The Green Halo
Where nature, people and business flourish
All around the world the benefits that come from living landscapes – the ecosystem services they provide – are being measured and quantified. Greater appreciation of these benefits to society has led to calls to make nature more prominent in decision-making and place-shaping. Last year the government put the concept of “natural capital” at the heart of the UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan.
The value that ecosystems services delivered by landscapes such as our National Parks bring to the economy, the environment and local quality of life are being taken much more seriously. However, protecting and enhancing that natural capital is not the job of one body. It requires shared vision and leadership. It means organisations from across the public and private sectors must work together. It depends on those organisations’ acknowledging the contribution of natural capital in their planning, budgeting and decision-making.
There are not many better examples where effective partnership working is needed than the New Forest. It is one of Europe’s best sanctuaries for nature, situated in the busy south east of England and surrounded by urban settlements. The natural environment beyond the National Park’s boundaries - from Cranbourne Chase to Purbeck, the South Downs to the Solent - internationally valued because of the quality of the natural environment. That natural environment is an intrinsic part of the identity of central south of England. But the central South is also an area of high economic growth with an additional 200,000 houses anticipated to be built in the region over the next 10 years (the equivalent of two more Southamptons). And it is administered by over 20 different councils and LEPs – along with two National Parks.
In 2016 the New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) decided to involve many of the Park’s influential neighbours in promoting the benefits of the ecosystem services. A conference at Ordnance Survey in July 2016 brought together businesses, NGOs and public sector organisations to develop the idea of a “Green Halo”, anchored in the New Forest National Park. A suite of ecosystem service maps previously commissioned by the NFNPA, were presented, showing the significance of the services provided by the land in and around the National Park, particularly to the populations of the coastal towns. These included the role of land in holding water and so preventing flooding, the potential of the land to influence water quality, and its value for recreation. The maps reinforced the importance of the National Park as a hotspot for biodiversity but also showed the high contribution the Park makes in reducing the risk of soil erosion and sequestering carbon.
The findings of a pilot study to quantify and value the flow of ecosystem services provided by the National Park was also presented to the conference. The study highlighted the importance of woodland which was calculated to represent 90% of the monetary flows associated with the National Park reflecting the importance of woodland as an asset for maintaining air quality, climate regulation and recreation as well as a commercial timber crop.
This fresh perspective on the natural environment encouraged the audience of local businesses, local authorities, environmental non-government organisations, health professionals, developers and others to discuss practical ways in which our environment can help us to tackle many of the challenges our society faces today: from improving public health or creating sustainable business, to making better use of renewable resources or addressing atmospheric pollution and climate change.
That led to formation of a cross-sector steering group to develop a collective response to the challenge of protecting and enhancing our natural capital. The steering group and its discussions with other potential partners have revealed there is widespread recognition of the benefits of a healthy environment.
The Green Halo Partnership now has over 70 members and is open to all public, private and third sector organisations which are ready and willing to commit time, energy and resources to protecting and enhancing natural capital in and around the National Park. There is no geographic limit to membership.
Membership comes at no cost, but those joining acknowledge their responsibilities to our environment by signing up to the vision of the Partnership: to be a global exemplar of how our most precious landscapes can work in harmony with a thriving, economically successful community.
The Green Halo is an aspiration: to make protecting our natural world part and parcel of planning for our future. As such it has received the endorsement of Professor Dieter Helm who described it as “one of the great natural capital projects”. The Partnership aims to:
- explore innovative projects and ideas about how we can protect and enhance our natural capital
- encourage its members to collaborate on projects and programmes which protect and enhance natural capital
- promote practical projects and actions
- help to obtain funding to support collaborative projects
- support research and innovation on natural capital and ecosystem services
Put simply, we wanted to turn the national discussions on the theory of natural capital into local practical action. As public policy develops, so we hope to harness this fresh approach to make the case for protecting and enhancing our valued natural environment across the central South. The Green Halo Partnership is proving a successful networking and influencing group; shaping the content of the Local Industrial Plans of the four Local Enterprise Partnerships and plans to redevelop the local marine and maritime economy.
Head of Environment and Rural Economy, New Forest National Park