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From salt marsh to seals, how our natural capital can enhance the local economy

BUSINESSES have been urged to embrace the "natural capital" of northern Lincolnshire, after hearing how green shoots – and seals – can be a springboard for the wider economy.

From salt marsh to seals, how our natural capital can enhance the local economy

A long-awaited document from Humber Nature Partnership has provided a blueprint for environmental harmony, intertwining the Energy Estuary with the SSSI status.

It is a phenomenal stride from a decade ago, when former CBI chief Lord Digby Jones used the Immingham launch of a new roll-on roll-off outer harbour terminal from ABP and DFDS to bemoan the planning regime. Back then he stated how "business has to be sensitive to the environment, but we do need to make sure the prosperity of the nation is not put second to the yellow back toad".

Now, just a few miles up river from the location of that speech back in 2006, and industries across many sectors are being urged to make the most of what is offered, with a 17-point vision of partnership activity for the river. From Goole to the far west with "opportunities for habitat creation and green infrastructure enhancement through the development of upper estuary flood defences to link the townscape back to the River Ouse frontage", it stretches to Cleethorpes and Donna Nook to "develop the area for eco-tourism extending the seaside resort visitor offer through new visitor facilities and habitat creation and enhancement".

It was revealed at a special event which was made part of Humber Business Week, headed up by Catch chief executive David Talbot and Darren Clarke, Humber Nature Partnership manager.

"Natural capital is essential," said Mr Clarke, describing it as the natural environment we take "some sort of benefit from".

"It is a concept government has been keen on for some time and government is committed to making an assessment of the value to the UK economy by 2020.

"The natural environment makes a huge contribution to the economy and the concept at least is a sound one, even if there is a way to go to develop methodology to stack up against established methods like GDP."

He told how it covers flood risk management, ports and shipping, health and wellbeing and even property values and potential economic wins.

On the first point, he said: "Events like December 2013 are still relatively fresh in people's minds and remains a hot topic in the estuary. Salt marsh reduces the tidal energy to reduce the risk of over topping. Ports rely on a deep water channel which is kept clear largely due to tidal flow and the reliance on shelter of Spurn in the outer estuary.

"A good well-managed area of green space can have positive benefits for physical and mental health, with associated cost savings on social and healthcare budgets. Property values too, there is good evidence where business parks sit in attractive surroundings rental values are higher, and similarly for house prices. Properties near national parks reflect that they are near national parks."

He said business doing projects didn't have to write huge cheques. "It is not always about a huge amount of money, it not always hugely technical, not rocket science. It is the will to do it, positive thinking and the off 360 degree excavator comes in handy!"

One huge opportunity where intervention hasn't been required already has a captive audience.

"Seals – we mustn't underestimate their value to the economy either," he said. "There is a really good tourist industry based around bucket and spades in the summer, providing we manage interest, we want people to come. With careful investment in the right places we can have a massive impact on the region's economy through nature tourism."

This was picked up by Paul Learoyd, chief executive of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, reflecting on autumn's top attraction and the crowds that descend on Donna Nook.

He said: "We get 70,000 visitors a year, it is nature's way and there is a lot more nature beside it. It is also a very special site for migratory birds. They can be bemused, we can be bemused, but it can be 5,000 visitors on a Sunday.

"We did a piece of work to assess the economic benefits and spoke to businesses in the area. With the season kicking off just after half term in October, it is a fantastic opportunity to engage, to extend the summer tourist season. A total of 50 per cent recognised the value of increased activity, but only 10 per cent did something about it.

"It is an opportunity missed by many businesses. We are hoping to work with them and to encourage them to be more actively involved. That's 70,000 people, a lot local, but some from across Europe and many all over the country. We know the profile of people who like wildlife, they are relatively high paid people, and as great as Cleethorpes is, these people are coming with money and are prepared to pay decent money for meals and hotels.

"People are strolling down with £5,000 to £10,000 worth of camera kit in their bags. They are the sort of people who are part of nature tourism."

And it isn't just the Water's Edge either.

