Building resilient ecosystems

When natural resources flourish, society and the economy thrive as well. We need to improve the resilience of our ecosystems, enhancing the benefits they provide and preventing the loss of biodiversity

These Area Statements summarise discussions from the last couple of years. We are continuing engagement on Area Statements and are adapting our plans for future events and workshops due to the coronavirus pandemic. Please use the feedback boxes on each Area Statement page to find out more.

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For updates on what’s open, see our page on visiting our sites during the coronavirus pandemic.

Why this theme?


Mankind faces two immense challenges when it comes to the sustainable management of natural resources. The first is climate change. The second, less talked about threat is, nevertheless, of equal magnitude. That involves the loss of our biodiversity. Which brings us round to the subject of ecosystems.

An ecosystem is a large community of living organisms, for instance plants and animals, that live in a particular area and interact with each other. Here in South Central Wales, we are fortunate to have exceptional ecosystems on our doorstep. Take, for example, what is known as ffridd (pronounced ‘freeth’), an important mosaic of habitats often found on the slopes of valleys which not only connect upland and lowland species, forming a physical and cultural backdrop to the local communities, but also act as a bridge between other urban and semi-natural/agricultural ecosystems.

But there’s a catch. Our ecosystems are under threat on a number of fronts including inappropriate land management, pollution, development, invasive non-native species and lack of management. Then there’s climate change which contributes to the loss of biodiversity – the variety of life found on Earth and the communities and habitats in which they live.

There’s also a sense that we, as a society, perhaps don’t always fully appreciate the natural world around us in South Central Wales. For instance, some areas of ffridd are often regarded as a fire hazard and, therefore, a potential risk to property and air quality. However, when well-managed, ffridd has a high biodiversity value and poses a lower wildfire risk, as well as delivering wider ecosystem services such as flood mitigation, carbon sequestration and opportunities for recreation.

We need to protect and rebuild our ecosystems so that they are healthy and resistant to any potential threats. They have to be resilient. They have to be managed. They have to be valued. 

Oak woodland in Merthir

If we do this, we will enhance our well-being while at the same time enjoying and protecting nature for its intrinsic value. Wales’ natural resources are, after all, closely linked to the country’s economic, social and cultural well-being, so it more than makes sense. Think of the £2,870 million generated by tourism alone every year in Wales.  

In South Central Wales, working with our partners, we need to understand where to focus our efforts to build resilience within vital ecosystems, making them more resilient, valued and beneficial to our communities. To help us do that, we’re developing what are known as Ecosystem Profiles in order to broaden our understanding of ecosystems themselves and the services they provide for well-being.

These Ecosystem Profiles are intended to provide an evidence base for influencing future policy making and assisting with planning and delivery. They will also ensure that grass root technical knowledge is complemented by broader national evidence concerning ecosystems.

If done properly, and with the right people involved, then Ecosystem Profiles will become an integral part of decision-making for Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and our partners in South Central Wales.

The seven key ecosystems that we will focus our attention on are:

  • The Valleys

  • Woodlands

  • Grasslands

  • Urban

  • Freshwater

  • Peatlands

  • Coastal

 

Common blue butterfly in Cefn Cribwr

For more information on our approach to ecosystem resilience adn connectivity see this video.

What would success look like?


The answer to that, you might think, is a relatively simple one along the lines of ‘We reach a stage where our ecosystems are resilient and providing the benefits we need’. However, it’s not always quite so straightforward. For instance, as part of the process we want to reach a consensus about what we actually mean by resilient ecosystems and how to build resilience that provides well-being benefits. That can only happen through continued engagement and working with others. Over time, we will all develop a greater appreciation and understanding of the subject.

We think that our ecosystems play a critical role in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Without properly valuing our ecosystems, together with the mitigation and adaption benefits they provide, we run the risk of creating counterproductive outcomes that increase, rather than reduce, vulnerability.

In South Central Wales, we are aiming to work in a more joined-up way, seeking opportunities to manage for climate mitigation/adaptation and address the needs and opportunities for local communities, while at the same time avoiding conflict between different objectives.

Likewise, by way of our Ecosystem Profiles, we will be working with partners to develop our evidence base in a way that’s integral for future decision-making. Delivery can then be both planned and opportunistic as partners decide on their own way ahead. Change isn’t going to happen overnight but, together, we are working on it in the longer term.

Who have we worked with to date?


NRW has liaised with a wide range of organisations including the Welsh Government, local authorities and other non-governmental groups. In the process we have introduced our approach to identifying a shared understanding of ecosystem resilience, the development of Ecosystem Profiles, and the testing of our area themes.

We recognise that we’ve had limited external involvement with other land management sectors, for instance agriculture and forestry. However, we have had national engagement with these sectors and will be seeking opportunities for meaningful engagement as we move forward.

What are the next steps?


We still have lots of work to do surrounding this theme. However, we will be engaging closely with partners to deliver the priorities of the Natural Resources Policy (NRP). In South Central Wales, that will include:

a) Public authorities having to consider ecosystem resilience in their decision-making. We will work with them through the Area Statement to develop an evidence base, for instance Ecosystem Profiles, that complements their relevant statutory obligations such as Environment Act section 6 duty, while also identifying criteria such as ecological networks to be used in local planning decisions and green infrastructure assessments. Following feedback, we will both lead on ecosystem resilience (through South Central Wales’ operational area plans) and work with others, such as local nature partnerships, to create a shared understanding of ecosystem resilience and the services they provide.

b) We will work with Public Service Boards (which aim to improve joint-working across all public services in local authority areas throughout Wales) to ensure that green infrastructure is a key consideration in future well-being assessments and well-being plans, meeting the goals of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

c) We will work with NRW staff and partners on the development of a local approach to woodland creation for the South Central Wales area, building on the Woodlands Ecosystem Profile to support this approach.

How does what we’ve proposed deliver Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR)?


A healthy, resilient ecosystem provides us with essential and intrinsic benefits to our lives and general well-being. To understand this, Ecosystem Profiles will be used to identify opportunities to improve the health of ecosystems through nature-based solutions, providing a bigger picture of how they fit together enabling us to make priorities regarding decision-making and operational delivery.

Biodiversity is considered as an essential element in contributing to the resilience of ecosystems. The principles of Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) and the Natural Resources Policy, which spells out resilient ecological networks as a priority action, will therefore be taken forward by the Area Statement, providing supporting evidence (eg public body planning regarding biodiversity, and sustainable land management schemes).

This particular theme, in tandem with our second theme (Connecting people with nature), provides the mechanism through which all decisions can be considered in order to ensure delivery of SMNR.

Lichen heath in Merthir

How can people get involved?


In South Central Wales, we are committed to working in an open and transparent way. With that in mind, we want to encourage people to get involved in building resilient ecosystems. The Area Statements process allows us to establish new ways of working which will be identified as we develop the next steps. Should you wish to find out more, please don't hesitate to email us at southcentral.as@cyfoethnaturiolcymru.gov.uk

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