Now is the Time for Professionals to Act – By Chris Gerrard

Our environment faces many challenges. Unchecked, biodiversity loss and the climate crisis will be disastrous for the natural world. And that would be bad for us. “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment” as Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, put it.

At Anglian Water we have long recognised these challenges. Addressing growth and climate change is crucial to delivering resilient services to our customers and we know that a healthy natural environment helps achieve that aim. That’s why we’re committed to helping create a flourishing environment.

A responsible business must ensure that its own land is properly managed. We own, or are responsible for, 49 Sites of Special Scientific Interest. 99% of this land, by area, is in Favourable Condition. We own many other sites of conservation value and recently we completed a project, with the University of East Anglia, to assess all of our landholdings against three of the four ‘Lawton principles’ (bigger, better and joined). This will help us target our conservation management where it will do most good and contribute to ecological restoration at a landscape-scale. This is all the more important now we have committed to delivering Biodiversity Net Gain from April 2020 onwards. We are currently developing a biodiversity baseline for our assets, with help from consultancy firm WSP, so that we can minimise impacts on biodiversity a deliver net gain when required.

Managing our own land is a vital first step, but in many ways more exciting is the impact we can have on catchments across our region, particularly by replacing traditional ‘end of pipe’ solutions with natural capital ones. At Ingoldisthorpe in west Norfolk we partnered with Norfolk Rivers Trust to build a one-hectare wetland, rich in biodiversity, to treat ammonia in effluent before it is returned to the river, a rare chalk stream. It was the first one in England and replaced costly and carbon intensive industrial treatment. It’s good for biodiversity, mitigates climate change, and helps keep bills down – a win-win-win. We’re hoping to build 34 more of these before 2027. With the right regulatory environment, one that favours all-round natural capital solutions, we can mainstream these and other sustainable alternatives, such as paying farmers to prevent phosphate leaving the land to help improve the health of rivers, which also offsets more expensive and less beneficial treatment at our assets. Collaboration is key to all of this; we can only have impact at a catchment scale if we align our objectives with others and work together to achieve them.

Cross-sector collaboration is critical at a policy level too. Whatever the future holds, Michael Gove may not be the Environment Minister much longer. Many in the environment sector have been impressed by how he has grasped the challenges and shown some of the potential solutions through Defra’s work on the 25 Year Environment Plan, Environment Bill and Agriculture Bill. But none of that has landed yet. Government will respond best to demands for strong environmental leadership when that comes from businesses working with environmental organisations, as we are in the Broadway Initiative.

It seems to me the ecology and environmental management sector is more important than ever right now. There is much to gain, and even more to lose, depending on the choices we make in the coming months and years. Professionals in the sector, like myself, have a leading role to play to influence government and businesses, amongst others, to help secure the future.

Chris Gerrard CEnv MCIEEM
Natural Capital and Biodiversity Manager, Anglian Water

Come along to our Autumn Conference: Planning for Success: Maximising Biodiversity Through Planning and Strategic Land Use Management to join the discussion. 

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