Area Statements will become the 'go to' source of information to frame policy and delivery of sustainable management of natural resources, focusing on both ecosystem resilience and wellbeing, to address the challenges and opportunities in Welsh Government's Natural Resources Policy.
Andy Robinson, People and Places Team Leader, explains how the South-Central Area Statement is developing:
Area Statements embody a new way of working and we are all learning what this means - how we value the natural environment, build equitable partnerships, giving a voice to all, and how we ensure the environment is at the heart of all decisions.
Identifying themes within an Area provides an opportunity to draw out additional information from a greater range of stakeholders to contribute to the evidence base and to understand the state of the natural resources and key areas to focus action.
Making up only 6% of the total area of Wales, the South-Central Area encompasses 5 local authority areas (Bridgend, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Vale of Glamorgan) and is home to 29% of the Welsh population, making it the most densely populated Area Statement area.
Today, the traditional heavy industries that put South Wales on the map have largely disappeared. Our air is perceived as being cleaner. Fish inhabit rivers which, not so many years ago, ran black. Plenty of good work has already been done to improve the environment. But there is still a long way to go.
With that in mind, the South-Central Wales Area Statement sets out to address the legacies of the past along with the challenges of the future, exploring ways we can work together to protect and enhance the natural environment by putting it at the heart of the decision-making process.
The biggest challenges to the sustainable management of natural resources (SMNR) are climate change and biodiversity loss. The challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss are closely interlinked, with climate change identified as a primary driver of biodiversity loss. Other drivers that contribute to the loss of biodiversity also contribute to climate change.
Natural and seminatural ecosystems play a critical role in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Without properly valuing our ecosystems and the mitigation and adaptation benefits they provide, we run the risk of perverse outcomes that increase rather than reduce vulnerability.
In South Central, we are seeking opportunities to work in a less siloed way, where we work with nature, considering mitigation, adaptation, biodiversity and the needs of our communities, to build resilience in our ecosystems and avoid conflict between different objectives.
South-Central is a particularly urban area with people centric priorities and challenges. A major long-term challenge, in particular for Cardiff city will be to manage the environmental impacts of its growth (including poor construction methodologies, development pressure on adjacent ecosystems) and adaptation to climate change (through use of green infrastructure and other nature-based solutions) in a resilient and sustainable fashion.
So, it's perhaps not surprising that our Area Statement is dominated by a desire to focus on the interaction between urban and natural environments and that the themes which have emerged are very people focussed.
Through these themes we have been exploring our current relationship with the natural world, understanding how we value the natural environment in our urban areas and our interactions with the wider landscape, to make decisions that make our ecosystems more resilient to challenges such as climate change.
Sustainable management of natural resources:
The objective for Area Statements is to help coordinate the work of NRW and others, to build the resilience of our ecosystems and enhance the benefits they provide i.e. achieve SMNR.
The following themes provide a framework to develop the principles and evidence base in which decisions can be judged against, to deliver SMNR in South Central Wales.
Rebuilding Resilient Ecosystems:
Currently we are experiencing a climate and biodiversity emergency and it is essential that we have resilient ecosystems to ensure that nature works with and for us, rather than against us.
We are developing our understanding of what ecosystem resilience means, particularly in the context of SMNR and how to we ensure ecosystems are resilient and able to provide benefits for us now and also the meet the needs of future generations.
Connecting people and nature: The many benefits and services that the natural environment can provide, particularly in the highly urban environment of South-Central Wales, are often poorly understood (by members of the public and decision makers).
If we do not understand and value the benefits provided by the natural environment, we will not be able to make informed decisions, both as individuals and organisations. This theme aims to understand and explore the connection of people with nature to ensure that the natural environment of South-Central Wales is appropriately valued and to identify the decision-making processes which can deliver SMNR.
Main issues and challenges
In addition to setting out a framework, we have started this process by looking at some of the main issues and challenges that face South-Central Wales.
Working with our water environment: The area suffers from a legacy of highly heavily modified river bodies, ageing infrastructure and associated pollution and flood risks.
We collectively want to ensure that the water environments of South-Central Wales are protected and enhanced and appropriately valued for the benefits that they can provide now and into the future. We want to understand how people interact with the water environment and promote the role that the water environment can play in wellbeing and regeneration in this highly urban setting.
Improving people's health outcome through the natural environment: As life expectancy starts to decrease for the first time in decades and we see increasing health inequalities, our natural resources can play a greater role to address some of our big challenges, including air and noise pollution, flooding or health issues associated with physical inactivity. We will work with Public Service Board partners to identify opportunities to maximise nature-based solutions to promote better health outcomes.
Improving air quality which can impact health, well-being and biodiversity: Poor air quality is described by Public Health Wales as an urgent public health crisis, second only to smoking. Area Statements will increase recognition and value the role that resilient ecosystems can play in improving air quality in South Wales Central and ensure that we put the natural environment at the heart of the solution.
There are no safe levels of air pollution and Wales Clean Air Plan Consultation is a great place to start the interdisciplinary discussions to look for an integrated approach to tackling air pollution.
We have been working with experts in related areas, to identify areas of further focus through which we will engage a wider range of people, to improve our understanding of the value of the natural environment, and to identify the best opportunities to put the natural environment at the heart of all decision making.
In March 2020, we will publish our work to date online. It will be a snapshot of the Area Statement, setting out in more detail the process that we have undertaken so far and ways to get involved.