"The Humber is the gateway to our marine environment," Mr Learoyd said. "We want to be engaging people. Grimsby, Hull and Goole are gateways to the marine environment."

Recalling the tragic beaching of the sperm whale, he said: "It did come home to us the winter before last. It was a wow factor, a very sad moment, but it engaged a huge number of people. It is not just unknown darkness the North Sea. We have had dives, it surprises people it is not just mud. People are wowed by some of the species. It is not a reef the same as you would see in Australia, but Grimsby, Hull and the North Sea are not impoverished of fish."

Case studies of positive strides by major industry were also given when it comes to caring for the environment in which they work.

Total Lindsey Oil Refinery's technical authority environmental engineer John Wormald outlined the major project at Burkinshaw's Covert, the 18th century plantation that sits on the boundary of the huge plant, acting as a screen from the estuary.

He told how in 2011 the team "looked at putting together a more sustainable and comprehensive wetland management scheme," with extensive felling and replacement of non-native trees with birch, oak, hazel, lime, rowan, yew and holly.

"We are an oil refinery, we have security issues, but we are looking at project visitors," he said, adding how a local firewood contractor was now managing sustainable felling, adding that general manager Jacques Beuckelaers was "proud to now have one of the most diverse wetland habitats and local wildlife sites in the area".

"We don't have this sort of area in any other refineries in the group," Mr Wormald added.

Recently a further 4,000 hedging plants have been added along a 700m stretch of Rosper Road.

Further up the estuary and Cemex's work with the RSPB to transform ash pits into wading bird respite from high tides was applauded.

The Mexican-owned cement plant at North Ferriby is on the bank where Reed's Island sits in the Humber, with a footprint frequently reduced or washed over when the waters rise.

Peter Short, habitat manager for the RSPB, said: "There are some fantastic places on the Humber. Some of the areas are stunning. At Cemex, the ash pits, they are a pretty barren and difficult place to work, but it is a real example of how you can work together and deliver."

He told how Reed's Island welcomes 50,000 wading birds, but finding new places to rest was tiring for the species on the "staging post from the Arctic to Africa".

"An easier project there couldn't have been," he said. "We created a few islands in one of the big pits." It was aided by the fact that plants struggle to grow on it, making it like the mud flats desired. "All the hard work we have to do to keep vegetation off was instantly mitigated," he added.

Now there is capacity for a further 4,500 resting waders. "We are seeing a real benefit with some quite unusual birds," Mr Short said.

"The Humber is so important for these species, we mustn't underestimate what a spare bit of land could do to make such a big difference."

SOUTH Humber Bank Power Station is “one of the best examples in the Humber of what can be achieved by industry,” according to Darren Clarke. 

“It is a relatively small site but a perfect example of what we can do on an industrial site,” he said. 

From early stage planning the team behind the gas-fired power plant – which is about to have a £67 million refurbishment – were acutely aware the greenfield location was on a SSSI and Ramsar wetland zone, with it becoming the first construction site to gain the environmental standard now known as ISO 14001. 

With a water intake capable of drawing 23 tonnes a second, it voluntarily fitted a £250,000 fish return system.

And recent years have seen the 30 acres of site that are not developed fully embrace biodiversity.

In 2007 the site began work with HINCA – the forerunner of Humber Nature Partnership – and a local environmental contractor Creative Nature, from Ben Burgess, to help create a five-year action plan to reshape, enhance and develop the site.

Log piles and nesting boxes are in a hectare of managed woodland, there are two wetland areas, with two large ponds, each over 450 sq m. There are 2.5km of ditches running through the natural grassland and meadow, bounded by 700m of hedgerows.

In total there are 150 species of fauna and flora, and 28 species of birds, with creations including an apple, plum and pear orchard and seven beehives in a more remote area. 

The element that draws the most surprise is the flock of rare breed sheep given a pasture too. 

“We are quite proud of what we have done,” Paul Kelk, station chemist said.

“You need to get management on board, but they see the benefit of this.

“There is a lot of engagement with staff. We have a World Environment Day and other things throughout the year.”

For more information about Humber Nature Partnership, visit

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