Posted: 7 June 2016
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Energising nature

The Natural Grid programme, which sees National Grid using its green spaces for good, has been named a finalist in the BITC Environmental Leadership awards. Environmental Sustainability Manager Ian Glover explains why it’s so important for the business to make a positive contribution.

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Energising nature

Energising nature

The Natural Grid is a fantastic opportunity to get even more colleagues and construction partners engaged in breathing new life into our precious landscapes.

“The more we work with our neighbours, the bigger the contribution we’ll make to improving the state of nature in the UK”

Ian Glover, Environmental Sustainability Manager.

Insight:

We have sustainability action plans in place for 20 sites, with another 18 in the pipeline and we’re building up national partnerships with groups like the Wildlife Trusts and RSPB to bring this to life.

Source: National Grid.

Some of the UK’s most treasured species, including birds and butterflies, are in significant decline as their habitats shrink and become more fragmented. Through our Natural Grid programme, we’re finding new ways to use our land which benefit us and our neighbours and, in doing so, improves the quality of nature on our landholdings.

The programme was born from our environmental and sustainability strategy, which we rolled out in 2012/13. One of the big themes we looked at was how, as a company with significant amounts of land, we could not only minimise our environmental footprint, but deliver more positive benefits by enhancing the natural world alongside our energy grids.

A more snappy title for that was the Natural Grid!

Tailored partnerships

There’s no set menu for bringing a Natural Grid site to life. It’s about looking over the fence and seeing how we can enhance our green assets, while fitting in with the needs of our site neighbours. First, we work out who the interested stakeholders might be and then we go out into the community and talk to them about the best way we can work together and share the benefits.

Here are some examples of our significant successes so far:

– At Thorpe Marsh, a substation site in Yorkshire, we had an area of green space around the facility that did important things for us, such as providing visual screening, carbon storage and water bodies that helped us manage water flows and reduce flood risk. But we wanted to maximise its potential. We identified Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, which has a nature reserve nearby, as an organisation with an interest in the land. After drawing up a joint management plan, the Trust now takes responsibility for managing it in a way that fits their priorities for biodiversity and conservation, but also enhances what we need the site to do. We now have a more valuable piece of green space, which can be accessed for people to visit and enjoy.

– We applied the Natural Grid principles when we needed to build a new substation at Rhigos in mid-Wales to make a connection to an onshore wind farm. It had to be located adjacent to an area of ancient peat bog, which is a precious habitat. So we worked with local stakeholders and built in an area where the peat bog was declining in quality. Through collaborating with specialist peat bog contractors and other experts, we put plans in place that will improve the quality of the peat habitat and improve the environment for a rare species of butterfly, called the Marsh Fritillary. We’ve put other partnerships in place, including with farmers who will graze the land in managed ways, that improve the assets now – and for the long term.

– We worked with Sheffield College, which has taken the lease on the land next to our Neepsend substation. It will use the space for practical teaching on its arboricultural, landscape design and horticultural courses. So it’s another tailored way of driving shared value from our estate.

– In Feckenham, in Worcestershire, we’re now managing our land for conservation grazing, which helps develop rich and diverse wildlife communities, and creating new habitats for another rare species of butterfly.

That’s just a snapshot. We have sustainability action plans in place for 20 sites, with another 18 in the pipeline and we’re building up national partnerships with groups like the Wildlife Trusts and RSPB to bring this to life. As such a significant landholder, with around 250 substations, 23 compressor sites and another 600 landholdings, the more we work with our neighbours and partners, the bigger the contribution we’ll make to improving the state of nature in the UK.

Good for business

Along with the clear environmental benefits, it’s important that the programme makes sense to us as a business. As a highly-regulated organisation, we need to show that everything we do is creating returns and providing value to our customers. To help demonstrate this, we’ve developed valuation tools that actually put a price on these priceless assets. They allow us to highlight their value, prove that the programmes we put in place are more efficient, help us reduce risk, increase long-term environmental quality and enhance our reputation.

These tools tell us that we have up to £500 million of natural capital value there. So it’s vital we make the right decisions that  not only preserve that value, but  enhance it.

The Natural Grid is growing and we’re proud to have been named a finalist at the BiTC’s Responsible Business awards. It’s recognition that we’re showing new ways for our land and natural assets to be managed that are more efficient, collaborative and drive environmental improvements.

As we talk more about the programme, we’re also seeing a lot of personal passion on display across our sites. Many of our people are voluntarily looking out of their windows and taking the opportunity to build bird boxes and new habitats for local wildlife. The Natural Grid is a fantastic opportunity to get even more colleagues and construction partners engaged in breathing new life into our precious landscapes.

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