Devon state of the environment report is a jolly good model

The Devon Local Nature Partnership in the County of Devon, UK, is an umbrella body formed in 2012 which brings together and includes everyone with an interest in securing the benefits of our natural environment. The Partnership has just published its first State of the Environment Report and, given the relative scarcity of such reports on a municipal or regional basis, it provides a fairly substantial model for others to follow.

The SOE report is jam packed with information and has sections covering 13 themes:

  • People and Economy
  • Accessibility and Recreation
  • Historic Environment
  • Landscape
  • Land Use
  • Wildlife
  • Transport
  • The Water Environment
  • Flood Risk
  • Waste
  • Climate Change and Energy
  • Geology and Soil
  • Air Quality and Noise

Among the many items in the report which caught GallonDaily’s eye:

Large areas of open space and woodland within reasonable distance from where people live offer opportunities to explore the natural environment. People living in deprived urban areas view green space as a key service, alongside more traditional services such as housing, health, education and policing.

Few studies have determined the economic value of green space but the Merseyside Forest project estimated that every £1 invested will generate £2.30 over 50 years in increased gross value added (tourism, forestry products and improvements in health).

There are over 70,000 assets on the Devon Historic Environment Record. Although the majority of these do not benefit from statutory protection, there are a large number of buildings, sites and monuments given special protection by law. The number of assets ‘at risk’ in Devon continues to fall, but the number of listed buildings ‘at risk’ in Devon is rising. Common reasons for the ‘at risk’ status of buildings include unoccupied buildings without a use, and neglect.

Common pressures on our landscape include the influence of the urban fringe and sprawling urban centres, noise and light pollution and recreational pressures from tourism. Emerging pressures include the effects of climate change, alterations to agricultural practices and the development of the renewable energy sector. Other forces for change relate to biosecurity and the risk of disease on indigenous tree species that make a major contribution to our landscape, for example Ash Dieback and Sudden Oak Death.

When it works well, transport supports the economy, integrates with the environment, contributes to sustainable communities and encourages healthier and active lifestyles. However, due to the reliance on fossil fuels, transport currently produces approximately 30% of Devon’s carbon emissions.

The most prevalent method of travel to work for both Devon is driving a car. The second most utilised mode is walking. The use of a car, train and walking for commuting has increased between 2001 and 2011. Devon has also seen an increase in cycling – between 2005 and 2011 Exeter experienced a 49 – 51% increase in average daily cycle trips in the city. Walking is the main method of travel to school. The second most common method of travel to school is by car.

Railway station usage increased by 20% and 22% respectively between 2008/09 – 2011/12. Bus passenger journeys have increased by almost 12% between 2007/08 and 2011/12 – an increase of 402,488 annual trips.

Thirty three percent of surface waters (rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters) in the region are at good or better ecological status. The Water Framework Directive target is 43% by 2015. Issues include impacted fish communities; physical modification; high levels of copper and zinc, linked to natural geology and historic mining activity; and phosphate, linked to agricultural fertilisers.

Surface water sources, such as reservoirs and river intakes, provide approximately 90% of the region’s public water. The remaining 10% is derived from groundwater sources. Since 1996 the South West region is using 14.8% less water, assisted by a reduction in leakage of around 40%. South West Water forecasts a continued reduction in per capita consumption, however increasing population is projected to increase overall water consumption.

In Devon, local authority collected waste (LACW) reduced by 13.8% between 08/09 and 2012/13, to 371,175 tonnes. Commercial waste arisings exceed the production of LACW at 542,000 tonnes. Projected LACW levels indicate that the overall tonnage of waste arising will increase alongside an increase in recycling rates – leading to a reduction in residual waste. This is based upon predicted economic prosperity, the number of households in an area, demographics and the impact of waste awareness campaign work.

Recycling rates have increased substantially from 32.7% and 21.9% in 04/05 to 55.3% and 42.7% in 11/12 respectively.

CO2 emissions in Devon and Torbay have decreased since 2005; respective emissions in 2011 were 16.2% and 21.7% lower. However, overseas emissions attributable to UK consumption are increasing at a faster rate than national emissions are reducing; meaning that Devon’s real impact on the global climate is increasing.

The condition of many soils in the UK – absolutely fundamental to continued productivity and support of biodiversity – is degraded because of atmospheric deposition of pollutants and inappropriate management. The main threats to soil quality in Devon include erosion by flooding, intensive cultivation, poor forestry practice and trampling by grazing animals.

Links to all parts of the report and to a summary document can be found at http://www.naturaldevon.org.uk/state-of-environment/

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