Posted: 7 February 2014
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The natural grid

Ian Glover, Environmental Sustainability Manager, explains how National Grid is using its land and natural assets for good, benefiting biodiversity, ecosystems and communities.

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The natural grid

The natural grid

A substation in Botley Wood, Hampshire

"If we add the small actions we take as individuals to the bigger programmes being carried out by large organisations, we will start to make an important change."

Ian Glover, Environmental Sustainability Manager


60% of the 3,148 UK species assessed have declined over the last 50 years and 31% have declined strongly.

Source: The State of Nature report, published by the RSPB

The 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development defines the rights of the people to be involved in the development of their economies, and the responsibilities of human beings to safeguard the common environment.

But since that commitment was made 20 years ago – when nations and governments said they would come together and address the decline and state of nature – nothing really tangible has happened. In the UK, for example, 40% of our most treasured species are in decline or under threat.

Ian Glover, Environmental Sustainability Manager

Ian Glover, Environmental Sustainability Manager

So now is the time for organisations and individuals to really think about how they can do their bit. If we add the small actions we take as individuals to the bigger programmes being carried out by large organisations, we will start to make an important change.

A strategy for sustainability

I felt proud when National Grid launched its Environmental Sustainability Strategy in June last year. It sets out our ambition to transform the way we do business and provide a sustainable legacy as a result of our operations.

It puts us on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, better manage our consumption of resources, protect biodiversity and enhance ecosystems.

In terms of enhancing ecosystems – one of the key strands of our strategy – National Grid is in a unique position to contribute through our property portfolio and a network of energy assets.

At our UK Sustainability Summit, we identified important ways that we could help the natural environment to recover. Put simply, these were to make spaces for nature that are bigger, better and more connected alongside our network of energy assets.

Our assets, operations and infrastructure all have an impact on the natural environment. Regulations require us to mitigate this impact of course, but now we are piloting an approach called the ‘Natural Grid’ to help build a positive legacy around some of the assets we already have.

Improving the environment isn’t just important to us, it’s important to our communities, to our neighbours and to society in general, so we’re joining forces with lots of people, at a local level, to make sure we respect and preserve what is right for them, and for future generations as well.

And we’re making some positive strides…

Making a difference

In Sheffield, we’re part of a community project focused on restoring and enhancing the local area, working with Hillsborough College and other local businesses to explore opportunities to use the land surrounding Neepsend Substation. The substation is on the banks of the River Don and provides the ideal location for training and vocational courses in land management, aquatic studies and water resource management.

We’ve got a great opportunity here to work with the College – as well as other organisations such as the The River Stewardship Company (RSC), the Wildlife Trusts and other businesses – to ensure that we can positively use our presence and location to make the most valuable and sustainable contribution to the local environment.

At our Feckenham Substation in Worcestershire, we have an area of land measuring about seven acres that is covered in hedges, grassland, trees and a lake.

Working with the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, we surveyed the area to see what species are there, and how we might drive small enhancements to help those species. We’ve also involved the local farmer to help to restore key habitats through sustainable farming and grazing methods for his long-horned cattle.

We chose Feckenham because it sits within the Wildlife Trust’s ‘Living Landscape’ action area, and we’re keen to ensure that our management of the site makes a positive contribution to the activities of the Wildlife Trust, too.

A management plan has been developed, which includes bringing woodland to life by creating lakeside glades and so enhance new growth and diversity. We’re putting up boxes to encourage birds such as long tailed-tits and tawny owls, and we’ve worked with Butterfly Conservation to preserve a habitat for the rare brown hairstreak butterfly. We’re also restoring hedgerows to establish important corridors of habitat for wildlife.

We are working in partnership with the Humberside Industrial Nature Conservation Association (HINCA) to manage essential vegetation and create a new woodland habitat for plants and animals on the Humber Estuary.

The partnership was established following the construction of a power line through Burkinshaw’s Covert in 2006, which connects to a power station near Immingham.

Close to a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the new habitat forms part of a precious belt of interconnecting countryside in a predominantly industrial landscape. The area will encourage the growth of plants such as purple and common spotted orchids, as well as provide food and shelter for small mammals and birds. Looking ahead, there is also a fantastic opportunity to develop the site as an outdoor education resource for local schools.

The seeds of ideas

I’ve talked above about some projects we’re working on, and there are many others I haven’t mentioned. My team and I plant the seeds of ideas, so to speak, by asking our colleagues around National Grid to run with these projects and really bring them to life, particularly the teams on the frontline who work at our operational sites such as substations and compressor sites.

There are challenges, because of course we have to do all of this alongside operating our energy assets and making sure they add value. We have to find that sweet spot where doing things that are good for the environment can also be good for business.

But I think sustainability is a great driver for innovation and creativity. We’re starting to prove that, when we do something sustainably, it can drive efficiency and profitability too.

So a sustainable business can also be a healthy business.

To find out more

Stuart Bailey, National Grid’s Head of Sustainability & Climate Change, explains why it is so important to be ‘climate positive’. Click here to read more.

Why National Grid is once again involved with the Observer Ethical Awards, this year sponsoring the category for community energy projects. Click here to read more.

Gas innovation in full flow