Agenda item

Motions on Notice

a)    By Councillor Stimson


Last month this Council passed a motion to reach a carbon neutral position by 2050, and declared an environmental and climate emergency.   We are committed to achieving this target.

That this Council, in the interests of encouraging biodiversity, and with input from ward councillors, agrees to:

 i) Less frequent mowing of verges to encourage wildlife friendly grasses and flowers and of parks and open spaces to encourage biodiversity, whilst being cognisant of health and safety issues insofar as traffic is concerned

ii) The introduction of wildflowers to cheer up targeted barren sites within the Borough

iii) The introduction of drought resistant insect friendly plants in key roadside areas




Councillor Stimson introduced her motion. She commented that she was thrilled that her maiden motion was on such a life enhancing topic.  The great Sir David Attenborough had said “plants capture energy from the sun, and all life on land, directly or indirectly, depends on them”.  Her motion looked to tackle just one aspect of biodiversity: to address the way verges, open spaces and barren sites were managed.


Biodiversity was the technical term for life on earth.  It was a scientific measure of the variety of habitats and ecosystems across the planet.  It was essential for human existence.  As well as underpinning the food that was eaten and the air that was breathed, humans depended on biodiversity for protection from other threats, like pollution, flooding and climate breakdown.


Last month Council had declared an environment and climate emergency, and passed a motion to reach carbon neutrality. Councillors were increasingly aware that almost everything the council did had implications for sustainability.  As the Chairman of the planning panel she felt a great responsibility for this. The previous Wednesday the panel had passed four applications totalling 200 residential dwellings on brownfield sites, all with perfectly good reasons for approval, and all of which would most likely win on appeal if turned down by the panel.  The borough was vulnerable until it had approved its borough local plan.  The onus was therefore on the council to do as much as it could to ensure that the properties built were sustainable and that more steps were taken to mitigate against the development that council had to, and should, continue with.


Councillor Stimson proposed three action steps towards improving biodiversity in the borough:


Firstly, to allow the grasses on verges to grow long enough to get through their lifecycle of grow, flower and seedeach year.   Over 700 species of wildflowers grew on verges, which was nearly 45% of the total flora. 


The council would have to be mindful of health and safety by keeping the grass short where sight lines mattered, or along paths where children walked to school.  She thanked Councillor Jones for her input in this regard, and also for suggesting that ward councillors get involved as they had intimate knowledge of their own wards.  Councillors could also draw on skilled officers such as the Countryside Manager and Ecologist.


Some of the borough parks and open spaces already benefitted from selective mowing.  Parts of Town Moor had longer swaths of grasses, for example, and was alive and buzzing for much of the year.  Councillor Stimson thanked Councillor Baskerville for his motion relating to bees that the council had passed many years previously.  She would like to aim for borough parks to have 10% of their area given over to biodiversity.  It was more complicated than mowing everything, but the benefits were more than worth it.  Frequently trodden paths across an open park might be more neatly clipped, or the shape of a football field where children were known to play, but elsewhere biodiversity should be encouraged.  For the last six years, a local farmer, Jim Headington, had managed the perennial grasses and wildflowers that ran alongside his fields.  Today they were full of orchids, ox-eye daisies, self-heal, yellow rattle, lady’s bedstraw and the sight was breath-taking.  Maidenhead was going to go through a tricky period with regeneration, and the council needed to do everything it could to make it attractive in other ways.


Secondly, she proposed the sewing of annual wildflowers to cheer up targeted sites within the borough.  One of her friends at Wild Cookham had already mentioned that her language, such as ‘cheer up’ devalued the purpose, which was about saving life on the planet, and that cheerfulness was a by-product.  He was of course correct. 


Councillor Stimson asserted that this was something that needed to be tackled on a ward by ward basis.  In St Mary’s, for example, residents had notified her of areas that were in need of love, and had asked for help.  That would be replicated throughout the borough.  Wildflowers would grow in sunny areas until first frosts.  Other areas might need different treatment.  It would not be solved overnight.


Thirdly, Councillor Stimson wanted to introduce more insect friendly and drought resistant plants into key areas where biodiversity was currently lacking.  The council would look at ways of introducing succulents, such as sedums, which were great drought resistant plants.  Their compact heads oozed nectar during the late summer and were loved by bees and other pollinating insects.  She had spoken to the council’s window box supplier and they were happy to introduce hairy plants which were good at trapping air pollution from traffic.


