As part of the London Rivers Week, this webinar looked at river restoration with 2020 vision.
Andrew Terry at ZSL opened the session, mentioning how habitats, wetlands and watercourses have deteriorated over the years. There have been modifications and implications on our waterways, as well as attempts to improve our watercourses. The Covid-19 pandemic lockdown has shown the importance of access to green spaces and waterways for mental health and wellbeing. We are currently in a fascinating time as we are witnessing a real focus on the improvement of the natural world, including biodiversity net gain and payments for improved biodiversity in landscapes. As we enter the IUCN decade of biodiversity, we need bold action to scale up nature.
Andrew passed onto the first speaker, Dave Webb from the London River Restoration Group. Dave presented on the key findings of 20 years of river restoration. He mentioned the changes to the attitude of the management of the environment. When Dave started working in the river industry in 1989, there was a different perspective towards rivers, which were hidden features, governed by single, silo decisions. There is now a wider more inclusive debate on what our rivers should be like, better management and solutions, collaborative working, with works to maximise benefits and enable opportunities to be taken.
River restoration looks at opening up spaces and removal of weirs and barriers. This helps restore physical conditions for flora and fauna to establish, whilst improving physical function, helping flooding, sediment transport and species migration. Moreover, it provides diversified communicates, extends distribution, increases resilience, and creates new habitats.
Contact with nature improves wellbeing, including the escape from daily stress and tasks. Restoration helps provide natural wildlife-rich areas to be enjoyed by all ages and backgrounds, and can contribute towards reducing anti-social behaviour.
Restoration can also help target flood risk reduction through improving and enhancing floodplains, helping to slow the flow of water downstream. Wetlands are important habitats for storing carbon, and are likely to become an increasingly important consideration in attaining net zero carbon. Restoration offers ways to increase green blue space in heavily built up areas, access to nature, and biodiversity. It plays a significant role in managing the impacts of climatic change, such as flood risk, resilience and adaptation.
Lack of data on scheme effectiveness can inhibit collaboration of projects for multiple benefits e.g. health. We need new systems to quantity benefits.
Next, Maria Adebowale-Schwarte, CEO of the Foundation for Future London talked about making green spaces accessible to all and urban place making. Maria mentioned the importance of society and place to feel included. We need to consider these green open spaces as creative places to walk through and think, outside of everyday tasks. Maria outlined 5 issues to consider in place making and green spaces:
Need to understand that green spaces are often the DNA of neighbourhood. Need to think about environment and people together, with shared responsibility for current and future generations.
Lastly, Maria mentioned it is important to understand our fears. Sometimes green spaces are at risk. Needs democratic community consultation. Design and planning needs a systems based approach.
The final speaker was Louise Clarke, Group Head of Sustainability, Berkeley Group. Louise presented on the approach to restoring nature and putting the principle of biodiversity net gain into practice. Berkley Group is a developer in London and the South East, currently with 65 different development sites, many in London and along the Thames. The Thames is a valuable asset in London, so their projects can gain value from the Thames. Louise gave a snapshot of their business strategy and what they incorporate into their work. Continual improvement gives the opportunity to think what the big topic issues are and how they can implement their approaches to them i.e.net gain. They aim to be a business defined by the positive impacts they create.
Louise then talked more about biodiversity net gain, and how they aim to make sure their developments have more nature afterwards than before. This is beneficial both for nature and opening up access for the local community. We need to consider how this can be measured to determine how this has been delivered in their developments.
Louise mentioned how there is often a compromise between more house building and less nature. They tried to see how they can change this debate and illustrate development as an enabler for better connections with nature and biodiversity in both urban and rural landscapes.
In 2016 they set the commitment for net biodiversity gain. They worked with experts to set out the approach and make sure they could measure the added benefit that would be delivered through their development site. This included a toolkit to make sure more habitat was being added as they delivered their master plans. This was where all surveys and options could be collated, and included a habitat calculator of how they would incorporate and include the biodiversity net gain.
To better understand how they could incorporate nature in various elements, there was more discussion around what kind of species and habitats could be added and where. They worked with ecologists to provide their design teams with concepts to consider when implementing these approaches. It was also important to think about links to the community and access, as well as long term management, and who would have responsibility for maintenance.
Louise talked through a couple of case studies including Kidbrooke Village, where they created more diverse natural landscapes, with more value for nature. This has been further planted to provide a nature-rich area. This shows how designing for nature has a different outcome as you layer landscape, ecology, and societal needs.
After a quick break, there was a Q&A session run by Debbie Leach, CEO of Thames21. Some of the questions were:
Are there special resources to help achieve river restoration, and what is in place to ensure long term benefits?
Issues include resources, funding and capabilities/skill sets. Maintenance is also an issue however there have been many more volunteer networks established to help provide low cost resources. This however requires training for skills, and continual support to ensure continuing sustainable benefits for London and maintenance of projects.
Debbie mentioned how we need to make sure the benefits of river restoration are clearly shared, to ensure we can secure funding. How are we going to evidence social, environmental and economic benefits, and what are the ways forward?
We need to consider how we evaluate green and blue space. Currently the mechanistic way considers how many facilities a particular space has. This needs to also include how that space functions, for example in terms of what it provides to the environment and community. This then needs to be quantified so we can understand the value of those different services.
Do you think river restoration needs to be built into budgets?
Post project appraisal should be considered in project budgets. In order to fund this, we should reach out to the wider networks such as academia to see how we can get their support. We should also consider national health sector, wellbeing impacts, and the arts and culture sector.
Why should developers get involved in river restoration?
Added value. Take advantage of sites next to rivers or water features. Developments can gain value, if they incorporate restoration of these sites, and bring them back to life.
Shirley Rodrigues gave the final closing remarks on green recovery, mentioning how de-culverting rivers and taking them out of these restricted networks, has many benefits including habitats, wildlife, and community access and wellbeing.
Thanks to everyone involved in organising this webinar as part of London Rivers Week.