Nature Recovery and Regional Development

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


The United Kingdom (UK) has set ambitious targets to reverse biodiversity decline and ensure that 30% of land and sea is protected for wildlife by 2030, simultaneously contributing to reaching net zero, adapting to climate change and improving population health and wellbeing. This research project, entitled Nature Recovery and Regional Development (NaRReD), aims to ensure that we develop the research capacity and insight needed to successfully embed nature recovery in regional development policy and practice across the country.

The Environment Act (2021) has newly determined that Local Authorities will lead the establishment of Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) across the country from 2023 (Defra, 2000). These LNRS will stimulate new investment in local nature recovery activities, to improve habitats, support ecosystem functioning, and increase biodiversity and abundance. Successful LNRS will also have positive impacts on business growth, economic diversification, employment levels, skills and opportunities. NaRReD will run for three years, from January 2024, to measure and track the socio-economic impacts of nature recovery, creating the evidence base for nature recovery to become an integral part of regional development policy and practice. The project will provide extra capacity for hard-pressed Local Authorities to develop LNRS, as well as helping them foster the relationships and insights that will facilitate local impact, share learning about what works, and underpin a new approach to nature-positive regional development practice.

The impact of nature recovery will be particularly significant for rural regions that are rich in natural capital, with a diversity of habitats and important opportunities for ecosystem enrichment. A number of Local Authorities in the rural periphery have formed an alliance called Britain's Leading Edge (BLE) that aims to advocate for fairer investment and greater recognition. Any upper tier local authority without a major city can join the BLE, and there are currently 11 members of the alliance; Cornwall, Cumbria, Dorset, Durham, East Riding, Herefordshire, Isles of Scilly, Isle of Wight, North Yorkshire, Rutland and Shropshire.

NaRReD has been co-designed with officers from the BLE to ensure that these Local Authorities have additional research capacity to measure and track the impact of nature recovery on the local economy and scale this up for wider learning and policy development in and beyond the group. NaRReD will further identify best practice and co-create a new policy framework for realising socio-economic development through nature recovery that will be widely disseminated across the country, via a communications campaign, the networks provided by the Project Advisory Group, policy briefings and academic articles.

NaRReD aims to answer three core research questions, each comprising a separate strand of research activity:

1. How is nature recovery policy and practice impacting on flows of finance, business growth and development, new skills training and employment in the 11 BLE regions of England? And which activities yield the most positive impacts for people and nature?

2. How does nature recovery activity conflict with or complement established and planned regional development paths in these locations? How do regional stakeholders talk about nature recovery, its connections to socio-economy, and their place in the nation?

3. What comprises best practice in nature-positive regional development and how can this be further supported and shared across the BLE and beyond?

NaRReD will support UK government ambitions to integrate biodiversity gains with net zero and clean growth, level-up opportunities and promote wellbeing across the country. It will also ensure that UKRI's investments contribute to positive environmental, economic and social change through inter-disciplinary and collaborative research.


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