Members of the Biodiversity Commission gave a presentation outlining the Commission’s work and the key findings and recommendations of their report.
The Chair thanked the Commissioners for their report; he said that receiving the report was one of the highlights of his Chairmanship of the PAC as it was a very impressive piece of work and because it exemplified the success which could come from the Council’s policy of doing things with residents rather than to them.
Councillor Hamilton said that he felt the Biodiversity Commission had been overly negative about the UK’s environmental policy after Brexit; he felt that the UK should be seeking to have better protection for the environment than current EU law gave it. He said that he was concerned about proposals that roads should be closed between parks and schools owing to the likely traffic impact, especially as those examples in his ward were private rather than state schools. Councillor Hamilton was also concerned that wildflower meadows were not introduced to the detriment of space for children to play in and also said that Astroturf might be appropriate in some cases to allow sport to be played all year round. He also said that the use of herbicides might be appropriate, for example, on pavements where the likelihood of their affecting other flora and fauna than weeds was low. Councillor Hamilton also said that he did not feel that the suggestion that advice on how to be greener should be sent out in a paper form, which was in itself not very environmentally friendly.
Councillor Harcourt said that he was very impressed by the work of the Biodiversity Commission and said that he felt Councillor Hamilton had been overly negative about the report. He disagreed with Councillor Hamilton’s suggestion that the UK Government might deliver better protection for the environment than the EU, saying that he did not believe that it would be a priority for the Government. Councillor Harcourt said that it might well be possible to close some roads between schools and parks, noting that if a road passing a school was so heavily used that it could not be closed, it was likely to be a safety risk for pupils. He added that the body of scientific evidence against the use of herbicides and pesticides was significant and that the Council’s banning of Glysophate was the right thing to do. Councillor Harcourt said that it was the Council’s ambition to be the Greenest Borough and felt that the report gave many useful suggestions on ways in which this could be achieved. He also praised the work of the Commissioners and all of those who volunteered their time to make the borough a greener, more pleasant place to live, such as the friends of groups in parks.
Morag Carmichael said that the report required only that the level of protection afforded by the EU be maintained; she would be very happy if the Government wished to extend these protections further, but the Commission had felt it useful to include the current protection as a baseline considering the uncertainty surrounding environmental policy.
Councillor Phibbs said that he felt that the Commission ought to have also recommended that Thames Water cancel the Tideway project and instead spend the money on SuDS Schemes. He felt that the Council ought to do more to promote guerrilla gardening in tree pits and encourage children to grow food at school. He added that he felt that incentives could be introduced into the planning system for returning land to horticulture, for example, a more flexible approach being taken to a change to a building if an area of hardstanding were turned back to a lawn.
Councillor Cassidy asked how the tension between some residents demands for tidy cemeteries and greater wilding of these could be managed. John Goodier explained that London’s oldest cemeteries had been planted with great biodiversity which had to some extent been lost over the years. He said that, by maintaining clear boundaries between wilder areas and highly maintained but less biodiverse areas, and by providing information about the environmental value of wilder areas, most residents could accept more unkempt areas in the cemeteries. He said that existing work at Margravine Cemetery proved this to work, especially where areas with no recent burials were chosen to be left to grow.
Councillor Holder asked whether there was something which all residents could do to improve biodiversity. Morag Carmichael said that the best thing that residents could do would be to plant pollinators, even if they could only do so in a window box, it would make a big difference. It was noted that the internet held a wealth of information about what residents could do to improve biodiversity.
The Chair asked whether the Commission had a vision for the ecology centre they proposed. Morag Carmichael said that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea had an Ecology Centre in Holland Park which provided a base for environmental education; the Commission wanted something similar for Hammersmith and Fulham.
Members of the Commission thanked the officers who had supported them in their work and said that they had really enjoyed the process.