“The breadth of the team that developed the field guide is an indication of the collaboration across professional disciplines needed to deliver the outcomes at the scale and the pace required.”
Prif Cynghorydd Arbenigol, Ecosytemual Cydnerth / Lead Specialist Advisor, Ecosystem Resilience
Biodiversity loss is at its worst. Over the last 50 years, there has been a 60% decline in species across the planet. The way in which nature is being exploited faster than it can replenish itself is damaging ecosystems everywhere, whether mountain, river, woodland or urban.
Ecosystems are critical to our future: the services they provide include preserving and regenerating soil, fixing nitrogen, recycling nutrients, controlling floods, mitigating droughts, filtering pollutants, assimilating waste, pollinating crops, maintaining a genetic library, operating the hydrological cycle and storing carbon.
For a healthy, biodiverse planet, we need healthy ecosystems, where people, nature, weather and landscape come together to form sustainable systems. Natural systems need the capacity to cope with change and disturbance through resistance, recovery and adaptation.
LDA Design and Environment Systems have produced first-of-its-kind guidance to dramatically enhance ecosystem resilience in Wales.
For the past six years, the country has benefited from having a Well-being of Future Generations Act, a law with clear goals for public bodies, including to improve resilience. The new Ecosystem Resilience Field Guide was produced on behalf of Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru / Natural Resource Wales – the Welsh government sponsored body set up to protect and enhance natural resources.
Scale of the problem
In Wales, in common with the rest of the UK, intensive farming and forestry, combined with increased pollution, resource exploitation and transport and urban extension have resulted in a decline in biodiversity that’s been accelerating since the 1970s.
The State of Natural Resources Report tells us that only 31% of Wales contains semi-natural habitat, few in good condition. Freshwater habitats are being depleted by nutrient enrichment and physical modifications. Increased frequency of drought and flooding is putting pressure on natural systems and their ability to regulate the environment. No habitats in Wales possess all the factors required for resilience, so urgent action is needed.
The scale of this catastrophic loss in biodiversity requires a landscape-scale response. However, many warning signs of a deteriorating ecosystem, such as poor soil condition, are not immediately visible, and people are attached to familiar landscapes so the prospect of significant change can be daunting. In this situation, a compelling vision of a better future is essential, to win support for new approaches to environmental management.
A fresh approach
The Ecosystem Resilience Field Guide’s ambition is to create a future Wales with resilient ecosystems which allow every person, wherever they live, to connect to nature every day. It sets out practical actions that householders, landowners and policy makers can take, bringing together information into one accessible resource. It is shortlisted for a 2021 Landscape Institute Award.
The Field Guide showcases how key interventions – both bold and simple – can make a huge difference to four characteristic Welsh landscapes: lowlands, uplands, coastal and urban by 2050. It seeks to increase the area of land managed with resilience in mind and argues that combined action is needed, with everyone a part to play: “The more action we take, the more resilient our ecosystems will become, and the more likely that the ecosystem services, upon which we all depend for our wellbeing, will be secured.”
For example, leaky dams in headwaters, increased tree cover and blocking drains on peatland in the uplands will reduce flood risk and improve water quality downstream. Phasing out pesticides and stabilising mine spoil are longer term ways of making a difference. For coastal areas, introducing maritime grasslands and extending habitats one field back from the shore will support wildlife recovery.
Woodlands need to be actively managed for diversity, and there needs to be more hedgerows and ponds. More planting along watercourses and fencing will act as buffers to reduce soil erosion.
Urban areas will benefit from maximising the number of green roofs, street trees and SuDS, and community gardens and allotments reduce pressure on habitats for food production. Road verges, public green and blue space and private gardens can all be managed for pollinators.