Sheffield Council declares a Nature Emergency

Following a strong campaign organised by the Wildlife Trusts, Friends of the Earth, The Diocese of Sheffield, Owlthorpe Fields Action Group and Sheffield Green Parents, Sheffield City Council unanimously declared a Nature Emergency at the last full Council meeting. They have recognised our country is one of the most nature-depleted in the world.  All parties on the Council backed the Green Party motion. The Council committed to developing a comprehensive Nature Emergency Action Plan (NEAP) for Sheffield, in association with partner organisations. This will feed into the local plan ensuring developers take far more care with our environment and hopefully preventing schemes that destroy our natural environment.

Cllr Peter Garbutt proposes the motion

Cllr Peter Garbutt proposed the motion. He informed the Council that according to the World Wildlife Fund we rank 12th from bottom out of 200 countries in how depleted our nature is. He said over a quarter of our animal species are at risk. Over 300,000 hedgehogs are killed every year. Experts believe there are only about 30 remaining wildcats. Many other creatures are on the red list of animals facing extinction such as water voles and grey long eared bats. Invertebrates, fish and birds are suffering too. Their habitats, rivers and lakes, wetlands and moorlands, meadows, woodland and urban habitats are all under pressure. The pressure comes from farming practices where intensive use of land degrades the soils and farmers who kill creatures like badgers in the belief that they harm their livestock. It comes from fox hunting and grouse shooting, where it isn’t just the grouse that get killed but mountain hares, raptors and anything else that interferes with their sport. From golf courses, impeccably manicured for the sport but very disruptive of natural habitats. It comes from our planning system, which pretends, via the biodiversity net gain legislation, to care about our precious and vulnerable species  but which almost invariably ends up driven by the build, build, build imperative from on high, removing vital habitats. It comes with our obsession for neatness which brings poisonous glyphosate to our streets and to noisy mowers cutting our roadside verges to within an inch of death every 3 or 4 weeks. They also ensure our parks are relatively sterile expanses of lawn. So from the carelessness of our throwaway society where  individuals who drop their single use plastic bottles, wrappings, cigarette butts, vape paraphernalia and even their dog poo bags on the streets or chuck them into the shrubbery, where the commons of land, water and air are regarded as little more than dumps to the various copious waste produced by our linear economy. 

Peter then asked,  “How can we promote our Outdoor City whilst ignoring the harms our outdoors is suffering? To reverse the decline we must first recognise the problem. This declaration is that first step.”

We can look forward to Sheffield’s green spaces, parks, riversides and verges becoming havens and corridors for wildlife.  Changed mowing regimes and reduced use of chemicals, air pollution reduction and sympathetic planting choices will all help stop the decline of insects and pollinators that are vital for our survival.  The Council aims for 100% of waterways to have water quality that supports healthy wildlife by 2030. Council understanding that good design of the built environment can help anchor wildlife in urban spaces will have to be addressed fully in the local plan.

The Council have recognised that the Climate and Nature emergencies are intrinsically linked with each other and also to social justice and by building a better world to deal with the Climate and Ecological Emergency we will also be building a better society. They have at last formally committed Sheffield to be carbon neutral by 2030. The Council will be advising Sheffield businesses to help them understand how their procurement decisions impact ecology in Sheffield.

The first big step the Council may take could be to review their policy of using poisonous Glyphosate on our streets, parks and playgrounds. This could be stopped with a combination of leaving the wild flowers to grow where they don’t pose a hazard, mechanical methods of weeding either with hand tools or powered tools, mulching (smothering the weeds)  or using hot foam. Combining this with less frequent mowing of verges will really boost the biodiversity of our city. 

Since the election many have been sceptical about how the new red/green Cooperative Executive would work, Indeed I have even been the victim of on-line bullying from someone who was disgusted that I have defended cooperation with Labour. But this motion shows that the new cabinet can cooperate and can make dramatic improvements to our city. I look forward to the next full Council meeting with eager anticipation! 

Cllr Anglea Argenzio seconded the motion.

Notes

Webcast of the momentous Council debate.

Notice Of Motion Regarding “Action on the Nature Emergency” – Given By Councillor Peter Garbutt And To Be Seconded By Councillor Angela Argenzio (passed unanimously)

That this Council:-

(a)      recognises our natural world is struggling from the impact of habitat degradation, urbanisation, consumerism, pollution, industrial agricultural and waste management practices and climate change – all contributing to widespread disruption to the survival and distribution of native species;

(b)      recognises and congratulates the excellent work by the Ecology Department, supported by the Parks and Countryside Service and partner organisations, being done on Species Specific Projects, as well as Landscape Projects, e.g. Urban Nature Parks and Nature Recovery Networks; and that, in addition, the Council defended the ecology of the Loxley River Valley by providing staff as key expert witnesses in a major planning inquiry, for the people of Sheffield;

