Today we presented our Manifesto for Leicester's Wildlife to Leicester City Mayor, Peter Soulsby. Our biodiversity campaigner, Malcolm Hunter, explains:
“All around us the natural world is in decline, but there is a lot we can do to help to halt and reverse this, even in an urban area such as Leicester, given the large amount of land now occupied by urban areas and the fact that urban areas can sometimes actually provide a haven for wildlife that is struggling to survive in surrounding intensively farmed countryside.
The City Council are already doing some good work in this area, but we believe that even more can be done and we hope that the City Council will find our suggestions useful and give serious consideration to taking them on board”.
City Mayor Peter Soulsby said:
“I very much welcome this initiative from Leicester Friends of the Earth and look forward to working with them to look at how we can best use their suggestions to further develop the City Council’s work in this area”.
A Manifesto for Leicester’s Wildlife
Across the world, nature is declining at an unprecedented rate. This will have serious implications for the long-term sustainability of human society.
When people think about nature, they tend to think about the countryside, but urban areas are also important as they now occupy a significant proportion of land. In fact, cities can provide a haven for many species that are struggling to survive in intensively farmed rural areas.
Leicester City Council has a 10-year biodiversity action plan, which contains many laudable aspirations and policies. However, although progress has been made, such as in the creation of wilder areas in many parks, we believe that much more could be done. We are keen to work with the Council and other stakeholders to look at how current good work can be built upon.
This document is not intended to be a comprehensive catalogue of everything that needs doing. However, it aims to contribute some ideas and encourage further discussion.
We would like to make the following suggestions:
Look at the city as one habitat. Leicester’s existing biodiversity action plan is very focused on protecting sites of particularly high wildlife value and on identifying and improving other sites with high potential. The rest of the City is also important because the total area of potential habitat involved is greater, even if its quality is lower, and one continuous area of habitat can support more wildlife than several separate areas. The more that we can connect up areas of prime habitat, the better. This could be achieved by a drastic reduction in both the frequency and degree of pruning of street trees and a further reduction in the frequency of cutting of roadside verges.
Plant more trees. The Council’s current policy is to replace any tree felled with a newly planted sapling, but this does not replace like with like, in terms of providing wildlife habitat or mitigating climate change. Mature trees contribute far more to both than newly planted saplings. The Council should acknowledge this and adopt a policy of replacing any tree it fells with, say, 20 saplings. This would come much closer to replacing what has been lost and would allow for more informed decisions to fell mature trees.
Become a pesticide and herbicide-free town. Recent years have seen a massive decline in insect populations, with knock-on effects for other species. Alongside habitat loss, a major driver of this decline has been the use of pesticides. We would like to see Leicester sign up to become a pesticide-free town. The Council should not only avoid the use of pesticides, but also adopt a policy of making sure that any seeds or plants purchased from external suppliers do not contain pesticide residues.
Plan to make space for wildlife. The Council should review its planning policies to check that it makes maximum use of the powers available to prevent environmentally damaging developments and to ensure that developments protect and enhance biodiversity. This can be done with green spaces, sustainable urban drainage, nesting boxes, hedgehog holes in new walls and fences, restrictions on paving over of gardens and requirements to incorporate green roofs and walls. In addition, the Council should review whether it has sufficiently robust procedures in place for monitoring whether planning requirements are actually complied with.
Incorporate green roofs and walls into Council properties. The Council should consider incorporating green roofs and walls into the new council housing that it is hoping to build and its existing buildings. Green roofs can also be added to bus shelters.
Reduce light pollution to protect wildlife. The Council’s current policy makes no mention of reducing the impact of light pollution on nocturnal wildlife; something needs to be added to the strategy on this issue.
Consider potential biodiversity and climate change impacts of all Council decisions. While one part of the Council may be striving to act in an environmentally sustainable way, this may be undermined by the actions of other parts of the Council with different priorities. We would like to see the Council declare a “biodiversity emergency”, in addition to its recent declaration of a “climate emergency”. It should adopt a policy of assessing both the biodiversity and climate change impact of all Council decisions and these assessments should play a major role in guiding decision-making.
Green up the Council’s purchasing and investment policies. Beyond the boundaries of Leicester, the Council’s purchasing and investment decisions can have a major impact on biodiversity. For example, the City Council has recently established Fosse Energy, a not-for-profit energy company that aims to source all the electricity it provides from renewable sources. This is a very welcome initiative but they count electricity produced by burning biomass as renewable. In fact, electricity generation from burning biomass is leading to large-scale felling of forests, with severe negative implications for nature and the climate. The Council should avoid using biofuels for similar reasons.
Engage all citizens of Leicester in helping to promote biodiversity and wildlife. In an era of financial constraints, one avenue for reaching people is schools, not just in terms of educating and involving a new generation, but also as a way of reaching families. Relevant teaching materials and lesson plans could be provided for teachers and the Council could consult with the Young People’s Council. Local media outlets, such as the Leicester Mercury and Radio Leicester, could help get messages out. As allotments can play a potentially important role in supporting urban wildlife; the Council could provide allotment holders with advice on how to best manage their plot to enhance biodiversity.
Organise a biodiversity conference. Finally, to help catalyse a wider conversation, the Council could consider organizing a conference to look at further developing local policy. As well as involving environmental organizations such as Leicester Friends of the Earth, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, etc., this could involve schools (with teacher and student reps); youth organizations; trades unions; the Chamber of Commerce; the universities; community and faith organizations. To help organize this and to research what is happening elsewhere, the Council might look at appointing one or more graduate trainees.
 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): https://www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment
 This important role for urban areas is recognized in the IPBES report. A People’s Manifesto for Wildlife have also produced a list of policies that they would like to see adopted by towns and cities in the UK to allow nature to flourish.
 A recent report has the role of trees in mitigating climate change: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6448/76
 This has been done in Utrecht: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/bus-stop-plants-green-roof-bees-holland-utrecht-a8997581.html