The above principles of the Ecosystem Approach are evident (light green) or significant (dark green) within this case study

Isle of Wight AONB Management Plan Review Process

What is this case study about?

The Isle of Wight (IOW) Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Unit are currently in the process of reviewing their statutory management plan (July 2013). The IOW AONB area covers approximately half of the island and comprises five distinct land parcels designated for their outstanding natural beauty and variety of high quality landscape types. Natural England Ecosystems Services specialists, Natural Character Assessment Support Team and IOW local contacts are working closely together to support the AONB in evaluating the scope and content of the IOW AONB management plan review. The ambition is to identify the beneficiaries of the AONB’s ecosystem services, and consider how they can be included when evaluating the future management options and outcomes of the plan and inform the extant local development framework as it seeks compliance with the NPPF. It is recognised that the AONB has significant ecosystem services with the cultural ecosystem services being vital for the islands tourism industry. This approach will inform the IOW AONB’s forthcoming management plan (operational from 2015-2019), which draws together all interested parties to outline the key policies, actions and objectives required to generate a long-term vision for the management of the AONB.

What is its contextual setting?

DEFRA, Natural England (NE), the Environment Agency and other statutory bodies are championing the use of an Ecosystem Approach. The AONB unit decided to use ecosystem services, drawing on the Natural Character Area profile work undertaken by Natural England as the foundation for their Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Scoping Study to inform future management plan objectives and policies. The IOW NCA covers the whole island and is being authored concurrently alongside the management plan. Thus the AONB unit are looking to the emerging IOW NCA profile to provide a key mechanism for promoting an island-wide Ecosystem Approach. NE and Defra, via its work on catchment management planning, are also working with the AONB to refine the approach through statutory management plan review process.

How has the Ecosystem Approach been used?

The management of the IOW is increasingly being viewed through the lens of the Ecosystem Approach as it recognised that the benefits derived from ecosystem services are often overlooked from local decision-making. Drawing upon Ecosystem Approach information has informed the management plan review which is taking an Ecosystem Services Framework to demonstrate the wider societal role that the AONB plays within the island’s economy and people that it benefits.

While an Ecosystem Approach has been used to inform the SEA Scoping Report, it does not comprise a comprehensive ecosystem assessment; more an inventory of ecosystem and non-ecosystem services apparent and an overview of their environmental considerations. The main themes of the SEA are: Biodiversity, Population, Human Health, Water, Soil, Air, Climatic conditions, Cultural Heritage and landscape. With this in mind the future Wight AONB Management Plan has been split into discrete yet overlapping categories, which will be assessed considering the environmental, social and economic benefits from the landscape. The overarching Ecosystem Approach will influence the objectives and priorities of the Management Plan and help identify any short comings in the evidence baseline.

What has happened?

Natural England have been working with IOW AONB to help to frame their thinking and ensure that they can produce a robust plan to meet the needs of the AONB and the island as a whole. In order to further assist the AONB with this work, NE, Defra and TABLES representatives undertook a workshop with IOW AONB and IOW Council. Day one allowed for discussion around the ecosystem services provided by the AONB within the AONB landscape. Day two was classroom based and focused on opportunities for mainstreaming the ecosystem approach through catchment-management planning, and developing the approach through understanding neighbourhood plans to inform future AONB work with communities. It also focused on local case studies and explored the opportunity for integrating spatial planning. Finally, a section of the workshop also focused on refining the draft AONB Strategic Environmental Assessment and highlighted early priorities around the island’s most prominent ecosystem services which will inform Strategic Environmental Opportunities for the draft IOW NCA.

The AONB has incorporated various considerations outlined within the workshop within their draft plan and are currently undertaking a series of partnership workshops to introduce the draft plan and the ecosystems approach (October 2013). This will in turn refine their priority management plan indicators.

What is the added value of using the Ecosystem Approach?

Through adopting the ecosystems approach for reviewing the Isle of Wight AONB management plan, the AONB have identified that they are in a position to provide a more robust review of their current management plan. The AONB recognise that their current AONB management plan has previously not been ‘fit for purpose’. Therefore focusing on the extensive range of ecosystem services that the IOW provides will allow the AONB to focus on their priorities and adopt a more evidence-based approach for identifying the best possible management indicators for the AONB as well as highlighting how integral the AONB is to the rest of the island in consideration of the wealth of ecosystem services that it provides. The IOW NCA being authored concurrently will allow for clear synergies and join up regarding the priority management opportunities for the island.

What are the key barriers to progress/mainstreaming?

There have been difficulties in determining how infrastructure such as transport and highway (which are fundamental elements within the AONB) can be reflected as ecosystem services within the plan (the suggested option to use all 12 principles of the Ecosystem Approach has helped to address this).

It has also been difficult in some cases to ‘sell’ the concept of adopting an ecosystems approach and the benefits to various AONB partners, which has highlighted the need to keep the language used very straightforward and understandable.

What are the lessons learnt?

  • Adopting an ecosystems approach has presented a range of challenges and has proved to be more time consuming in relation to reviewing the management plan.
  • The need to acknowledge that many relevant stakeholders and consultees are not familiar with ecosystems terminology. There is a need to tailor the language used in relation to the relevant audience.
  • The timeframe for reviewing the AONB management plan needs to be completed by April 2014. Therefore it is recognised that this forthcoming plan will only have the opportunity to outline the ecosystem services that the AONB provides to the island communities and visitors and link to some management plan objectives. However it is recognised that it will inform future AONB management plans and link more explicitly to objectives as well as informing other strategies such as the IOW local plan.

What next?

IOW AONB will soon be going out to public consultation regarding their plan and the workshop has identified a range of consultation tools for explaining the approach. The ecosystem sections of the IOW NCA as a whole will continue to inform the evolution of the IOW management plan review and it is the intention that the IOW AONB management plan and IOW NCA will be launched in tandem on the Isle of Wight to demonstrate highlighting the measures and environmental practices which have the capacity to improve the value of the Isle of Wight’s ecosystem services as a whole. The documents will also link with the various IOW catchment plans and River Basin Management plans, securing further join up with Defra and the Environment Agency.

The statutory management plan will be adopted by the IOW council and as a result, the IOW AONB and IOW Council have had discussions around developing long term vision with main island partners for island wide eco services to inform future AONB management plans and future IOW local plan and it is envisaged that the broad island wide ecosystem services outlined within the forthcoming IOW NCA will inform this wider thinking.

Case study authors: N Davies and C Carter