Richard Buckley, Head of Environmental Health (Residential), explained that biodiversity meant the variety of plants and wildlife in an area. He explained that biodiversity was important as species relied upon each other for survival as part of ecosystems. There were a number of laws which promoted biodiversity and protected habitats and species, as well as placing various duties on local authorities.
The council had undertaken a biodiversity survey in 1988 which showed that 14 percent of the borough was green space, and that 60 percent of that space was parks, sports pitches and amenity grassland under council control. There were also 13,000 trees on streets and housing estates.
The air quality commission had made a recommendation for an Urban Ecology Plan to be drafted as well as for changes to the local plan and improvements to the way that the council managed its trees and planting. A number of other improvements were also going to be made to the Local Plan’s sections dealing with biodiversity as a result of its ongoing revision.
The council was already doing lots of work to improve biodiversity, for example, banning the use of glyphosate weed killers, encouraging community planting schemes, building sustainable urban drainage schemes on highways and putting in green roofs and other environmentally friendly measures on its housing estates. The council was also supporting a campaign to protect fish living in the tidal Thames; the improvements in water quality had led to the Smelt fish now spawning in the Thames near to Hammersmith Bridge.
Richard Buckley explained that the council now planned to draft an Ecology Policy based on these key principles: building a robust ecological network through the Local Plan and Air Quality Action Plan; putting people at the heart of biodiversity by engaging with local residents, schools, volunteers and environmental groups; reducing environmental pressures by creating new habitats, green corridors and stepping stones, and managing existing habitats well, and; improving our knowledge and understanding of the current position. He suggested that the council might wish to develop a specific biodiversity action plan and explained that there were opportunities to provide more, bigger, better and joined habitats, noting that housing controlled 45,000sqm of flat roofed buildings.
Councillor Dewhirst suggested that a new biodiversity survey needed to be undertaken as the previous one was nearly 30 years old. He was also concerned that residents might unwittingly break the law by cutting back hedges at the request of highways officers and asked that letters to residents ask them to check if there were nesting birds in them before undertaking the work. Richard Buckley agreed to look into the issue of hedges being cut back.
Councillor Dewhirst felt that the council needed to do more to deal with the effect of glyphosate no longer being used as he had received complaints from residents regarding weeds growing in pavements. Councillor Harcourt explained that the council was trialling a number of different methods to control weeds in order to identify which worked best. The results of these trials would be available in a few months’ time, however, officers were working hard to ensure that the boroughs streets looked good in the meantime. Councillor Hamilton asked how Japanese Knotweeed was dealt with if not by glyphosate. Ullash Karia, Head of Leisure and Parks, explained that glyphosate would continue to be injected into Japanese Knotweed; this did not cause the same contamination problems as spraying and was far more effective.
Rosemary Petit, Chair of the Air Quality Commission, explained that she felt the new focus on biodiversity was very important. She echoed Councillor Dewhirst’s view that a new survey was needed and suggested that citizen scientists could be used to help carry it out. Another resident suggested that community organisations, such as the urban studies centre, be asked to help engage schools in the project.
Councillor Cassidy noted that the friends of Margravine Cemetery had recently received an award from London in Bloom for their work and that they had been very positive about the support they had been given by the council. He felt that good work such as this needed to be spread across the borough and that the council needed to develop a plan to join up habitats. He knew that residents felt strongly about biodiversity issues and felt that the council’s policies needed to reflect this.
A resident said that urban guerrilla gardening might be a good way to engage residents. Richard Buckley explained that the council had given permission to residents to plant in various locations across the borough. He felt that a key part of the council’s role for the future would be to work out how to engage more residents in biodiversity.
Ullash Karia asked whether the council had sufficient staff working in the area to ensure that biodiversity was promoted. Richard Buckley explained that there were many other pressures on council budgets so it might be difficult to fund a dedicated officer; there was however a great amount of experience amongst staff who worked in related fields. Rosemary Petit suggested that the council might be able to attract sponsorship for projects to improve bio-diversity.
The Chair explained that the administration had decided to set up a Residents’ Commission on Biodiversity to guide the council on how best to improve biodiversity. He explained that Morag Carmichael, Chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Friends of the Earth, had kindly agreed to lead the commission.
Morag Carmichael said that she was both excited and a little daunted by the task of chairing the residents commission. She had already started discussing the idea in the community and there were lots of brilliant ideas and enthusiastic people. There were also a fair number of challenges but she felt these could be overcome and that it was important that these were tackled for the sake of improving biodiversity. She hoped that the commission could bring biodiversity to life for residents and engage lots of people. She noted that the commission was indebted to the Air Quality Commission which had already started to look at ways in which biodiversity could be improved. Morag Carmichael explained that the council would be seeking more members of the commission over the coming weeks and encouraged anyone who was interested to apply.
Councillor Wesley Harcourt said that the creation of a commission was an important step towards the administration’s aim of being the greenest council. He said that there was already great work being done to improve biodiversity in various council departments but that the residents commission could join the work up and identify where, perhaps, more could be done. He gave the commission his very best wishes for their work.
The Chair thanked all present for their contributions to the debate and, on behalf of the committee, wished Morag Carmichael and the new commission every success.