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National Highways launches major biodiversity mapping project

Habitats and nature will be closely tracked through cutting edge technology, making it easier for the publicly-owned company to identify, manage and prioritise maintenance.

It is hoped that the scheme, which uses satellite imaging to assess landscape types and health, and ‘read’ biodiversity levels, will help halt the decline of nature resulting from National Highways activities by 2025. 

A Concept Sage was completed in October 2023, exploring whether it was possible to use remote sensing technology to achieve biodiversity net gain within the ‘soft estate’ of Britain’s road infrastructure organisation. Finances by the Designated Funds Innovation and Modernisation fund, trials were undertaken by the Connected Places and Satellite Applications Catapult. 

National Highways is one of the UK’s largest landowners, and operates 4,300 miles of English motorway and A-roads. Within the next five years, the company aims to transform itself into a major biodiversity contributor, reaching a minimum 10% gain in habitat improvements at roadsides and other owned locations. During this time, a ‘no net loss’ policy will also be in place, and in total £936million will be spent on schemes including environment and well being. 

‘This is an important building block of the work we’re undertaking to protect and enhance the ecology and the environment across the country, with an aim of achieving no net loss of biodiversity across all our work areas,’ said Ben Hewlett, National Highways’ Senior Environmental Advisor.

‘We know roads have the potential to compromise the quality of their surrounding environments. For wildlife, roads can fragment important habitats, putting pressure on plant and animal populations,’ he continued. ‘This project should help combat some of these challenges, by improving asset insight, identifying areas where we can increase biodiversity, putting nature at the heart of our network operation.’

Last week, the Department for Transport received a number of recommendations which could help reduce the ‘toxic cocktail’ of runoff from Britain’s roads, with concerns raised over funding for National Highways, and their ability of these organisations to work effectively with tight budgets. Nevertheless, a number of major nature schemes are underway or approved which are set to have significant nature-positive impacts. These include: 

*Transformation of open case mine next to major upgrade to M6 near Wigan, introducing new wetlands, grasslands, and woodlands

*Linear pollinator network for M65 and M56 near Manchester

*Creation of new wetlands near M5 in Birmingham

*Four year project introducing Highland cows to Nene Valley SSSI near Wellingborough

*15 year agreement to help species rich grassland on Greena Moor Nature Reserve, Cornwall 

*Supporting bat populations on historic railway structures across the UK

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