Mixed reaction to UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan


Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP published their ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’ which sets out what the government will do to improve the environment. The plan seeks to deliver an end to plastic waste, create new habitats for endangered species, a ‘green Brexit’, create nature-friendly schools, and lead the way for other countries to tackle environmental destruction. The 25-year plan also confirmed that the government will consult on plans for the development of a statutory body – a “world-leading” and independent environmental watchdog – to ensure standards on clean air, water and soil will be maintained post-Brexit.

The government has pledged to expand the use of natural flood management solutions, put in place more sustainable drainage systems and make at risk properties more resilient to flooding. Although £15M has been set aside for natural flood management up to 2021 in the 2016 budget but no further flood investment was announced in this report. Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) such as permeable surfaces, storage tanks and ponds, to reduce the risk of surface water flooding will be encouraged and the government said it would consider changes to the national planning policy framework and building regulations.


Reaction to the launch of the report has been mixed with WWF stating,

“This could be a turning point for the UK’s relationship with the environment, where we begin to restore nature rather than destroy it. The plan is an important first step, but the commitments will only become a reality if they are backed by the force of law, money and a new environmental watchdog with the power to make sure the government lives up to its promises.”


The plan also describes plans to investment £10 million in a schools initiative, called the Nature Friendly Schools Programme, to target children in the most disadvantaged areas of the UK. This funding will come from the Department for Education budget and be spent over five years.


Much coverage of the report’s launch focused on reducing single-use plastics from supermarket food packaging – an initiative described as a major part of the Government’s plan to make Britain a global leader on tackling plastic waste. But the government’s plans for plastic waste do not go far enough, say environmentalists. Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF, said: “We welcome any step to reduce the plastic waste we produce, and policies like this can spur change. But if we really want to solve this problem, we need to think bigger and ultimately move towards an end to single-use plastics.”


Conservation bodies felt that a lack of legal underpinning was a fundamental flaw and environmental groups criticised the lack of proposed legislation and the lengthy timescales for dealing with problems.

shared assets

Mark Walton, of Shared Assets, has written a considered review of the 25 year plan,

“It has been (rightly) criticised for being vague and lacking detail regarding how it will be implemented, but it can’t be criticised for lack of content. Within the 151 pages are a wide range of promises, from the creation of a northern forest and a network of green corridors, to new green infrastructure arising from development.

There is a lot here to welcome, however the lack of specifics is concerning, and the dissonance between some of the aspirations and the context in which they need to delivered (austerity, the weakness of the planning system and the crisis facing our parks and open spaces) is jarring. It takes a leap of considerable faith to see some of these welcome words being translated into effective action.”

Common land and uplands appear to have been ignored with the Government’s failure to mention them in its environment plan following earlier extensive consultation.

climate earth


New report: Making progress in natural capital accounting

With global populations increasing and a shift to more resource-intensive habits and behaviours there are ever increasing demands on global ecosystems. Natural capital is a way to describe the Earth’s natural assets; soil, air, water and living things, existing as complex ecosystems, which provide a range of services to humans. Depleting and degrading these reserves may irreversibly reduce the availability of benefits to future generations. The European Commission’s Science for Environment Policy has released its recent In-Depth Report, ‘Taking stock: progress in natural capital accounting’ which presents an overview of ideas, debates and progress so far in natural capital accounting, in particular in accounting for ecosystems and their services.


The aim of natural capital accounting is to show how natural resources contribute to the economy, and how the activities of the economy affect natural resources — often, in order to inform better decisions. These detailed statistics, regarding such items as inputs of water or energy, and outputs of pollution, are intended to contribute to the design of better economic management strategies overall. ‘Natural capital accounting’ is defined by the European Commission as a tool to measure the changes in the stock and condition of natural capital at a variety of scales and to integrate the value of ecosystem services into biodiversity and reporting systems. A fundamental aspect of natural capital accounting is the recognition that a single ecosystem will generate a range of ecosystem services and, therefore, contribute a number of benefits to humans and economic activity.

The report starts by defining and discussing:

  • Defining and using natural capital accounting
  • Current international policy context
  • Business context

It continues with an discussion of the history and development of NC accounting from the 1930s to date and includes targets projecting as far forward as 2030. That by 2020, signatories will integrate ecosystem and biodiversity values into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts and by 2030 will build on existing initiatives to develop measurements of progress on sustainable development that complement gross domestic product, and support statistical capacity building in developing countries (Sustainable Development Goals, 2016).

The report looks at methods for natural capital accounting, measuring ecosystem services biophysically – illustrated with case studies and discusses challenges and outlook for measurement of ecosystem assets and flows. The report looks at the economics of valuing ecosystems stating that,

An important aim of the ecosystem services concept is to make explicit the benefits that ecosystems provide (Science for Environment Policy, 2015), and one way in which this can can be achieved is using valuation. The most common method of valuation is economic, as this can allow a relatively simple form of comparison across various services once they are described in the common form of monetary currency.

