Last edited 25 Feb 2016

Ecological network

The 2010 report to Defra, ‘Making Space for Nature: A review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological network’, suggested that ‘…an ecological network comprises a suite of high quality sites which collectively contain the diversity and area of habitat that are needed to support species and which have ecological connections between them…’

The government believes it is important to create an ecological network at national and local levels across England, but that this will require a fundamental shift in approaches to conservation and land management.

The 2011 Natural Environment White Paper ‘The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature ‘ proposed that, ‘The elements of life – biodiversity, healthy soils, clean air and water, and diverse landscapes – need to be managed in ways which recognise the vital connections between them. Connections can be made over land; through water or by air; or through continuous green corridors or stepping stones, to create a dynamic and resilient landscape’

The components of an ecological network comprise:

  • Core areas of high nature conservation value. These contain rare or important habitats or ecosystem services and include protected wildlife sites and other semi-natural areas of high ecological quality.
  • Corridors and ‘stepping stones’. These enable species to move between core areas and can be made up of a number of small sites or a mosaic of habitats that allow species to move.
  • Restoration areas. Where strategies are put in place to create high-value areas so that ecological functions and wildlife can be restored.
  • Buffer zones. Protecting core areas, restoration areas and ‘stepping stones’ from adverse impacts.
  • Sustainable use areas. Focused on the sustainable use of natural resources and appropriate economic activities. Together with the maintenance of ecosystem services, they ‘soften’ the wider countryside, making it more permeable and less hostile to wildlife.

According to Planning Practice Guidance, relevant evidence in identifying and mapping local ecological networks includes:

  • The broad geological, geomorphological and bio-geographical character of the area.
  • Key natural systems and processes within the area.
  • The location and extent of internationally, nationally and locally designated sites.
  • The distribution of protected and priority habitats and species.
  • Areas of irreplaceable natural habitat, such as ancient woodland or limestone pavement.
  • Habitats where specific land management practices are required for their conservation.
  • Main landscape features which, due to their linear or continuous nature, are important for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchanges of plants and animals, including any potential for new habitat corridors to link any isolated sites that hold nature conservation value.
  • Areas with potential for habitat enhancement or restoration.
  • An audit of green space within built areas and where new development is proposed.
  • Information on the biodiversity and geodiversity value of previously-developed sites.
  • Areas of geological value which would benefit from enhancement and management.

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