New biodiversity map created to help link green habitats in Ipswich and allow wildlife to move freely
The loss of biodiversity is a worrying and widespread curse that afflicts much of Britain.
John Grant reports on a new approach being taken by Suffolk’s county town in the battle to conserve and enhance its status as a revered home for wildlife.
It’s not so much a blueprint as a greenprint - and Ipswich’s Ecological Network Map, which was launched last weekend, should help the town deliver environmental gold.
Suffolk’s county town has long been acclaimed for the wildlife value of green sites within its boundaries and around its fringes - its treasured parks are among its gems, as are its peripheral heathlands and the Orwell Estuary that brings marine nature right to its very heart.
The town boasts many areas that have official designation, from nationally important Sites of Special Scientific Interest down the scale to County Wildlife Sites and Local Wildlife Sites. But against a backdrop of widespread and worrying biodiversity decline across Britain, every green area becomes ever-more important for nature - and landscape-scale approaches to conservation that place value on unassuming scraps of land as well as acknowledged swathes that are highly rated become ever-more important too.
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Ipswich Borough Council has taken such an approach with its “greenprint” for the town’s future - the ecological network map that was launched in Christchurch Park on Saturday. The map provides evidence for the town’s local development framework and core strategy, which is currently progressing through the corridors of power with a presentation to the council’s executive due in September before an expected examination in public and then adoption as formal policy if it attain’s top-level Government acceptance.
Guidance notes produced for councillors says the map has several potential uses. The notes cite “development planning to protect important ecological assets, to target resources towards key areas for maintaining and enhancing the ecological network and to complement existing green infrastructure data”.
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More simply, the map is seen as a tool to enable the council to deliver national policies put in place to halt biodiversity loss.
A report to the council’s culture and leisure working group told councillors: “An ecological network identifies ways to create links through all types of environments, enabling species to move between areas and increasing the likelihood of their survival, particularly in respect of climate change and maintaining genetic viability.”
Ipswich had a range of statutory and non-statutory sites which help support wildlife, the report said.
“However, it is clear that the designation of a relatively low number of small and isolated sites has not protected against a decline in biodiversity. A landscape approach to conserving and enhancing biodiversity is now the recognised approach and the ecological network is one method of recognising and implementing such an approach to nature conservation,” it said.
“Ecological network maps help locate where the core areas of high-quality habitat are and identify aggregations of high-quality habitat as well as those which are isolated. In turn this information can be used to focus effort and resources to where they can make the most difference; restoring a core area, creating a corridor or stepping stone between core areas or even the creation of completely new core areas in areas of ecological deprivation.”
The map had been prepared using ecological data from a wildlife audit of the borough’s area, commissioned by the council and carried out by Suffolk Wildlife Trust.
The report said the council could “take great pride in being a lead authority for the East of England and even further afield” in its production of the map. “There is potential for us to share our skills with other authorities and there may be income available to us for that.”
The map identifies three categories of land. Its “core areas” have high ecological value and form the heart of the network. “Buffer zones” surround the core areas - to a breadth of 400m for top-grade nationally sites and 100m to locally important sites. “Corridors and stepping stones” are spaces that improve connectivity between core areas, enabling species to move, feed, disperse, migrate or reproduce.
A ranking system is used, evaluating each site, ranging from nationally important Sites of Special Scientific Interest through designated county and local wildlife sites to areas that are deemed to have only limited or no value to wildlife.
Phil Smart, whose borough council portfolio covers parks and open spaces, told eaenvironment that the authority took its biodiversity responsibilities very seriously.
“We are committed to protecting and enhancing biodiversity in Ipswich and are seeking to provide more opportunities for wildlife to thrive,” he said.
“To do this we are matching the recreational needs in our parks with those of wildlife and hoping to encourage residents to become more wildlife-friendly in their gardens.”
One of the key players in the production of the map has been James Baker, the manager of the Greenways Countryside Project partnership involving the borough council, Suffolk Coastal and Babergh district councils and Suffolk County Council.
Mr Baker said he was “genuinely excited” by the potential the establishment of the network had in terms of helping wildlife within the borough.
The map “puts Ipswich in the vanguard of nature conservation in towns and cities across Britain,” he said.
“It will help inform the management of all these sites and we will be hoping to upgrade rankings so it will not be just a bean-counting exercise. It gives us more of a structure to work to, it is a clear declaration of intent to deliver policies that halt biodiversity loss. It does not preclude development - it means that in some areas that are more sensitive we will be looking to developers to incorporate wildlife-friendly features into any development. We will be working with them to deliver the principles of the network,” said Mr Baker.
“Also, we shouldn’t forget that even the areas that are grey on the map, every little scrap of space in Ipswich, is vital if we are to maintain and improve biodiversity and there are many, many things that people can do in their own small way, perhaps in their gardens, to make homes for wildlife,” he added.
That is a view echoed in borough council guidance notes to councillors. The notes said: “The map is a dynamic resource and will be regularly updated whenever further data becomes available - fresh ecological surveys, species data from Suffolk Biological Records Centre (SBRC) and so on. Conserving and enhancing biodiversity is important wherever it is and blank areas on the map do not imply they have no biodiversity interest or value.”
Species recording is clearly vital if biodiversity is to be maintained and enhanced, so an SBRC recording initiative is especially pertinent. To mark the launch of the town’s ecological network, and to support it in future, SBRC has set up an online recording page to allow members of the public to record wildlife sightings in the Ipswich area.Map launch
Ipswich’s Ecological Network Map was launched in appropriate surroundings - with an appropriate event.
The venue was Christchurch Park - one of the town’s hugely important green spaces. The event was all about “wildlife homes” - giving nature the chance to thrive in even the most unobtrusive of urban locations.
Ipswich Borough Council’s wildlife team joined forces with the Greenways Project, Ipswich Wildlife Group, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Friends of Christchurch Park, Suffolk Biological Records Centre, Butterfly Conservation and the RSPB to launch its ecological network initiative and make homes for wildlife species.
The organisations at Saturday’s event offered help to the public on how to attract wildlife to their area - in effect, strengthening the town’s eco-network. Advice was given on such actions as putting in a pond, leaving a compost heap, planting native flowers and shrubs and building a log pile. Butterfly Conservation gave advice on attracting butterflies as did the RSPB for helping birds. The Suffolk Biological Records Centre plotted all the species recorded at the event using the Irecord online system.
Homes made for nature included 50 insect boxes, nine bird boxes and 17 hedgehog houses. The locations of all the new wildlife features were recorded by stickers placed on a map of Ipswich.
Ipswich Wildlife Group volunteer Martin Cant said: “What a great event. We used up all the insect homes, with additional stock being made on site. This is our best effort, better than any previous event over the last two years. Seventy-six homes for nature in total is brilliant and makes all the preparatory work worth it”.
Anyone who wants to improve their garden, school grounds, business site or allotments for wildlife can contact Ipswich Borough Council’s wildlife team on 01473 433998 or email them