We will:

  • deliver our promise to have net zero emissions by 2030
  • improve soil health and water quality
  • restore hedgerows, woodlands, and species rich meadows
  • increase pollinator habitat and networks
  • find ways to improve carbon storage
  • improve our health and economy
  • bring communities together through local food growing and markets

A green and resilient economy



Our commitment

We will optimise the role and contribution of green infrastructure to support a green and resilient economy.

To do this we will:

  • work with our partners to make our high streets and town centres greener
  • work with our partners to make the most of our green infrastructure for local recreation and tourism
  • look after the green places and networks we manage
  • get external funding to restore Kingswood Park as part of the regeneration of Kingswood
  • work with our partners to develop opportunities for green skills training, work experience, and apprenticeships in green space management (including training for volunteers)
  • have a tree nursery and contract growing to meet our tree planting plans
  • move on with our portfolio of green infrastructure projects for funding, including how we manage our highway verges for biodiversity
  • have opportunities for developers to invest in biodiversity net gain on our land

Why this matters

High quality green infrastructure helps to build a sustainable and resilient economy.

Greener places support health and wellbeing and reduce pressures and costs on health and social care.

The Public Health England – Improving access to green space 2020 review says that £2.1 billion per year could be saved in health costs if everyone in England had greenspace to do physical activity.

The Environment Agency estimates that woodland in the West of England is worth:

£717m

in carbon capture, air quality improvements and hazard regulation

This figure is highlighted in The Forest of Avon Plan.

Delivering value for money is an overarching theme of our Council Plan and is a primary role of the council.

The HM Treasury Dasgupta Review 2021 – The Economics of Biodiversity highlights the urgent need to consider nature in all we do.

It gives a road map for a green economy and a sustainable future including to:

  • only use resources and make demands on nature that we can replace and increase
  • change how we measure the success of society to guide us on a more sustainable path

It also says that our financial, educational, and systems need to be changed now and kept for future generations.

We need to value nature across all areas of our lives and think about it when we make decisions.

Stronger working together

Our commitment

We will work with others to deliver our commitments for green infrastructure to achieve shared goals

Residents

Including the South Gloucestershire Equalities Forum.

Regional partners

Town and parish councils

Including guidance and support about Local Nature Action Plans to help restore nature.

Community groups and volunteers

Including our Community Spaces Network and Climate Emergency Community Engagement Group.

Businesses and employers

Including the Local Strategic Partnership.

Local farmers and landowners

Including Environmental Land Management Schemes.

Why this matters

We want everyone to get involved and to know that their contribution is recognised and valued.

We all have a part to play in our goals for the environment.

Working together is how we will achieve our vision for ‘greener places where people and nature thrive.’

Our plan for greener places

We are writing a plan to give detail on the action we will take and how we will work with partners, communities and residents.

This plan will be ready later this year.

Sir David Attenborough stood in front of a large tree

“The truth is the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air.

It is the most precious thing we have, and we need to defend it.”

Sir David Attenborough, BBC 2020

Have your say

This strategy is in draft form, and we would like to know what you think.

You can read the full strategy document if you would like to know more.

The consultation is open until 12 September 2021.

Complete the survey about our draft strategy.