Written by: Jon Balaam
The project is based on the mapping of land use and attributing ‘value’ to different uses in terms of the ‘Ecosystem Services’ (ES) they provide. These ES can include provision (crops, timber), regulation (water purification, air quality amelioration) and cultural (access to nature/greenspace, landscape value). This project has created a ‘first foray’ into NC and ESS mapping and valuation for the Greensand Country area by mapping the existing land use. This will provide a basis for future work. But it has also provided a historic analysis, by comparing with mapping carried out in the 1930s (the first major survey of land use in this country since Domesday) with the current situation. This has demonstrated the range and extent of habitat loss across the GC area, and the report provides a striking visualisation of this through maps and a chart.
The basemap will be used for other work around climate change responses, habitat restoration and raising awareness of biodiversity loss. Having a historic overview is more than a ‘nice to have’, because successful restoration of habitats can often depend on identifying the most appropriate areas to restore – historic land use is a big factor within this.
It demonstrates the significant change in land use that has taken place over the last 100 years in Greensand Country, and clearly represents these in chart form.
It has created a NC basemap from which a range of other work can develop (and already is being developed).
It has raised the profile of the Greensand Country landscape Partnership within the wider area, not just Bedfordshire but within the context of the OxCam Arc, covering 5 counties and being subject to significant development pressure over the coming years due to being identified as a strategic growth area by Government.
By embedding the NC approach in GC, there will be consistency of approach in protecting and enhancing the natural environment, and ensuring that when development does take place we have the evidence base to make the case and secure resources needed.
Benefits to People
The project will ultimately bring wider benefits to local communities, because the NC approach will help ensure better, more informed decision-making in terms of development and habitat restoration, which take a range of services into account.
It does help people learn about the heritage, particularly the scale and extent of habitat loss. It provides a very local perspective on things that are often talked about nationally.
It is still relatively early days in terms of embedding the approach, but the project has helped ensure the GC area links in with the bigger picture.
Benefits to Heritage & Landscape
The project provides information that will inform future habitat restoration and management.
It also records the heritage, providing a GIS map basis for land use mapping in the area, and providing a visual way to understand the changes in land use. In very simplistic terms, the loss of lowland meadows/grassland (illustrated in dark green) being replaced by arable agriculture is most striking.
By informing future NC and ES research, the ability to be able to place a value on areas of land according to the services it provides to people and wildlife will be a very powerful decision-informing tool.
Challenges & Lessons Learnt
The basemap can only be as good as the data on which it is based – it used best available data at the time, but this will need to be updated. This is taking place, including updating where GCLP projects have had a positive impact on land use.