Better Planning for Nature: A Cure-All or a Can of Worms?

Greg Howard
17th March, 2024

Better Planning for Nature: A Cure-All or a Can of Worms?

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In England, strategic planning for nature is weakened by fragmented policies and short-term focus
  • Integrating environmental concerns into all policy areas (mainstreaming) can improve planning
  • Considering the bigger natural landscape (landscape-scale thinking) can lead to better outcomes
In the quest to harmonize the relationship between human development and the natural environment, strategic planning for nature has become a focal point of interest. The recent research from Northumbria University[1] sheds light on how England's strategic planning for nature can be improved by incorporating two key concepts: mainstreaming and landscape-scale thinking. This study is particularly timely, as it addresses the challenges of policy disintegration, short-term thinking, and uncertainty that currently undermine strategic planning efforts. The study involved two stakeholder workshops with 62 senior policy experts who discussed both operational and hypothetical challenges in strategic spatial planning. The findings revealed a strategic planning arena weakened by fragmented policies, a lack of long-term vision, and prevailing uncertainties. These issues are not unique to England; they are symptomatic of broader challenges faced by planning systems in the Global North, particularly those influenced by market-driven neoliberal policies. Mainstreaming, as highlighted in the study, refers to the integration of environmental considerations into all levels of policy-making, ensuring that environmental, economic, and social components are not treated in isolation. This approach aligns with the Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) concepts discussed in earlier research[2], which advocates for an inclusive, integrated, and long-sighted approach to urban development. The NBS concept stresses the importance of embedding nature within cities to support sustainable urban development, which resonates with the mainstreaming process suggested by the Northumbria University study. Landscape-scale thinking, on the other hand, involves understanding and managing the natural environment by considering the inherent geometry of nature, which can transform both processes and outcomes in strategic planning. This approach connects with the notion of wetlandscapes[3] and the importance of considering multiple wetlands and their catchments in achieving multifunctionality. By scaling up from individual wetlands to wetlandscapes, multiple societal and environmental goals can be met more effectively. Furthermore, the landscape-scale approach echoes the principles of reserve design and landscape-scale conservation[4], which emphasize the need for bigger and more connected sites, as well as improved habitat quality. By applying these principles to strategic planning, the study suggests that a more coherent and effective conservation strategy can be developed, one that is capable of responding to 21st-century pressures such as climate change, invasive species, and the need for food security. The barriers identified by the Northumbria University study, such as institutional inertia and technocratic vocabularies, are significant impediments to progress. However, the study also presents opportunities through mainstreaming processes that can facilitate knowledge exchange within transdisciplinary partnerships. By combining mainstreaming with landscape-scale thinking, strategic planning can be transformed to better address the complex interplay between human activities and the natural environment. The study's recommendations include adopting strategic planning pathways that utilize both mainstreaming and landscape-scale approaches in tandem. This dual approach can lead to a more coherent understanding of environmental issues and foster the development of transdisciplinary partnerships that are essential for effective strategic planning. In conclusion, the Northumbria University study provides valuable insights into how strategic planning for nature can be improved by integrating mainstreaming and landscape-scale concepts. By addressing the current weaknesses in strategic planning, such as policy fragmentation and short-termism, and by embracing opportunities for knowledge generation and exchange, there is potential to create a more sustainable and resilient built and natural environment. The study's findings are not only relevant for England but also offer a transferable framework that can inform strategic planning in other contexts where neoliberal policies prevail.



Main Study

1) Improving strategic planning for nature: Panacea or pandora's box for the built and natural environment?

Published 15th March, 2024

Related Studies

2) Supporting Nature-Based Solutions via Nature-Based Thinking across European and Latin American cities.

3) Tradeoffs and synergies in wetland multifunctionality: A scaling issue.

4) Old concepts, new challenges: adapting landscape-scale conservation to the twenty-first century.

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