The report also looks at the challenges and outlook for economic valuation of ecosystems in national accounts and looks in depth at natural capital accounting in practice: refining and testing the protocols. The report looks at both how The Netherlands and United Kingdom have approached N C accounting whilst looking at examples beyond the EU such as KwaZulu Natal, South Africa and The Victorian Central Highlands, Australia.

The report concludes that there is a pressing need to make sure that the assets and services delivered by natural capital are considered in the economic and planning decisions that put them at risk,

The potential of NCA is significant; for example, the historically determined country ‘rankings’ of the global economy might be transformed if accounts of natural capital gain recognition alongside GDP as future measures of national wealth. When it comes to the ecosystems we depend on, there is a need to continue testing accounting approaches and demonstrating policy applications in a variety of contexts. It is clear the need for a workable system of natural capital accounting is only going to increase: supranational organisations, states, governments, regions and businesses alike will need to build their commitment to strengthen the evidence base.

Research: Vegetation can react with car emissions to decrease air quality

Source: Churkina, G., Kuik, F., Bonn, B, et al. (2017). Effect of VOC Emissions from Vegetation on Air Quality in Berlin during a Heatwave. Environmental Science & Technology, 51(11): 6120–6130. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b06514

Researchers have shown that emissions from vehicles can react with emissions from urban trees and other plants, resulting in a decrease in air quality in cities in summer; this reduces the otherwise positive impacts of urban vegetation. The study, conducted in Berlin, showed that during a July heatwave, 20% of ozone concentrations were due to emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from vegetation interacting with other pollutants. To reduce this effect, lowering emissions of these other pollutants is crucial.

The planting of trees and green walls in cities can provide a range of benefits, from providing shade in summer and acting as a sound barrier to increasing carbon storage and even enhancing well-being. However, in the presence of nitrogen oxides (NOx) — produced mainly in vehicle emissions — some gaseous emissions from vegetation can in fact contribute to decreased air quality. This study is the first of its kind to quantify the relative contribution of urban vegetation to episodes of poor air quality in a mid-latitude European city. Planners of urban-greening programmes should be aware of these effects, note the researchers.

VOCs released by plants include hundreds of chemicals, many of which have an odour; they can be detected, for example, in the scent given off when grass lawns are cut. Only a few of them — for example isoprene, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes — have a significant effect on air quality. In urban and suburban areas with substantial levels of NOx, isoprene contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, while the latter two chemicals can increase particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10). Ozone and PM have damaging effects on human health, in particular causing respiratory problems.

Plants produce isoprene as part of a process to protect their cells against stresses such as drought and temperature fluctuation; emissions, therefore, increase with rising temperatures and in dry conditions. Eucalyptus, oak (Quercus spp.) and poplar (Populus spp.) trees are major producers of isoprene1.

The researchers compared air quality over two summer periods (1 June–28 August 2006 and 1 June–28 August 2014) in the city of Berlin, which has relatively high vegetation cover (35% of land is classified as forest, parks and agriculture). In July 2006, the city experienced a major heatwave, defined as five or more consecutive days during which the daily maximum temperature exceeds the average maximum temperature for that time of year by 5°C or more. Average daily temperatures over a three-week period in that month were over 30°C; and in July 2014, they were 26–27°C.

In the 2014 study period, concentrations of VOCs were continuously measured in a central residential neighbourhood, and more samples were gathered in seven other locations in Berlin and one in the wider metropolitan area, representing air quality in the urban background, highway, urban forest and park environments.

The researchers then used modelling software2,3 to investigate the contribution of vegetation emissions to the formation of ozone and PM. Simulations of air chemistry in each period were facilitated with inputs including data on anthropogenic emissions (e.g. NOx, sulphur dioxide and PM), land-cover types (e.g. conifer forest) and published isoprene emissions factors for different types of trees. The latter indicate how much isoprene different types of trees emit, relative to leaf area. The researchers used inventories of street trees and forests in conjunction with these factors to estimate how much isoprene was emitted in the city in each period, and how this contributed to ozone formation. The inventories of street trees were only used to corroborate emission factors used in the model; the researchers were not able to incorporate these inventories in the model calculations.

The researchers calculated the difference between ozone concentrations modelled with and in the absence of VOC emissions from vegetation, using 8-hour daily maximum values4 as applied in EU air quality standards and the World Health Organisation (WHO) air quality guidelines. The modelled results showed that VOCs from vegetation make a significant contribution to ground-level ozone levels in Berlin in the summer. On average, vegetation was linked to 12% of ozone in the 2006 and 2014 total summer periods combined, but in July 2006 it was responsible for 20% of the ozone level on average, and for 17% in July 2014. The ozone response to VOC emissions from plants peaked at 60% on some days during the July heatwave.

