NIA grant awarded: £595,750
Additional resources provided by this NIA: £8,782,007
“To achieve long-term environmental gains for the wildlife and people of Birmingham & the Black Country by delivering targeted, on-the-ground, biodiversity projects at a landscape scale.”
Progress from year one of the NIA can be found in this summary: (299kb).
The Birmingham & Black Country Nature Improvement Area is a partnership of over 50 organisations that have come together to deliver significant improvements to the natural environment of Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. The Nature Improvement Area is the culmination of decades of working towards our vision of an urban landscape permeated by a network of high quality greenspace which is rich in wildlife and enjoyed by the people who live and work here. It represents a step-change away from site-focused nature conservation to a joined-up landscape-scale approach.
The key objectives of the Nature Improvement Area are:
Bigger – increase the amount of wildlife habitat in the landscape
Better – enhance the value of existing habitats across the landscape
More – increase the number of sites with wildlife value across the landscape
Joined – target action on ecological corridors and stepping stones
People – connect communities with their landscape and its wildlife
The partnership has identified a number of Delivery Themes which prioritise the types of projects that will be undertaken in this first phase (2012 – 2015) of the Nature Improvement Area. These have been informed by the partnership’s collective understanding of the Birmingham and Black Country landscape, its ecology and its needs. The Delivery Themes enable each partner to maximise their contribution to landscape-scale change by ensuring their projects form part of larger and linked actions which are being rolled-out across Birmingham & the Black Country.
Management and enhancement of recently established woodland
There are remnant concentrations of old, ecologically diverse and historically valuable woodlands in parts of Birmingham & the Black Country. These are most commonly found in those areas that were least altered by the land-use changes of the Industrial Revolution. In those areas that saw the most dramatic changes much of the former agricultural landscape and the woodlands that it contained were lost. Over the past half century woodland cover in these areas has greatly increased through large-scale planting of new woodland. This has gone some way to redress the ecological imbalance these differing land-use histories have created, however, these new woodlands are often structurally and ecologically poor, and do not support the variety or abundance of flora and fauna found in the older woodlands.
The focus of the Woodland Delivery Theme is therefore to enrich and diversify recently established woodlands through thinning, coppicing, under-planting and the introduction of native field-layer species sourced from our remaining old woodlands.
Restoration and linking of long-established grassland
The industrialisation which began in the 18th century and the large-scale suburban expansion of the 20th century drastically reduced and fragmented the area of permanent grassland in Birmingham & the Black Country. There remain rural areas in the Nature Improvement Area with concentrations of commercially farmed and often floristically diverse semi-improved grassland, whilst in the rest of the area there is a much more complex landscape which retains fragments, ribbons and patches of remnant ancient countryside comprised of small fields and often outgrown and defunct hedgerows. These grasslands frequently loose their floristic and associated faunal diversity through a lack of management, becoming first rank and dominated by tussocky grasses, quickly followed by colonisation by tall perennial herbs, bramble and scrub.
There is a recent history in the Nature Improvement Area of pioneering work to create simulacra of semi-natural grassland - techniques which have been adopted nation-wide. The Grassland Delivery Theme will build on this work by creating new species-rich grassland sites across our area, whilst also restoring long-established grassland through the re-introduction of appropriate management.
Restoration and linking of long-established heathland
Prior to the large-scale landscape changes of the last 200 years large parts of Birmingham and Walsall were dominated by heathland, whilst smaller areas existed scattered throughout the Nature Improvement Area. There remains a core area of high quality heathland in the north-east, with smaller and more isolated sites surviving at other relict heathlands across the Nature Improvement Area.
Often the most active threat to our heathland is the lack of traditional management and the associated colonisation by flora species such as bracken and bramble, followed by the inevitable succession to species-poor scrub. There are also examples of sites which formerly supported a heathland/acid grassland mosaic where a lack of appropriate management (often with associated trampling by people) has led to a loss of the ericaceous cover and the converse dominance of acid grassland.
The focus of the Heathland Delivery Theme is therefore to restore existing heathland through the clearance of undesirable vegetation and the re-introduction of appropriate management; and to recreate heathland using locally sourced material on former heathland or other suitable sites.
Improving quality, linkage and bridging gaps
Birmingham & the Black Country comprises a deeply fragmented landscape and therefore blue (wetland) and green (terrestrial) habitat corridors are often key to species movement, site colonisation and population expansion.
The Nature Improvement Area’s wetland corridors vary greatly in form and scale, however, a vast network of canals, rivers and streams reaches almost every part of Birmingham & the Black Country. This network links the other land cover and habitat types, and often provides the primary opportunity for wildlife to enter and cross the most inhospitable parts of the landscape.
Green corridors frequently mirror wetland corridors with associated narrow strips of woodland, scrub, grassland or heathland following the canals and rivers. Larger-scale terrestrial corridors also exist within the Nature Improvement Area; often these are a complex mix of remnant pre-industrial agricultural land and reclaimed post-industrial sites, linked by accident of history. Some reach deep into the conurbation from the surrounding countryside, some exist entirely surrounded by dense development.
Very often, however, these corridors are of poor quality or are incomplete: rivers and streams, for example, are frequently constrained in highly modified and homogenous channels with little variation of conditions and little semi-natural habitat; the habitats which comprise green corridors may be degraded through abuse or simple neglect, or there are gaps where inappropriate land-use or development forms a barrier to movement.
The focus of the Corridors Delivery Theme is therefore to improve the ecological quality of the Nature Improvement Area’s wildlife corridors, improve links between sites along corridors and to create species or species-group specific corridors. Actions on corridors shall not only aim to enhance links within the conurbation, but also enhance ecological links to the surrounding countryside.
Linking geodiversity and biodiversity
The underlying geology of the Nature Improvement Area is remarkably complex, diverse and well recorded, and many nationally and even internationally important designated sites are found here. There are many locations across the Nature Improvement Area where work to enhance access to geological exposures can be combined with gains for biodiversity: for example, removing scrub can improve the educational and aesthetic value of exposures whilst also restoring habitat for scarce plant and invertebrate species reliant on skeletal soils or un-shaded exposures.
The focus of the Geology & Geomorphology Delivery Theme is therefore to target actions for gains to geodiversity where there is a demonstrable associated biodiversity gain.
Birmingham & the Black Country has a population of over 2 million people, and it is key to the success of the Nature Improvement Area that there is widespread public awareness, engagement and involvement in the work of the partnership. Resources are therefore being invested in securing community benefit and in maximising nature improvement gain through the engagement of individual volunteers and local groups.
Well over 100 friends’ groups are engaged with open spaces across Birmingham & the Black Country, and clearly there is an opportunity to involve these with the delivery of Nature Improvement Area projects. There are also countless other opportunities for activities which involve the general public and a wide range or groups who are not already engaged with their local open spaces - including social care organisations, schools, housing associations and many others.
The focus of the Community Engagement Delivery Theme is broad and wide ranging, and is simply the involvement of people with all aspects of the Nature Improvement Area.