The environmental projects taking place in the Royal Borough to help tackle the climate emergency

Last June, the Royal Borough announced a climate emergency. Since then, it has been working on ways to improve the borough’s environmental footprint, by reducing carbon emissions, generating more green energy, reducing waste and increasing biodiversity. As the Royal Borough embarks on its new strategy, Adrian Williams explores the various environmental projects already in the pipeline.

It has been almost a year since a climate emergency was declared by the Royal Borough.

The council has been tasked with a number of challenges to improve its environmental footprint and increase biodiversity. Some schemes have started, while others, as laid out in its draft climate strategy, lie ahead.

One ongoing project led by the Royal Borough includes changing grass verges to make them more diverse habitats. Altering the mowing regime allows longer grasses to grow, providing more shelter for small creatures.

In order to keep the grass long, the council has begun plans to install ‘no mow’ notices to place on the designated grass verges, to avoid accidental trimming.

Though some residents have been concerned that the wild verges look less tidy, Cllr Donna Stimson, lead member for climate change, said the percentage of people who object year-on-year is reducing.

“More and more people are happy to have longer verges, because they understand the biodiversity angle,” she said.

Indeed, volunteers have been helping to sow seeds of annually flowering meadow plants on verges, while roundabouts around the Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton have been earmarked to allow the growth of wildflowers.

Residents have also been regularly volunteering in a tree planting project at Thriftwood, with an aim to plant 15,000 trees over the course of three years. These new trees will connect three woodlands, including two ancient woodlands.

The joining of these separate woods will form a continuous two kilometre ‘wildlife corridor’ for nature conservation and habitat connectivity.

Olivia McGregor, sustainability and climate change lead for the Royal Borough, said:

“Forming wildlife corridors allows animals to freely move between areas, which is incredibly important to their survival, and much more effective than a fragmented area. It’s identified as one of the best ways of enhancing biodiversity.”

Battlemead Common, between Maidenhead and Cookham, is also being carefully considered as a wildlife hotspot. The site has been the subject of much debate since it was opened as a public space in August last year – different residents have different ideas for how it can best serve the community.

Given the Royal Borough’s fresh commitment to increasing biodiversity, the environmental group Friends of Battlemead Common has suggested that this space is a perfect example of somewhere that should be preserved for wildlife, and have sent the council an updated plan of how to create a compromise between publically accessible space and preserved nature areas.

The Friends are just one example of community groups that have been working with the Royal Borough.

Plastic Free Windsor and Plastic Free Maidenhead have also been influential; the Royal Borough plans to adopt a single-use plastics strategy based on a draft being developed by these groups.

In terms of saving energy, the council is continuing the process of switching out all its lights with LED bulbs. All streetlights across the borough are now LED, and the council is moving towards making the switch in all of its libraries, offices, car parks, youth centres and day centres.

James Thorpe, energy reduction manager for the Royal Borough, said:

“LEDs use significantly less (around 60 per cent) energy compared with the bulbs they were replacing. They also have a much longer life span, which means less maintenance and less waste.”

Moving forward, the council also aims to generate more green power. It plans to install solar panels on the new Braywick Leisure Centre, and has pledged to further increase the council’s capacity for renewable generation.

It has also switched its energy supply to a company that offers electricity solely from renewables. This means all electricity used in schools, libraries, offices and streetlights is coming from renewable energy sources.

This in no way affects the energy supply or how it is delivered; the only result is that a greater proportion of energy generated on the national grid comes from renewable resources, explained Ms McGregor.

“It’s great for residents to know that they can do the same – this is something they can very easily do from the comfort of their armchairs,” she said.

More broadly across the borough, the council is partnered in the Heat the Home Counties project to help residents with the installation of new, efficient heating systems and better insulation. The project draws down funding from energy companies to fund the improvements.

Reducing waste is also a key aim of the Royal Borough’s strategy. At a cabinet meeting on Thursday, the council set out proposals to provide pop-up spaces for plastic-free refillable shops, and to trial three ‘repair cafés’, whereby residents bring along damaged possessions for repair, as opposed to throwing them away and buying new.

The council also hopes to set up specialist recycling facilities, possibly using Maidenhead Library to trial a mini specialist recycling centre. These facilities can recycle materials that cannot be put into the recycling bins for collection.

“By boosting recycling, there’s more opportunity for material reuse – this means the carbon impact of production is reduced, because we don’t have to mine virgin resources,” said Ms McGregor.

In terms of sustainable transport, funding is ‘likely to come forward’ for the creation of cycle parking and pop-up cycle lanes, according to the council. This will build on the existing work, including a new cycle route opened up last week, linking west Windsor with Windsor town centre.

Larger-scale potential projects in the pipeline include piloting various high tech concepts; for example, installing green infrastructure such as ‘living lamp posts’ and green walls.

The borough also aims to begin trialling elements of a ‘smart city’, where information collected from the Internet of Things (functional objects that can connect to the internet) can be used for traffic control and waste management.

Ambitious projects aside, councillors and officers agree that most of the solution to the climate emergency lies in the hands of residents’ everyday input, and thus, the aim of the Royal Borough will largely be to engage and inform residents.