Kate Mitchell, Hackney Biodiversity Officer
Hackney’s first biodiversity action plan went to public consultation in 2011 and is due to be formally adopted by the borough early this year. The delay in the BAP’s adoption hasn’t prevented the borough starting its delivery.
A GiGL biodiversity audit, together with local knowledge from the Hackney Biodiversity Partnership, helped us to understand the current biodiversity resource and formulate priorities for action. As a competent authority we need to make evidence-based decisions and GiGL provides us with an invaluable service across our work, particularly in our green space and planning teams.
Data collation and use have been written into the BAP, placing GiGL at the centre of its successful delivery. Hackney is actively promoting this two-fold approach to data in the borough:
As part of their service level agreement, Hackney has integrated GiGL datasets into their planning system. Buffers have been set around designated sites, priority habitats and protected species to flag biodiversity issues to planners using the M3 planning system. Any planning application which falls within the buffer area is required to submit biodiversity assessments and surveys. These assessments must be informed by a data search from GiGL, as per Hackney’s advice note Biodiversity Validation and Biodiversity Assessments.
Hackney’s Leisure and Green Spaces department also uses the borough’s service level agreement to inform site management and decision making. Since 2010, GiGL data has informed the management plans for each of Hackney’s Green Flag Award parks. The council’s project managers are also required to check GiGL data before commencing any park-based work, as detailed in the Hackney Projects Biodiversity Checklist.
Hackney is actively promoting the submission of wildlife records to existing recorders and interest groups through the council’s website and at a recording workshop, at which GiGL made a presentation. Useful data have already been submitted by local recorders, including almost 200 fungi records at Abney Park and 250 additional moth records. Hackney is now working with GiGL on a wider, public campaign in summer 2012 to encourage local residents to have a go at recording in their local green spaces.
The council is also seeking to mobilise its existing data held in electronic or paper format. Ruth Bramwell, Hackney’s biodiversity intern, recently undertook an audit of all known surveys and reports of Hackney Marshes, the largest green space in the borough and a Metropolitan SINC. Ruth worked with GiGL to discover which of these records they already held. She is now contacting all of the report authors whose data is not held by GiGL to encourage them to submit their data.
GiGL have been incredibly helpful in advising us how to get the most out of our SLA. Through integrating their information into our systems, I feel confident in our decisions knowing that we’re using the best available data.
Richard Harris, London Borough of Camden
One of the key principles of planning is that development plan policies and planning decisions should be based upon up-to-date information about the environmental characteristics of their areas. GiGL contributes significantly to this by collating, managing and making available detailed information on biodiversity and habitats in Camden.
Ecological assessments carried out as part of planning applications contain a wealth of data including habitat and protected species surveys, but this information is too often consigned to the planning archive where it remains unused and largely inaccessible.
Camden has turned this around, writing into planning guidance for the borough a requirement that new data submitted to the council by consultants be made available to GiGL and digitised to improve Camden’s evidence base. We use the following wording in our standard informative on planning applications:
‘You are advised that the biodiversity information/ecological assessments provided as part of this application will be made available to Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL) – the capital’s environmental records centre. This will assist in a key principle of PPS9 (Biodiversity and Geological Conservation) by building up the database of up-to-date ecological information and this will help in future decision making.’
Once planning permission is in place, nature conservation volunteers perform a vital function, retrieving and collating ecological assessments before submitting them to GiGL. While this process is ensuring new data makes it to GiGL, our next challenge is to tackle our archive records.
Where appropriate, section 106 agreements have been used to secure financial contributions to fund the data collation and retrieval service provided by GiGL – something GiGL naturally consider to be very sensible and a great idea for other boroughs.