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More space for nature in Greater Manchester.

Earlier this year the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) asked for residents and businesses ideas on what should be included in a Nature Recovery plan. Manchester Friends of the Earth responded to this consultation and the response is summarized below.

Our response highlighted the need for more space for nature as highlighted in the Friends of the Earth ‘England’s green space gap’ report that was published in September 2020. This report explains how we can end green space deprivation in England, reflecting a clear consensus that ‘people need quality local parks and green spaces and more routine contact with nature’. The report points out the benefits of green spaces and calls on central and local government, professions and communities to take part in reversing the decline of nature.

Benefits of Green Spaces
Beneficial for public health
Opportunity for learning, skills and formal education 
Climate change mitigation and adaptation
Restoration of habitats for wildlife
Reverse people’s lack of contact with nature

Recommendations for Government
1. Protect existing space forever 
2. Create new green spaces 
3. Improve land use planning so that it delivers for green space and nature 
4. Invest in green spaces to level up the benefits 
5. Fully factor in cost savings and benefits to policies and decisions 
6. Ensure both quality and quantity of provision 
7. Explore new forms of funding 
8. Make parks and green space a statutory service.”

Aspirations and Recommendations for Greater Manchester

We call on Local Authorities to ensure they have robust plans to increase tree cover, protect and extend green spaces and improve biodiversity. Overall, LAs should aim to:

* At least double tree cover, or quadruple plant cover in more built up areas using green roofs.

* Prioritise planting in areas with the lowest existing tree cover, using the data published by City of Trees.

* Through planning departments, ensure all new developments include sufficient green space to allow biodiversity net gain.

* Allocate long-term funding for environmental projects. 

* Combine tree planting with other forms of landscaping including winter and spring-flowering shrubs. This will ensure a year-round supply of nectar and pollen for insects and support biodiversity.

* Increase the number and diversity of protected areas, focusing on habitats for vulnerable species.

* Protect and restore our peat moors, one of our best carbon sinks 

* Ensure flood mitigation plans are robust.

Areas to be Addressed

Plant Species Diversity
Species diversity makes our woodlands more resilient, as all species are unlikely to be affected alike by pests, disease, or climate events like floods, drought and storms. Different species also have uses for food and drinks, education, arts and crafts. Many spaces could accommodate a wide range of native trees and shrubs and a good mix of flowering and fruiting plants. Young trees can be grown in the same space as established and older trees. Invasive species, such as Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed, should be removed to avoid habitat degradation and a resulting decline in biodiversity.

Friends of the Earth would welcome more diverse plant species, because of their uses for food and drinks, education, arts and crafts and to consolidate patterns of our landscape and make the woodland more resilient. Many spaces could accommodate a wide/full range of native tree and shrub/bush species, a good mix of different types of specimen, flowering and fruiting plants and of young, established, and older trees. A wide range will be unlikely to all be seriously affected at the same time by a sudden pests, disease, climatic ‘event’ or combination of such like this year’s floods, drought and storms. Interactions will develop with the trees, orchards and varied woodland, forest and gardens. 

Opportunities for Learning
Learning opportunities will help grow partnerships with schools, local groups and businesses. Workshops or lessons could cover: propagation and produce; woodland management; arts, crafts and culture and niches in nature. In particular, teaching traditional coppicing and pollarding could enable sustainable new businesses.
 about propagation, hedge, orchard, tree and woodland management, land-based arts, crafts and culture, produce, yields and niches in nature. These will evolve and help foster partnerships with local initiatives, students and educators. Traditional coppicing and pollarding will enable sustainable woodwork and new green businesses.

Urban Food
Allotments, orchards, forest gardens and community open gardens all provide space for people to grow their own food. This has positive outcomes for health as well as building a community and enabling social interaction. 

Three organisations currently getting this right are The Orchard Project, National Forest Garden Scheme and Incredible Edible.

A List of allotments in Greater Manchester is available online.

Physical and Mental Health
Green spaces are ideal for exercise and socialising as well as providing nature’s mood lifting effect. Local policies to support the natural environment should be recognised for their social and health benefits. Initiatives like social green prescribing deserve support; and councils should look to make green space available to communities most in need. Projects could include: improving access to and productivity of local food-growing; the development of tree trails and arts and crafts groups. 

