18 January 2024
Green space to get greener as innovative scheme moves forward
New woodland and wildflower meadows will be planted at Ashenbury Park in Woodley, as part of a pilot initiative to improve biodiversity
Plans for new woodland and wildflower meadows at a treasured green space are moving forward under a trial scheme that could benefit the whole borough, both environmentally and financially.
Planting and seeding at Ashenbury Park in Woodley is set to start in early spring and continue throughout the year. This is part of a pilot initiative to make the site more welcoming to wildlife by improving and enriching its natural habitats, a concept known as “biodiversity net gain” (BNG).
The pilot was approved by the council’s decision-making executive in March last year and, if successful, could lead to further enhancements at other green spaces across Wokingham Borough.
Protecting green spaces and raising funds
By improving the biodiversity of its existing properties, like countryside parks, public open spaces and farmland, the council hopes to become a provider of so-called “BNG units” to developers.
These will soon be created under new Government rules aimed at offsetting the impact of development, and ensuring a positive outcome for the environment, by creating new wildlife habitats, restoring degraded ones and improving existing ones.
The new rules, part of the Environment Act 2021, will require all new developments to provide a BNG of at least 10 per cent. This is measured against Government standards and must be protected for at least 30 years.
Developers must assess their sites after completion and, if they find biodiversity has improved by less than 10 per cent, they must provide additional BNG units off-site to make up for it.
They can buy BNG units from any landowners, including local authorities, who create and maintain new or enhanced biodiversity habitats. The landowners are required to monitor their own sites to ensure their improvements are succeeding.
The first step in a green transformation
The council intends to plant more than 1.7 hectares of native British trees, likely including oak, alder, birch, wild cherry, hawthorn and more, to extend the existing woodland at Ashenbury Park and link up the two adjacent local wildlife sites.
They would offer significantly more natural habitats and provide valuable food sources to help countless species thrive, from insects like stag beetles, butterflies and caterpillars to birds and other animals like squirrels, badgers and deer.
Another 4.8 hectares of wildflower meadows are proposed between the new and existing woodlands, where the soil is not deep enough for tree planting. These will be made up of colourful flowers like oxeye daisies, common knapweeds, lady’s bedstraws and bird foot trefoils to provide new nectar sources for insects. The existing paths will be kept as mown paths, so residents can roam freely and enjoy nature without disturbing the wildlife.
Residents, especially frequent park users, and other interested parties can learn more about the proposals and designs and share their thoughts on the council’s Engage website.
The plans are based on detailed studies of how welcoming the park already is for wildlife, as well as its soil and landscape. The improvements would cover most of the site, though the children’s play area and the events field would stay as they are.
A win-win for everyone
Cllr Ian Shenton, executive member for environment, sport and leisure, said: “We expect the biodiversity net gain scheme to offer a win-win for everyone – not only developers, but also residents, us as a council and the environment.
“This innovative scheme would help raise much-needed funds to create and enhance some of our green spaces, which will be maintained for at least 30 years. Our environment, including wildlife species, would therefore be improved and protected at no cost to us at all.
“We know how important our green spaces are to residents, and this scheme would help balance our need to protect and enhance the natural world around us with the demand for economic development that new development brings.
“The pilot at Ashenbury Park will help us test local demand for the biodiversity net gain scheme and give us hands-on experience in how to deliver it for the benefit of the borough, and more importantly our finances in this challenging time.”