By Henri Brocklebank
Director – Conservation Policy and Evidence
Since the seed of inception of the Wilder Horsham District Project, which finally came to fruition in the late summer of 2020, mapping our ambitions for nature’s recovery was a priority.
Last week saw the publication of our Nature Recovery Network for the District. This is a map, explained, step by step with an accompanying report, endorsed by both Sussex Wildlife Trust and our partners in the Project, Horsham District Council (HDC).
The map shows our ambition for nature in the District, mapping core areas, buffer zones, and corridors. Our wildlife is in serious decline, impacted by a myriad of threats. To restore nature, we need strong core areas for wildlife and corridors running through the landscape connecting them. Species need to be able to move, from dormice to dragonflies, to our rare woodland bats. Our habitats should not exist in isolation, but as part of a broader network, throughout the countryside and in our urban areas too. Ecological networks are based on what are commonly known as the Lawton Principles of ‘Bigger, Better, more and joined up. This map is based on this principle, using the best available evidence held at the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, reflecting guidelines emerging from Defra on some of the outcomes of the much anticipated future Environment Act.
We are fully aware that this is just a map (but please read the accompanying document to be clear on how and why it was created), it will no doubt have revisions over the course of the five-year project, bringing in more detail as we go. The most critical piece going forward is the willingness of landowners and managers and local communities to be part of this network. Richard Black and his colleague Chloe Harrison are working with individuals, businesses, and communities across the District already, on a range of scales, from small public spaces to large farms and estates. They are looking at ways that land can be enhanced for wildlife, and this really does cover a broad range of interventions, from the creation of new areas of wetland, creating areas for natural regeneration of woodland, to looking at how grazing systems can be adapted to improve the ecology and ecological functionality of a site.
The response to the project has been overwhelmingly positive, so do get in touch if you or your community can contribute to the network. We have remarkable core areas for wildlife in the District, hubs for species that are really vulnerable now in South East England. Let’s help the rich nightingale population of the Knepp Estate spread wider through the District, and see the dragonflies of Warnham Local Nature Reserve reaching more parks and garden spaces throughout the town and beyond. Let’s see the small mammals and warblers of Woods Mill thrive along the Adur valley. Let’s get our rivers and streams, ponds, lakes, and wetlands ready to be a huge district-scale network for wildlife. There are many more fabulous places for wildlife in the district, to connect in with those areas that need to be improved.
Cetti's warbler © Dave Kilbey 2008
As organisations Sussex Wildlife Trust and Horsham District Council have very different roles, we are a charity dedicated to nature’s recovery, whereas HDC are a local authority with a duty to provide core local services, including economic development, planning, housing, leisure, wellbeing, and environmental services. But critically HDC recognizes their role in Nature’s Recovery, albeit one that comes with extremely challenging decisions. The NRN map is not a planning document, but it is a tangible shared ambition for wildlife.
The Horsham Local Plan has recently been delayed, and Sussex Wildlife Trust will be responding to the next phase of consultation, looking at the detail of wording in all policies that relate to wildlife and its protection and enhancement. We will be of course commenting on the allocations, particularly in relation to the information drawn together by the Wilder Horsham District Project. Sussex Wildlife Trust’s role going forward is to continually reinforce the necessity of prioritizing nature in decision making. We all need a long-term vision for wildlife to work towards, and now we have one, and I very much look forward to witnessing its progress over the coming years.