The council needed to start doing things differently.  It would be messier, and it may be more difficult, but it was clear that if business as usual continued, the loss of habitats posed as much a danger to life on the earth as climate change did.  


Councillor Rayner seconded the motion. She stated that it was incredibly important as it raised a great awareness of biodiversity and how the council was and continued to make changes in the Royal Borough to address this.


The borough’s fantastic parks and highways were valued by the residents and the aim was to keep high standards. Currently verges were cut three times a year and sometimes twice if suitable for long grass growth. With wildflowers the management was very similar with two operations: a cut in the spring, and cut and collect in the late summer after the plants had shed seeds.


The borough would like to trial the wildflowers in some high profile areas across the Borough: the A308 entry into Maidenhead where there was a wide central reservation; in Windsor on the Royal Windsor Way and some roundabouts; and in Ascot on a wide verge near the War Horse roundabout. These areas would still need to maintain highway safety therefore cuts would be maintained at 1m or 0.5m for vision. Yellow rattle was known as the most important plant needed to establish a wildflower meadow, there were also fantastic seed mixes with grasses which would be used across many of the sites. Plants like this would set their own seeds so would continue to multiply. The areas would need refreshing every three or four years. The wildflowers and native plants attracted bees and butterflies and other pollinators and wildlife; 30% of food directly depended on pollinators.


The trial was important as this would be as much about understanding residents’ expectations. There was a balance with managing this, therefore the council would introduce signs on the trial areas which showed the reason for the long grass and a webpage on the website.


There were already over 300 acres across the Royal Borough in parks that were promoting biodiversity and bee pollinators, including Cooleys Meadow in Eton Wick, Braywick nature reserve, Ockwells, Thriftwood, Battlemead, Sutherland Grange, Allan’s Field, Deerswood and Trinity Park


Another idea was to trial seedham flower roofs on bus-stops. This planting had been very successful in Utrecht, Holland and was improving air quality as well as biodiversity.


Councillor W. Da Costa stated that he applauded Cllr Stimson's maiden motion especially as a local bee keeper. It was good to continue the debate about enhancing biodiversity being threatened with extinction due to human activity and climate change, after all it was an emergency but, the council really should be looking at creating a Biodiversity Strategy which would cut across all areas of council operation especially planning, highways, transport, parks and green spaces, energy, construction and home building, procurement and disposal strategies, but would also apply to education, adult services, social services and more.

There were different options in looking at a strategy. The council could take the EU option of aiming for:

  • Enhanced implementation of nature legislation i.e. implementing the full force of the new NPPF and the Town & Country Act
  • Restored ecosystems
  • Established green infrastructure
  • Sustainable agriculture and forestry
  • Sustainable fisheries or, with the River Thames and the Jubilee River, aquatic life
  • Combatting alien invasive species
  • Contributing to averting global biodiversity loss

Or the council could consider the UK approach of:

·         A more integrated large-scale approach to conservation on land and at sea

·         Putting people at the heart of policy

·         Reducing environmental pressures

·         Improving our knowledge

·         Monitoring, reporting and reinventing

Or the council could also layer in the forward thinking approach of the National Assembly of Wales which included green infrastructure, a nature based approach, a circular economy, and a place based approach. This strategy included five ways of working, and nine principles of sustainable management for each area of activity.

It was important that the council create an evidence based biodiversity strategy that cut across all areas of the council’s activities and responsibilities. It could:

·         Set a target date for creation of 2021

·         Prepare and issue regular audits and status reports of borough ecosystems and biodiversity

·         Collaborate with experts and residents such as Wild Maidenhead and Wild Windsor

·         Set up a Task Force to ensure completion and implementation

·         Ensure carbon neutral buildings in RBWM both new and retrofitted

·         Improve education for children and adults

·         Facilitate residents becoming greener

·         Create schemes to help businesses become green

·         Empower and release residents and businesses in Green Action Networks which were already being set up by forward thinking residents in the borough

·         Require reports on progress and successes including KPIs at all Overview and Scrutiny Panels, Cabinet, full Council and on the website

·         Reimagine environments by bringing the countryside into the towns

·         And of course, create a greener borough by planting verges

The strategy must take the word emergency seriously. This will also allow an opportunity to improve the wellbeing of residents, reduce air, ground and water pollution, limit the effect of alien and invasive species, reimagine urban spaces, improve the happiness index and save money and as well as saving local biodiversity and planting green verges. Piecemeal resolutions might actually hamper biodiversity; evidence based strategies and activities were needed. Equally, the borough should not continue to fall behind other areas in the UK and the world. The council must work collaboratively and put some high energy, intent and resourcing into the declared emergency and resolve to create a Biodiversity Strategy fit for royalty, that husbanded the ecosystem and one that would be an asset for future generations. Councillor W. Da Costa stated that he would support the motion but the council needed to aim higher.

