Project name: Oxford Partnership for Operationalising the Conservation Hierarchy (OxPOCH)
Location: Oxford, UK
Primary stakeholders: University organisation – students, staff, academics, independent colleges, external collaborators
Primary extractive or damaging activities: Food consumption & land-use for development and farming
Affected ecosystem(s) and biodiversity: Local countryside matrix, but also global biodiversity through consumable goods supply chain
Goal: Sustainable development projects and estate management achieving biodiversity net gain, low impact food consumption
Metric(s): e.g. DEFRA biodiversity metric, habitat extent, carbon emissions, ReCiPe pressure-impact model
Mitigation & Conservation actions: Developments and land-managers can use the 4 steps to prioritise actions for their estates, and use the mitigation hierarchy to implement offsetting reactively if need be. Proactively, land owners can engaging in habitat restoration, or project existing biodiversity from potential future risks. For food systems, canteen managers can reevaluate menus to refrain from and reduce consumption of damaging products, or proactively engage the community in growing local food. In the future institutions may be able to offset their supply chain biodiversity impact too.
Stage of implementation and associated outcomes: this case study is in the process of being implemented; analysis has been done on impacts within the University and frameworks have been produced for long-term actions. The research phase of the project ran from October 2019-21.
Needs and next steps: This is the first example of the Mitigation & Conservation Hierarchy being used for an institution, where the main impacts on biodiversity will be throughout the supply chain. This case study now provides a roadmap for other institutions to tackle their wider impacts in a reactive, proactive and inclusive way that accounts for the ethos of their institution and the effects on their staff. Specifically, this work is now been carried on by the Nature Positive Universities network, and the Eco-Metric project.
This research was supported for two years by a grant from the Oxford University Press’ John Fell Fund.
Meet the Team
OxPOCH has an inter-disciplinary core team, who are working throughout University departments and partner organisations
We are collaborating widely to bring about measurable change
It is imperative that sustainability projects take a unified and collaborative approach. We’re engaging and reaching out in a variety of ways:
- Providing opportunities for Oxford researchers, and particularly students, to collaborate with our research and join our partnership
- Providing best practice guidelines, for colleges, departments and other parts of the university, to share past experiences
- Reaching out to non-university others within the city, county and beyond for collaborative research
- Engaging the general public via our partners in the museums, Synchronicity Earth, BBOWT, Good Food Oxford and the Public Affairs Directorate
- Disseminating our work widely, internally and externally: via this website, literature, events, talks, online tools (including gaining international impact via the 2021 UN COP processes for biodiversity and climate)
We need to know where our baseline impact comes from
In this project led by Joe Bull and Izzy Taylor of Wild Business Ltd., in conjunction with Harriet Waters and Tom Yearley of the University. They aim to undertake a preliminary analysis of the University’s environmental impacts in carbon and global biodiversity damage. This will ensure future work and targets the University sets can be guided by priority action areas.
The areas being examined are:
- Travel & flights
- Food consumption
- Built environment & electricity use
- Natural environment & farmland
- Resources & waste
These areas are being examined with respect to ‘tier’ 1, 2 & 3 impacts: with tier 3 impacts being those within the supply chain of products used by the University.
Working out how to reform a college’s food system
In this project led by Izzy Taylor of Wild Business Ltd., is in collaboration with Lady Margaret Hall college. This project aims to analyse the college’s biodiversity impacts of the food that is eaten by staff, students, commercial conference guests and summer school attendees. Then, using the Mitigation & Conservation Hierarchy, this project will outline potential targets the college could set and different strategies of interventions that could be used to meet them.
For example, it will be up to the college community to decide what weightings it puts between the preventative and the compensatory steps of the Hierarchy. This trade-off will have to balance the desire of the community to eat, for example, beef and ruminant meat, with the sheer cost of offsetting impacts in a compensatory way.
This research has also been worked on by student researchers Lizzie Biggs and Niamh Gray.
Understanding opportunities to Restore and Renew biodiversity in Oxford city
The University of Oxford owns a considerable portion of the land and buildings within the Oxford urban city, and these spaces will require enhancement for biodiversity in the future. The fourth step of the Conservation Hierarchy is to Renew – and creating new spaces for biodiversity and humans to get along together in an urban setting is part of this.
Isobel Hawkins undertook an internship with OxPOCH and the Estates Services to appraise the University’s urban spaces in terms of biodiversity enhancement potential. She looked at a variety of different techniques for sites across the city, and ranked them by feasibility, gains for biodiversity, and practicality.
Her report on the Universities options for urban biodiversity enhancement projects going forward can be found here (PDF).
Resolving the gap between development and conservation
Both the University and constituent colleges undertake many development projects in and around Oxford. Building new research and teaching facilities, and student and staff accommodation is a priority. However, this should not come at a cost to biodiversity.
In HM Government’s new Environment Bill developments in England that require planning permission will need to achieve a 10% net gain in biodiversity by law. This is measured using DEFRA’s own biodiversity metric. Many developers, such as the University, may choose to voluntarily aim for a more ambitious target in order to maximise the outcomes for nature.
In this project, Julia Baker of Balfour Beatty is helping the University and colleges assess the biodiversity baselines of sites for planned developments, and advising how they could use the industry best-practice Mitigation Hierarchy to go above-and-beyond the legal requirement.
Estates should know and enhance their biodiversity assets
The estates of the university and its constituent colleges require constant development, but they also hold vital biodiversity (and could hold more). This research project is led by Henry Grub and Crankstart intern Rebecca Rogers, in conjunction with Prue Addison of the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. The main aims are to:
- Firstly, to understand what biodiversity exists on these estates, by compiling ‘natural inventories’
- Next, to calculate potential biodiversity gains and losses under different development and restoration scenarios, for estate landscapes and specific infrastructure projects
- Develop and test an operable ‘biodiversity net gain’ strategy to mitigate the ecological and biodiversity impacts of development for colleges and the university
- Finally, to frame this in the Mitigation & Conservation Hierarchy, so we have real-world case studies to inform international policy making for global sustainability goals post-2020
We’re mapping the natural inventories of estates
For this project, the University and college partners input:
- Details of their property and estates holdings; specific property boundaries allows us precise mapping
- If developments are planned, masterplans for development footprints will allow us to calculate planned biodiversity losses and gains
From this, our research outputs:
- A bespoke college-specific report featuring mapped layers of key natural assets within their estate, including features such as Natural England priority habitats, local wildlife sites, conservation target areas, protected sites such as SSSIs
- Estate’s biodiversity management key targets, including potential target enhancements, or restoration and nature-based solutions projects, factoring planned future developments where applicable
Teaching college’s more about their food
Over the summer of 2020, Crankstart intern and biology undergraduate Niamh Gray worked with the OxPOCH team and the catering staff at St Hilda’s College to analyse the environmental impacts of the food served at the Hilda’s canteen, and then use the Conservation Hierarchy framework, along with the ‘4Rs’ to come up with strategies to mitigate this impact. You can read her report here (PDF).
Using labels means consumers can make more informed choices
Consumers struggle to make informed sustainable food choices because they lack the knowledge and facts. Our new eco-labelling initiative, led by Brian Cook and Susan Jebb in conjunction with the LEAP project (www.leap.ox.ac.uk) aims to quantify, display and traffic-light impacts of meals in halls and canteens by four environmental measures:
- Greenhouse gas emissions (in CO2 equivalent)
- Biodiversity impact (species extinction impact)
- Water usage
- Toxic chemical usage
Pilot studies on two types of labels were conducted in 2020 before lockdowns, and we aim to bring eco-labelling back when canteens reopen.