Park improvement is in progress across Greater Manchester; including restoration and addition of copses, hedges, forest gardens and orchards. This work is really positive and will hopefully continue.

In many of our parks, grass is mown and hedges cut back frequently; leaving these to grow would better support wildlife. Increasing tree cover and extending hedgerows, especially where a park borders a road, would be a positive move. Near water courses, wet-tolerant species such as alder and willow can be planted. Habitats such as veteran broadleaved trees; wet and dry woodland, ‘scrub’ and wild space deserve protection. 

Most Parks have a lot of grass that is mown too frequently and some hedges that are cut too frequently. They often need more trees and hedges around or near their perimeters, completion of lines and more clusters of trees varied Tree Trails and Woodland margins, especially increased tree cover and hedges near busy roads. They would benefit from more parkland trees and interesting specimens in various locations; protection of veteran broadleaved trees; wet and dry woodland, some ‘scrub’ and wild spaces. Alders, Willows and other wet-land tolerant trees are needed near brook banks and other water courses; and more copses/dingles, mixed and native woodland. 

Work has started across Greater Manchester to improve parks with restoration and addition of  copses, hedges, forest gardens and orchards, and we hope that this will continue. 

The need to create new and extend existing woodland is clear. The Woodland Trust recommends new woodland planting should be a minimum size of 0.25ha; and sets an aspiration for all people to live within 4km of woodland no smaller than 20ha. Friends of the Earth Manchester supports planting of native-species rich woodland, and calls to at least double tree cover across our region.

Together with the Woodland Trust and others, we must continue to undertake planting in a way that enables natural regeneration of native trees and other useful species too, for example Bullace, Damson and Mirabelle plum.

This is in line with National Forest Garden Scheme (NFGS) thinking on tree planting; that we should aim to develop diverse treescapes, and make Forest Gardens in varied spaces and settings. 

Pollinators and Pesticides
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority could build on Friends of the Earth’s and other agencies work done to stop use of bee and pollinator harming pesticides and to promote Bee-friendly planting. We need a lot more plants and more varied pollen-producing and nectar-rich flowering plants in all spaces across the region. The National Pollinator Strategy (DEFRA, 2014) aimed for “more, bigger, better, joined-up, diverse and high-quality flower-rich habitats” and many more of us need to know and make available a good range of plants to attract and feed our pollinators.

Neonicotinoids, harmful chemicals used in certain crop farming, have been recently re-introduced in the UK despite being harmful to bees and other pollinators. The use of herbicides are also far too prevalent, and harmful to people and the environment. These should be banned and non-toxic alternatives employed. Local environments are crucial for public health, climate resilience and extinction prevention; ultimately, control of harmful chemicals affects our children’s future security. 

GMCA Nature Recovery Plan
The GMCA Nature Recovery Plan should enable broad engagement and collaboration across the metropolis, and surrounding areas. 

We call on GMCA to collaborate with the following to draw up and implement plans to increase tree cover and biodiversity across the region:

Town Planning Departments: working on new buildings and property management
United Utilities 
Highways England: considering management of road verges & car-parks
TfGM: concerning tramways, road verges, cycleways and walkways 
Housing associations 
NHS: concerning health care and related properties 
Local Authority buildings 
Schools, Colleges & Universities
River valley catchment authorities: e.g. Mersey Rivers Trust – to plan new forests where desirable, improve watercourses
Private sector developers

GMCA should seek to connect up to:

Todmorden and the Pennine Fringes, regarding their flood prevention initiatives around the Ribble Valley and in uplands where feeder rivers lie in Manchester’s catchment areas.

South Pennines and Dark Peak of Derbyshire, the whole ‘bioregion’ including the Lancashire Coal Measures and Mersey Valley round from the rivers Weaver… Goyt… Tame and Irwell. For example: A Green Deal for the Manchester-Mersey Bioregion 

Liverpool/Wirral and Hull (as envisaged in the Incredible Edible networks Knowsley to Wigan, Salford, Bury) into Cheshire and North Wales.

Get involved!
If you would like to get involved with Manchester Friends of the Earth nature campaigns please contact Cat

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