Councillor Dudley stated that he supported the motion but would like to see the council’s plans to be more ambitions and avoid symbolism. When looking at public open spaces he suggested an opt-out type of approach. He therefore requested a report back to full Council on what the council was doing, to include the default opt-out approach.


Councillor Coppinger explained that at this year’s annual councillor visit to a local farm, Members had been shown a field that had been planted with wildflowers to increase biodiversity and ultimately improve crops. He asked that all seeds used on borough land be from native species.

Councillor Jones stated that she completely supported the motion. Wildflower planting already happened in Old Windsor on Crimp Hill Road. Officers had arranged for it to be appropriately managed. A lot of open spaces were managed by parish councils therefore she asked that communications be made with parish councils to encourage them to take up the plans on behalf of residents.

Councillor Davies commented that to gain maximum benefit it would be important to ensure there was no loss in translation of implementation. She therefore suggested the motion should include a schedule for both rural and urban areas and specify native species.

Councillor Stimson responded that she would prefer for the motion to be approved as written rather than to go into detailed changes.  A working party could look at a detailed framework. Councillor Dudley reiterated his suggestion for a report to full Council including a detailed action plan.

Councillor Knowles echoed the comments of Councillor Jones. During the recent Garden in Bloom competition he had seen some wonderful wildflower gardens; it would be good to mobilise these residents. Certain flowers that were considered weeds were important for the food chain and love by bees, for example dandelions.

Councillor Cannon commented that the motion focused on urban areas yet the majority of verges were in rural areas. He highlighted that rural areas were also taking action and groups already existed such as Wraysbury Gardeners and Wild Datchet. Joined up work with these groups and parish councils was needed.

Councillor Davey highlighted the need to ensure no alien species were introduced. Residents should be encouraged to seek advice before taking action.

Councillor Clark thanked both Councillor Stimson and Councillor W. Da Costa for the wide variety of aspirations that had been expressed in relation to biodiversity and the climate emergency. It would be important to be guided by science and expert advice. Work undertaken after the initial support of the motion would look scrupulously at how the council could best deliver the aspirations including guidance to be given to parish councils and residents, the application of resources and monitoring of payback.

Councillor Tisi commented that natural wild verges would support 1400 species of insects. If non-native plants were introduced only 40 species of insects could be supported. If the council wanted the residents to believe it was not simply ‘greenwashing’ it would be important to get the message across.

Councillor Bowden highlighted the use of green walls in central London which could be extended to roofs. He also commented that Heathrow had set aside funding to offset their own carbon footprint.

Councillor Bateson commented that it would be important to include schools as young people were very much involved in the green movement.

Councillor Baskerville explained that his motion relating to bees had been agreed by Council in 2008. The motion on biodiversity built on the earlier motion. He commented that at the 50th Anniversary of the moon landing, one of the big features had been the sight of Earth from the moon, gleaming like a precious jewel but also vulnerable. It had brought home the importance of being stewards of the Earth.

Councillor Del Campo commented that meadows in Oaken Grove Park had been cut down in their prime and had yet to recover. Officers and residents were working to restore them. She hoped lessons had been learnt. She also highlighted the importance of locally-sourced plants, possibly from donor meadows.

Councillor Stimson thanked all Members for supporting the motion and making it more ambitious for both urban and rural areas of the borough. The idea of a report back to full Council including all the ambitions was very important.

It was proposed by Councillor Stimson, seconded by Councillor Rayner and:

RESOLVED UNANIMOUSLY: That this Council, in the interests of encouraging biodiversity, and with input from ward councillors, agrees to:

i) Less frequent mowing of verges to encourage wildlife friendly grasses and flowers and of parks and open spaces to encourage biodiversity, whilst being cognisant of health and safety issues insofar as traffic is concerned

ii) The introduction of wildflowers to cheer up targeted barren sites within the Borough

iii) The introduction of drought resistant insect friendly plants in key roadside areas


Councillor Baldwin left the meeting at 8.25pm

The meeting adjourned at 8.25pm and reconvened at 8.30pm.