(c)      in addition, congratulates and thanks all Council departments and employees working on projects and measures that protect and support nature, such as Sustainable Urban Drainage System work on Grey To Green projects, as well as organisations in Sheffield more broadly for their work, such as Hunter’s Bar Infant School for their work on their green wall;

(d)      declares a nature emergency;

(e)      commits to developing a comprehensive Nature Emergency Action Plan (NEAP) for Sheffield, in association with partner organisations;

(f)       resolves that the plan will look to connect initiatives and unify the Council’s approach to biodiversity through the NEAP;

(g)      requests the Climate Change, Economy and Development Transitional Committee develop the NEAP with input from all departments within the Council, and providing the opportunity for relevant external partner organisations, businesses and community stakeholders to input and collaborate on initiatives where there are benefits to doing so, for example, a wildlife corridor could affect several departments including Transport, Housing and Parks;

(h)      recognises that co-operation and communication is key to the success of the Nature Emergency Action Plan and that, from the planning stage to implementation, monitoring and protecting, it is important for the Council to lead initiatives which address the Nature Emergency and have widespread support from the public and local campaign groups;

(i)       acknowledges the likely challenges to projects within the NEAP from developers under the current national planning guidelines which severely constrain proper consideration of the Climate and Ecological Emergency, and for this reason, it is imperative that this Council develops robust policies in the Local Plan which can help to protect and enhance biodiversity; and

(j)       requests that the Administration ensures relevant staff and all elected members will receive training on biodiversity net gain (BNG) – a vital aspect of the new Environment Bill.

Amendment to be moved by Councillor Bernard Little, seconded by Councillor Paul Turpin (also passed unanimously)

That the Motion now submitted be amended by the addition of paragraphs (k) to (w) as follows:- 

(k) looks forward to Sheffield’s green spaces, parks, riversides and verges becoming havens and corridors for wildlife and future proofing as the climate changes through landscape management changes, such as changed mowing regimes and reduced use of chemicals, air pollution reduction and sympathetic planting choices; 

(l) recognises that the success of natural areas to prosper is enhanced by the active engagement of both formal and informal neighbourhood groups taking a role in their care; 

(m) understands the multi-faceted ways nature plays in community building, recreation, physical and mental health, scientific discovery, literature and art and lasting economic prosperity; 

(n) recognises that both individual and communal gardens and orchards play a key role in encouraging wildlife and connection to nature; Page 5 6 

(o) understands that good design of the built environment can help anchor wildlife in urban spaces and believes that this should be addressed fully in the local plan; 

(p) reminds the Council that there are many people who take an interest in wildlife; 

(q) recognises that the terms Nature, Ecological and Biodiversity can be and are often used interchangeably by people and, for the purpose of this motion, all mean the same thing; 

(r) recognises that the Climate and Nature emergencies are intrinsically linked with each other and also to social justice; and by building a better world to deal with the Climate and Ecological Emergency we will also be building a better society; 

(s) aims for Sheffield to be carbon neutral by 2030; 

(t) resolves to request the Administration to ban the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides such as glyphosate; 

(u) will seek to rewild areas such as grass verges and make sure there are areas for wildlife in our green spaces including but not exclusively for wildlife corridors; 

(v) aims for 100% of waterways to have water quality that supports healthy wildlife by 2030; and 

(w) requests the Administration to provide and recommend resources for businesses to help them understand how their procurement decisions impact ecology in Sheffield, the UK and across the world; such resources include the Natural Capital Protocol and the SHIFT online platform. 

ITEM OF BUSINESS NO.8 – NOTICE OF MOTION REGARDING “ACTION ON THE NATURE EMERGENCY” 5. Amendment to be moved by Councillor Barbara Masters, seconded by Councillor Tim Huggan (Lib Dem amendment also passed unanimously)

That the Motion now submitted be amended by the addition of new paragraphs (k) to (o) as follows:- 

(k) acknowledges that the work done to promote biodiversity and sustainability in Sheffield over a number of years by the various organisations, formal and informal, working with and within the Council, Page 4 5 provides a solid base on which to build, for example the tree planting in Bolehills done in conjunction with local groups and the park rangers; 

(l) recognises that top down measures must be balanced by input from the bottom up such as the initiative to allow residents to take over the management of grass verges close to their home; and the Council should review the range of measures that have been introduced by wildlife organisations, volunteer groups and Council departments to inform future plans; 

(m) calls for consultation with the wider community in recognition of the need for widespread public support and engagement with any initiative proposed under the NEAP; 

(n) recognises that changes called for will have a greater impact on the livelihoods of people working in certain sectors such as those involving land use, whether for food production or leisure use, and calls for the development of new job opportunities as part of the NEAP to help people and businesses make the transitions necessary under the NEAP; and 

(o) calls on Local Area Committees to allocate a funding stream specifically for nature projects.

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