A distinct increase was detected between the impact of plant VOCs in July and the two other months studied; in June and August, their contribution to ozone was only 6–11%. This corresponds to the increase in air temperature in July.

The study’s results add to a body of evidence showing that VOC emissions from urban trees may exacerbate air pollution, say the researchers. However, trees also have other effects on ozone, for example trapping it in their leaves, which may decrease levels in the environment. Their effect on air pollution is, therefore, complicated — both lessening and enhancing.

The researchers also investigated the contribution of vegetation to PM, as VOCs can contribute to particle formation in air (aerosols). The findings were inconclusive, however, due to large variations in modelled aerosol concentrations.

It is also noted in the study that the isoprene emissions factors used led to an underestimation of these emissions, based on new calculations carried out by the researchers in evaluating the model. This is attributed to the high number of high isoprene-emitting trees found in Berlin, such as oaks, which are not accounted for in the emissions factors used. They conclude, therefore, that the actual contribution of plant VOCs to ozone levels in urban areas is probably higher than shown in results, and future modelling could be improved to better reflect the characteristics of vegetation.

Although VOCs from vegetation can contribute to air pollution during heat waves, meaning that green areas in Berlin could be hotspots for ground-level ozone in summer, the main way to lower ozone levels is to reduce vehicle emissions — the main source of the NOx which reacts with VOCs to produce ozone — say the researchers. Radically lower levels of anthropogenic air pollution would offer urban residents the many beneficial effects of urban trees and plants in summer, rather than the dual effect highlighted by this study. Far from being a call to stop tree planting, the study emphasises that controlling NOx pollution is essential to not detract from the many benefits of trees, such as reducing heat-island effects, increasing urban biodiversity, reducing the effects of climate change and more.

  1. These are not the only trees with high emissions of isoprene. A previous publication ranks popular urban trees relative to their VOC emissions (Figure 1): Churkina, G., Grote, R., Butler, T.M. & Lawrence, M. (2015) Natural selection? Picking the right trees for urban greening. Environmental Science & Policy, 47, 12–17.
  2. Grell, G.A., Peckham, S.E, Schmitz, R., McKeen, S.A., Frost, G., Skamarock, W.C. & Eder, B. (2005). Fully coupled “online” chemistry within the WRF model. Atmospheric Environment. 39(37): 6957– 6975.
  3. Guenther, A., Karl, T., Harley, P., Wiedinmyer, C., Palmer, P.I. & Geron, C. (2006). Estimates of global terrestrial isoprene emissions using MEGAN (Model of Emissions of Gases and Aerosols from Nature). Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics, 6(11): 3181–3210
  4. This refers to the daily maximum surface ozone concentration, in parts per billion, backward averaged over 8 hour-long periods.


Contact: galina@churkina.org

Landscape award success for Kingston tutor and student

Landscape Architect and Kingston University tutor Fenella Griffin and her partner architect Murray Smith of Untitled Practice have been awarded ‘Landscape of the Year’ by the prestigious AJ architecture awards for their ‘Lesnes to Crossness’ project. The project was also awarded ‘Highly Commended’ in the Design for a Medium-Scale Development category at this year’s Landscape Institute awards ceremony.

Lesnes to Crossness constitutes a section of south-east London’s Green Chain Walk, from Lesnes Abbey to Crossness pumping station through Thamesmead South and alongside Southmere Lake. It has improved an area that had suffered from years of poor upkeep and had become potentially dangerous to walk along after the local traveller community introduced free-roaming horses to the land.

Untitled Practice’s proposal involved careful negotiation with this community in order to create the new Southmere Square, moving the horses into nearby paddocks and providing a new public space for the estate and walkers containing seating, play areas and a stepped hill that becomes something of a makeshift amphitheatre.”

Untitled Practice tweet

Also, at the Landscape Institute Awards ceremony, hosted by Romy Rawlings CMLI and Bill Bryson, Kingston post-grad student Sigita Simona Paplauskaite was awarded ‘Highly Commended’ for her Student Portfolio – Cliffe Explosives Nature Reserve,

“An insightful analysis of the Cliffe Marshes area of the Thames Estuary, which considers whether the abandoned former military factory should be thought of as a heritage site, or be a place full of redevelopment potential.”

simmona tweet

Architecture & Landscape podcast series

In his text ‘Weak Architecture’ Ignasi de Sola Morales writes that,

“Contemporary Architecture, in conjunction with the other arts, is confronted with the need to build on air, to build in the void. The proposals of contemporary architecture are to be constructed not on the basis of any immovable reference, but under the obligation to posit for each step both the goal and its grounding”.


We here in the Department of Architecture + Landscape, Kingston University, are interested in what it takes to make thoughtful work in architecture and landscape architecture today. Each week practitioners are invited to present to students and staff from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines.

In this series of 14 podcasts we speak with practitioners, planners, developers and others who visit our school about their motivations and methodologies. To listen to an audio podcast click here. Open iTunes to download and subscribe to podcasts here