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‘Ecological Emergency’ declared by South Oxfordshire District Council

An Ecological Emergency has been declared by South Oxfordshire District Council.

The declaration reflects the council’s commitment to protect and restore the natural world – a key priority set out in the South Oxfordshire Corporate Plan.

The council agreed to declare the Ecological Emergency following a motion that was passed at the Council meeting on 11 February. It builds on the council’s declaration of a Climate Emergency in 2019, which was followed by a pledge to become a carbon neutral council by 2025 and a carbon neutral district by 2030.

The motion, which was proposed by Cllr Sam Casey-Rerhaye, explains: “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the relationship between people and nature. When we destroy and degrade habitats, we increase the risk of disease spill-over from wildlife to people”

It also calls for the council to incorporate the climate and ecological emergencies and nature recovery as strategic priorities in planning policies. The council will now also look into establishing a Biodiversity Steering Group and to embed climate action and ecological initiatives within all council work areas, including COVID-19 recovery projects and programmes.

Cllr Casey-Rerhaye, Chair of the CEEAC, said: “We are seeing more and more tangibly how ecological issues are impacting nature and wildlife, and making the climate crisis even worse. We are already experiencing how this leads to extreme weather and has a detrimental effect on food production and so many other issues that ultimately endanger our lives and well-being and the world around us.”

Ends

Full wording of the motion proposed by Councillor Sam Casey-Rerhaye, seconded by Councillor David Rouane

Council has adopted a new Corporate Plan that has as one of its main priorities: ‘Protect and Restore the Natural World’. In the consultation exercise on this Plan, this theme was ranked the most important by a high number of respondents. This Council has already, rightly, declared a climate emergency (April 2019).

Council acknowledges that:

·       Our societies and economies are intimately linked with and depend on biodiversity and nature. The natural world is essential for the provision of nutritious food (with soil and pollinators having a vital role), clean water, clean air, medicines, and protection from extreme weather, as well as being our source of energy and raw materials

·       The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the relationship between people and nature. When we destroy and degrade habitats, we increase the risk of disease spill-over from wildlife to people

·       The State of Nature 2019 report highlighted the critical decline in biodiversity in the UK. Changes in farming practices have had the biggest effect in recent decades and the impact of climate change is now increasing. 15% of UK species are classified as threatened with extinction and 2% are already extinct

·       The State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020 report from Royal Botanic Gardens Kew estimated that 39.4% of plants are now threatened with extinction. This is a jump from one in five plants thought to be at risk in Kew’s 2016 report

·       The Environment Bill will require the introduction of a Local Nature Recovery Strategy and Nature Recovery Networks

·       Actions to restore nature and biodiversity, as well as being vital for their own sake, often have an important co-benefit of storing carbon, so help address climate change

·       People’s access to ‘green spaces’ to understand and appreciate biodiversity and a rich, natural world, private or public, is unequal

Council resolves to:

1.        Declare an ecological emergency

2.        Rename CEAC the Climate and Ecological Emergencies Advisory Committee, to help Cabinet and council officers address these twin emergencies

3.        Add ecological impact implications alongside those for climate and sustainability in committee and council reports.

4.        Ensure that addressing the climate and ecological emergencies and nature recovery are considered as strategic priorities for planning policies and design guides for new development, including master-planning of sites, by identifying appropriate areas for habitat restoration and biodiversity net gain and ensuring that development limits impact on existing habitats in its process, whilst also working on the principle of increasing equality of access for people to natural, green spaces

5.        Establish a Biodiversity Steering Group involving both key officers and members to oversee and develop the Councils approach to nature protection and recovery

6.        Set measurable targets and standards for biodiversity increase, in both species and quantities, seeking also to increase community engagement

7.        Work with our partners to establish a Local Nature Partnership for Oxfordshire as soon as possible, in keeping with the urgency of this declaration

8.        Work with our partners to develop Nature Recovery Networks and Nature Recovery Strategy for Oxfordshire, again in keeping with the urgency of this declaration

9.        Look for opportunities to work in partnership with local charities and environmental organisations to deliver nature recovery in South Oxfordshire

10.    Develop a district wide Tree Planting Policy and Strategy, including having Member Tree Champions, to support nature protection and recovery and carbon sequestration

11.    Build on the work of the Thames Champion to improve the ecology of the Thames and its banks and flood plains, a hugely important habitat in our District

12.    Ensure the Strategic Property Review considers opportunities for biodiversity enhancements and tree planting on Council landholdings

13.    Investigate new approaches to nature recovery such as habitat banking that deliver biodiversity objectives and provide new investment opportunities 

14.    Embed climate action and ecological initiatives within all council work areas, including COVID-19 recovery projects and programmes

15.    Write to all South Oxfordshire’s MPs urging them to support the Climate and Ecological Bill, a private member’s bill, in keeping with the declarations of this Council.