Thames Valley may be ahead of the game in third generation data modelling, but London is not far behind. Nick White of the London Biodiversity Partnership explains how the same opportunity mapping techniques could help target action in London. In 2007, the London Biodiversity Partnership successfully lobbied for regional habitat creation and enhancement targets for a range of key habitat types to be incorporated into the Greater London Authority’s alterations to the London Plan. Although biodiversity had always been mentioned within planning documents, the ‘Further Alterations to the London Plan’ process presented an opportunity to embed firm targets into this regionally significant planning document.
LBP’s habitat targets were adopted by the GLA and subsequently by Natural England as London’s contribution to the England biodiversity targets.The adoption of these targets considerably strengthened LBP’s relationship with GiGL and LBP turned to GIGL for assistance with a number of critical factors:
- Lack of adequate baseline data against which to monitor progress,
- Disagreements about habitat definitions,
- Uncoordinated approach to habitat creation,
- Inability to monitor changes in habitat condition over time.
As the regional record centre for London, GiGL was the ideal partner with which to work to address these shortfalls, and monitor progress in achieving the agreed targets.
The GiGL dataset provides a real, as opposed to best guess, and auditable baseline. In 2007, LBP adopted the GiGL dataset as the regional baseline against which to monitor progress towards the delivery of the regional targets. Now, unless the data appear on GiGL’s database, from LBP’s point of view, they do not exist.
Historically there has been a range of definitions of habitat-types employed in surveys across London, not all of which correlate with the UK BAP definitions. GiGL worked with LBP to secure agreement on precise habitat definitions to be used to populate the habitat dataset.This ensured that the data holdings provide an accurate and consistent description of the habitat-type on the ground. For the first time we are able to map the extent of eight habitat types across London, borough-by-borough.
Co-ordinating habitat creation across London London has never attempted to identify those areas of the capital that represent the ecologically optimum locations for habitat creation. Rather, habitat creation has occurred on an adhoc and piecemeal basis. Challenging habitat creation targets necessitate a more proactive and co-ordinated approach to identifying areas that have the necessary ecological, geological and other characteristics to support particular new habitats. GiGL is working with LBP to develop digitised habitat opportunity maps based on these data.These maps will be used to identify key boroughs and major landowners whose support will be required to meet biodiversity targets, and also to inform planners and developers of the optimum habitat creation schemes for that location.
Monitoring changes in habitat condition
There is now a regional target to improve the condition of key habitat types in the capital but, outside SSSIs, there is currently no region-wide mechanism for monitoring changes in habitat condition. Without funds to undertake on-the-ground surveys, there is a need for an alternative mechanism to monitor change. GiGL researched off-the-shelf condition assessment tools employed by other English regions to see if a model existed that could be transferred to London. All of the existing models utilise record centre data and most base assessments on the presence or absence of BAP species and habitat features. LBP’s habitat working groups agreed that a bespoke approach was needed for each habitat, based on existing data and taking account of London’s unique situation.
GiGL, in conjunction with each working group, has established a methodology to assess the habitat condition using existing data. GiGL and LBP will trial these condition assessment tools in early 2009.The eventual outcome will be a tool that can highlight areas of potentially good or poor habitat condition.Their accuracy can then be assessed on the ground. GiGL and LBP will be monitoring changes in condition on an annual basis.
Without the data held by GiGL and the expertise of its staff, LBP would not have been in a position to work to achieve the habitat condition and creation targets that it successfully lobbied for in London. However, by working in partnership with GiGL, the Partnership now has the tools and the information needed to ensure that it can deliver biodiversity gain for the capital.