What should NEGN be?
Strategically connected green space, which allows for environmental, recreational, educational, tourism and many other benefits, is a fundamental part of modern development & land use planning.
Green networks, with their multiple roles and functions, are a key driver for government (as policy makers – both National and Local); for public bodies (as funders, regulators and land managers) and for an enormous range of other private, NGO and community project deliverers. Aberdeen Council has surveyed and mapped a city-wide green network which is available online. Aberdeen online green network mapping tool. Green networks are also increasingly important within the EU and are material considerations in allocating funds to strategic projects. Realising the benefits of greater collaborative working is a central objective of the Scottish Government.
In that context, a number of organisations believe that the NEGN can be a means whereby we can all be more effective in ensuring our various project planning, policy implementation and project delivery actions are both more collaborative and more “joined up”.
To avoid confusion, we do not envisage NEGN being like the Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN), with a formal structure or detailed project plans; rather we see it, initially at least, as a more informal approach to encouraging collaborative working that picks up and uses the principles of networks. This collaborate approach will help many people structure their plans and projects in such a way that they also contribute to a wider, regional network. An example of this would be the Pearls in Peril (PiP) project, which aims to conserve the Freshwater Pearl Mussel; one of the world’s most critically endangered molluscs and which has many of its most important populations in NE Scotland. One of PiPs activities is to restore riparian woodland. Riparian woodland is also an important element in habitat networks and is also a highly desirable location for footpath networks. Therefore, with a little collaboration, PiP’s work can also make a contribution to NEGN.
The vision for NEGN is that those who live work and visit the north and east of Scotland get maximum benefit from the outdoors. But while doing so, it is essential that biodiversity and the quality of the natural environment is maintained (and restored where necessary), so that these benefits will be available to future generations. We are not determined that our network should just be green; indeed developing thinking and policy directions indicate that “blue space”, i.e. watercourses, coasts and other wetland areas, can/should also be effective parts of such networks.
How/where NEGN could add value to existing green network approaches
- Identifying and promoting the “cross-boundary” opportunities, such as joining up path, habitat and other network elements between local authorities and other geographically based organisations.
- Using the network as a means of sharing experience and promoting good practice to other land users and in collaborative working between partners.
- Helping to co-ordinate regional scale projects, surveys etc. and advise on funding.
- Being a means whereby partners can find out about projects being developed by others so that all opportunities are taken to achieve benefits of scale, collaboration etc.
Some existing/developing examples of this regional approach
- Dundee Council is working on developing a green network from the relatively extensive but not well connected green and open space in the city. Following the steer from Tayplan, they recognise the wider value of ensuring their network “joins up” with neighbouring Local Authorities. Working with Angus Council, both have identified six locations they will prioritise for future work to “make connections” for their footpath networks and suites of Local Wildlife Sites.
- The NE and Tayside LBAPs have developed and now operate some joint projects. They have recently been in discussion with the Cairngorms and Highland LBAPs to explore further opportunities to expand this collaborative working.
- Cairngorms National Park Authority is exploring opportunities for more collaborative working between individual River Catchment Partnerships which already exist for each of the Rivers Spey, Dee & South Esk.
- The NE and Tayside LBAPs are working with FCS & SNH to combine their presence at promotional and awareness raising events, with shared messages and resource input.
- The Local Biological Records Centre in Aberdeen is exploring opportunities to become the repository for records from more of N & E Scotland with a view to improving consistency, availability of data and promoting wider public engagement in citizen science.
Hypothetical examples of how this approach might work in future
- While working on the Main Issues Report for their next Local Development Plan, Moray Council recognises the value in exploring potential connections (at or near their boundaries) of their Core Path Network and agree how best to achieve this with neighbouring L.As.
- To develop the economic potential of walking holidays within the Park, the Cairngorm National Park Authority recognises the existing public transport provision to and from locations like Aviemore, Perth and Elgin. In discussion with the relevant LAs, all agree that by promoting walking to and from these “nodes”, there are benefits to be gained by many small rural businesses, both inside and outside the Park by developing and promoting such a regional network.
- To meet their responsibilities arising from the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy governance structures, various organisations in the North and East recognise the efficiencies to be gained by wider use of a single Local Record Centre such as the North East Scotland Biological Records Centre for gathering data which they will need to report to government.
The important point to take from the examples is not the accuracy, detail or even the type of project, but the fact that there are many opportunities for collaborative working that are being missed and consequently potential economic and social benefits are lost. NEGN is crucially about all partners having the foresight and vision to work in a way that keeps one eye on these possibilities and the potential for collaboration beyond the boundary of their current projects or geographic responsibilities.
NEGN cannot start on Day 1 with a detailed Plan, a dedicated Project Co-ordinator and a large budget; indeed it is probably undesirable to try to do so. We believe it is more realistic to begin small and allow NEGN to “grow” to fit the needs as they come to light. Precise boundaries are often problematical, which is why we recommend a fuzzy one. The map at the end of this document reflects that and consequently has no drawn boundary. The elements included are not definitive or exclusive, but simply indicate some of the partnerships and projects which could contribute to NEGN.
We also envisage that not all partners need to participate in everything, simply that all prioritise some of their existing resources (money and staff) to projects that exemplify wider co-operation and collaboration, with all the mutual benefits they bring.
Similarly, we don’t want to prescribe now how NEGN might develop in the future. NEGN may end up with its own co-ordinator or project officer; it may end up with its own budget, but that is not critical now. In this first phase, we need to focus on whether or not the partners can collaborate at this sort of regional scale and whether we can encourage others to see the benefits of this sort of wider co-operation and foresight.
With the opportunity to demonstrate that the NEGN can add value and bring potential deliverers together, the case for its continued development is likely to gather pace and partly make itself.
Without focusing too much on detail, at this stage in the process we would like you to consider and respond to the following questions:
- Does the concept outlined above of an East Scotland Green Network have relevance to your work and objectives?
- Would you like to take part in developing this and seeing it turn into action?
- Are you involved with or aware of a project or activity that would fit and contribute to this concept?