Webinar: Data & Evidence to Support Habitat Restoration and Nature Recovery

This afternoon, CaBA and the Rivers Trust held another webinar session as part of their Catchment Data & Evidence Forum 2020. This webinar was about data to support nature restoration.

Ali Morse (The Wildlife Trust) opened the session, before passing onto Emily Dresner (Natural England) to present on policy context. Emily looked at the relationship between policy mechanisms and working towards shared goals for restoration. She mentioned how natural ecosystem function is an integrated concept, considering hydrology, physical habitats, water quality and species. Common goals are for biodiversity and water mechanisms.

Policy development has created a more coherent approach to policy for ecosystem function. This shows the various policy influencers on restoration work, including mapping work and monitoring.

WFD planning needs to focus on promoting natural function, as this is a key approach across biodiversity work, and provides a template for the presence of habitats and species. These principles will increasingly be present in wider biodiversity strategy over time. Also, a new nature strategy is under development to deliver on the objectives of the 25 year environment plan.

Ali Morse then presented on CaBA tools to support biodiversity, including promoting best practice management, and tackling barriers faced when approaching biodiversity programmes. Ali focused on 2 main resources, the CaBA GIS data package and Biodiversity Pack. Both of these resources provide layers and datasets on a range of water quality and biodiversity aspects, allowing evidence-based decision making. Useful data for catchment partnerships looking at biodiversity include those layers that tell us about existing biodiversity condition and restoration opportunities.

RRC’s very own Josh Robins then went on to talk about tools, approaches and support for river restoration. Josh mentioned 2 key points that a catchment plan should include:

  • An assessment of all river processes, pressures and impacts at the correct scales
  • Evidence-based decisions and prioritisation

We need this to result in catchment wide improvements and ensure our decisions are based on evidence, and help us prioritise implementation of measures or techniques.

There are loads of datasets available to help decision making, but we need to turn this data into meaningful information, and actions in our catchment. We can use expert interpretation, alongside guidance and tools to help us develop our decisions for action in the catchment, as well as understand why projects fail or succeed.

To help with this, RRC developed a catchment planning framework which we have applied across the county and now teach in a training course. This helps us understand the catchment from a hydromorphological perspective, and aids prioritisation of techniques based on where they sit in this hydromorphological framework.

Josh also mentioned the survey tools RRC have looked into, including creating an RHS app to make surveying in the field more efficient. We are also developing this for volunteers, and looking at how RHS data can be better presented and incorporate into decision making processes.

Next Jeff Edwards (Natural England) presented on the National Habitat Network Mapping Project. He started by outlining the habitats which are included, such as lowland meadows, heathland, fens, reedbeds, rivers, lakes and woodlands. For each individual map, associated habitats surrounding a point are considered, to show that habitats don’t exist in isolation. Habitat enhancement zones are also identified, and patches of habitat are highlighted that would benefit from restoration in order to avoid fragmentation. Expansion zones are also created to see how these habitats can be linked across a wider landscape. Habitat network maps provide a standard approach for mapping habitat to help local decision making. However they don’t identify local opportunities and constraints. Jeff suggested this should be investigated at a more local scale. Moreover, these maps aim to deliver a range of natural capital and ecosystem services through aiding decision making, considering the right restoration technique for specific areas.

The next talk was on developing data and tools to work with natural process, presented by Richard Jeffries (Environment Agency). He mentioned that although there is a lot of data available, not much focuses on natural processes, their condition, and how they are impacted. Richard went on to talk about how much our rivers have been artificially modified, and how we need to increase restorative progress to return their natural processes as much as possible.

Morphology maps and information have been developed by the Environment Agency however they are not yet available externally. 7 layers have been created looking at a range of characteristics including:

  • Width of the natural river corridor

  • Pinpointing where the river width has been modified

  • Headwater information flagging which headwaters are likely modified

  • Information regarding climate change impacts on river behaviour

  • Data on channels which have been artificially raised or perched above the valley floor

  • Stream power or energy information which is useful at predicting river behaviour, and how the channel might change if enhanced or modified. Also this gives an indication of flow and sediment and whether the channel has the energy for natural self-sustained recovery

All the layers together provide a reasonably good understanding of what would be good to implement and where to install techinques. Richard showed the main principles for working with natural processes, including giving rivers space to flow naturally, and enhancing barriers and understanding how they impact on physical processes.

The final talk was from Chris Mainstone (Natural England) on mapping restoration priorities for achieving combined biodiversity, water and wider natural capital benefits. This presentation looked at restoration potential maps and UK Priority habitats. Chris mentioned how priority habitat work has refocused on protection and restoration of natural ecosystem function, and neglected habitats are fundamental sites for restoration.

Anyone can add data to the maps via the simple data entry form on the FBA priority habitats data portal, which is collated and updated on the maps. Chris mentioned one important feature of this work is that this is an opportunity for catchment partnerships to promote where they want to be prioritising action in their local area, in order to restore natural ecosystem function.

Following Chris’ presentation, as a final comment, Emily Dresner stressed the importance of working with local partnerships in order for priorities to be expressed and included in the catchment management planning process.

Thanks to everyone involved in running this webinar, and to all the presenters for these really informative talks.


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