Our mission at Tranquil City is to create data and interventions that can make our cities better for people and for nature. This includes both aiding positive behaviour change but also to help encourage better evaluation and planning for a more sustainable, equitable and nurturing future. We direct our interventions toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals, specifically 3 ‘Good Health and Wellbeing’, 11 ‘Sustainable Cities & Communities’ and 15 ‘Life on Land’.
Our datasets to date, including the Tranquil City Index and the Healthy Streets Index, typically blur the boundaries between the needs of people and nature but primarily have been directed towards people-centred values. The next stage in our journey is to explore how data can help evaluate, inform and track progress towards a more ecological future.
We’ve been collaborating with our friend and ecologist expert Rosie Whicheloe at the London Borough of Sutton to explore what datasets could provide a baseline view on habitats across Greater London. This is in line with emerging guidelines of the Biodiversity Net Gain assessment.
A particularly useful resource we came across in our research is Natural England’s “Living England” dataset, released in April 2022. This applies machine learning techniques to learn from observed survey data points across the country with high-resolution satellite imagery to predict the classification of habitats down to an approximately 100 m resolution. This provides an invaluable view of England’s habitat environments that are available anywhere in the country and that don’t rely on observed surveys that are expensive and not very scaleable.
However, the data classifications aren’t quite in line with UK Habitat standard classifications and the data is only available as a raw GIS format which will be mostly unusable for most ecologists, let alone policymakers and/or the public. This is where we come in. Our challenge was to make this data useable and demonstrate how it could be used to help inform a baseline habitat classification for the entire London region, allowing for borough-level comparisons but also specific site analysis.
Habitat Types in Greater London
Firstly, we created a script to convert the Living England data classifications to the UK Habitat ones to enable us to use the Bio Net Gain formatting guidelines. This goes down to the approximately 100m resolution and can be scaled up to look at specific sites, wards boroughs or even entire cities.
This map can be seen here and is available as a high-resolution download here.
Borough Level Habitat Cover Analysis
We then analysed the hectares of each habitat type within each Borough and calculated this as a percentage to enable easy borough-level comparisons. These calculations are important to understand how much habitat currently exists before development, to explore wildlife corridors and opportunities for connection, as well as provide a benchmark for how developments are (hopefully) proposed to improve habitats to increase biodiversity.
We originally exported these analysis results to a spreadsheet for further analysis, but we felt it would be useful to visually present this in map form for easy comparison between boroughs.
For each habitat type, we followed the Bio Net Gain colour classifications (using the QGIS template) and colour weighted each borough depending on the percentage cover score. We’ve selected a few habitat types that had the highest divergence between boroughs to illustrate how key habitats (or lack of habitats in the case of hard structures) compare across the London area.
Below are two example maps showing the percentage of habitat cover per borough to illustrate how the data could be used to identify baseline habitats quantities per borough, site or local area. We’ve included ‘Fens’ and ‘Mixed Woodland’ and they demonstrate the diversity of cover across the Boroughs.
The next step in the Bio Net Gain analysis includes defining the ‘distinctiveness’ of each habitat. This is done by assigning important criteria from ‘Very Low’ to ‘Very High’ depending on the habitat type and its importance for wildlife. The classifications can be found in the technical supplement on Natural England’s website. We applied these weightings and scores to produce the following map that highlights the most important habitats in each area of London.
The Distinctiveness map can be dowloaded here. It should be noted that the classification scores are still a bit limited, as it gardens and the green belt are scoring better than they potentially should be.
We are looking forward to continuing our work to improve these maps and on how our indices could help inform planning for ecology and Biodiversity Net Gain assessments. We hope the data could be used to help identify wildlife corridors and/or areas for protection/enhancement. Our next steps are to explore how ‘condition’ could be included that accounts for factors such as noise and air pollution, as well as to link to more observed survey information.
If you’re from a London Borough or other England council and are interested in accessing this data for your area, please do get in touch via email@example.com.
Alternatively, if you’re a fellow environmental or ecology expert looking to use this data in your projects or to collaborate with us, please also don’t hesitate to get in touch too!