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20 actions parish and town councils can take on the climate and nature emergency

Parish and town councils may not be as powerful as local authorities but
they can “do their bit” in addressing the climate and nature emergency
and be a force for change.
October 2019
20 actions parish and town councils can take on the climate and nature emergency – Friends of the Earth

  1. Be a force for good
  2. Demonstrate leadership through your own practical actions
  3. Use your powers wisely
  4. Acknowledgements
    This guide complements Friends of the Earth’s template Local Climate Action Plan.1
    In this guide we identify actions that parish and town councils can take on climate
    change and nature. Its purpose is to support those of the 10,000 local councils across
    England and 750 community councils in Wales who want to “do their bit” in addressing
    the climate and nature emergency.
    Donate to protect our climate
    Be a force for good
    Encourage the formation of Climate Action groups
    Communities across the country are coming together to take climate action in response
    to the climate and nature emergency. Climate Action groups will encourage and support
    you to take local political action, build positive community solutions, and join together to
    demand national action. Parish, town and community councils should encourage and
    support the formation of these groups. Friends of the Earth will provide resources,
    training and advice to Climate Action groups (see
    Actively support small and large planning applications for new renewable
    energy in the area
    Planning decisions will be made by the local planning authority, which needs to hear
    from those that support the applications. The UK needs to increase the amount of
    renewable energy it generates by around eight-fold.
    Promote practical action by local people
    20 actions parish and town councils can take on the climate and nature emergency – Friends of the Earth
    People can often be at a loss about what they can practically do to reduce their own
    carbon footprint or support nature. An impartial local guide that provides information on
    accredited local businesses can be invaluable and help keep money in the local
    economy. The guide could include information on local accredited energy assessors2
    and renewable energy installers for solar panels, batteries, EV charging points and heat
    pumps3 , eco-friendly retailers, green builders and landscape companies, etc. It can also
    encourage sustainable transport options.
    Bring together groups of people for bulk purchases
    The costs of installing solar PV, or other renewable technologies such as heat pumps,
    should be much lower if done in bulk, street by street, or area by area. A town or parish
    council can bring together local homeowners and businesses to develop such a scheme
    – it’s a widely used model in the Netherlands and places such as Suffolk and Frome in
    the UK. Bulk purchases of energy audits or energy insulation is also possible. Transition
    Streets is an example of this approach.4
    Develop and promote lift-sharing scheme
    By convening local businesses and car-sharing schemes, such as the social enterprise
    Liftshare, it’s possible to help local people reduce the carbon pollution from car use,
    save money and foster new friendships. An analysis by Liftshare suggested that 92% of
    people commuting to work in over 200 locations lived close enough to be able to share a
    car to work. Lift-sharing may often be a solution for people when public transport,
    cycling or walking to work isn’t. Car-sharing schemes for non-commuting journeys
    should also be promoted.5
    Use your voice
    Decisions on infrastructure projects are largely made by local authorities, Local
    Economic Partnerships, or by national government. But too many of these decisions will
    increase carbon emissions and / or harm nature. Use your voice when possible to
    oppose high-carbon developments, promoting sustainable alternatives instead. Press
    local authorities and MPs to demand national changes to bus services regulations, so all
    20 actions parish and town councils can take on the climate and nature emergency – Friends of the Earth
    areas can regulate buses as London does, and urban profit-making routes can crossfund loss making rural routes.
    Demonstrate leadership through your own practical
    Save energy
    Ensure any council buildings are as energy efficient as possible and any street lighting
    uses well-directed LED lighting. Getting an energy audit is the first step. Loans for
    projects in England that have a payback of less than five years are available through
    Salix funding.6 Projects with longer term paybacks should still be carried out.
    Produce green energy
    Install renewable energy generation, like heat pumps and solar PV, at council buildings.
    Heat pumps benefit from a government grant7 that will partially cover the cost. Several
    energy companies provide a smart export tariff, which pays for any electricity generated
    that isn’t used by the building, including offering top prices if the solar PV is used in
    conjunction with a battery.8 Funds can also be raised through Salix loans9 or through
    crowdfunding. Buildings using renewable energy should also be used as a showcase to
    help local people see these technologies first-hand, particular less familiar technologies
    such as heat pumps. An electronic display showing how much energy has been
    generated and how much money and CO2 emissions saved is one way of demonstrating
    the benefits.
    Reduce pesticide use and other harmful activities
    It’s possible to reduce activities that harm wildlife, from using peat-free compost to
    shunning pesticides and ensuring light pollution is controlled. Glastonbury Town Council
    has stopped using glyphosate weed killer and instead uses a hot foam system.10 These
    steps alone are not enough to protect and restore nature but they’re an important first
    step. To encourage others, promote the actions you’re taking, for example use signage
    on council-owned land where you use peat-free compost.
    20 actions parish and town councils can take on the climate and nature emergency – Friends of the Earth
    Manage land for nature.
    Parish, town and community councils can have responsibility for allotments, bridleways,
    burial grounds, commons and open spaces, and village greens. All of these can be
    managed to enhance nature, particularly through changing mowing regimes. Friends of
    the Earth and Buglife have produced a guide to developing an action plan for helping
    pollinators such as bees.11 Buglife’s B-lines project aims to support the development of
    a network of wildlife friendly corridors.12 Friends of the Earth is piloting a crowd-funded
    postcode gardener project to help people green the streets where they live.13
    Increase tree cover
    Friends of the Earth is campaigning for the UK to double tree cover. The Forestry
    Commission and others have suggested that even urban areas should aim for at least
    20% tree cover.14 Parish, town and community councils should aim to double tree cover
    and, if necessary, go beyond this to reach the 20% minimum. Much of this will involve
    encouraging and supporting landowners to take park in tree planting. The Tree Charter,
    developed by the Woodland Trust, provides excellent guidance on how to increase tree
    cover. The National Association of Local Councils website provides case studies where it
    has been used.15
    Buy green
    Buying local can support the local economy and buying green can help protect the
    planet, rewarding businesses committed to a better future. Buying green electricity
    helps develop new renewable energy and ensures the council isn’t supporting dirty
    energy financially. Friends of the Earth has identified Ecotricity and Good Energy as the
    greenest energy companies. Buying green can also extend to any food provided at
    events, including providing mainly plant-based food and less but better meat and dairy.
    Use green transport
    Employees and councillors should be encouraged to walk, cycle or use public transport
    or car-share. The council should provide bikes or electric bikes for staff as they carry out
    any work-related trips. It should also provide zero-interest loans for buying bikes. Where
    20 actions parish and town councils can take on the climate and nature emergency – Friends of the Earth
    a car or van is needed it should be electric only.
    Minimise waste going to landfill or incineration
    In your own operations, ensure all your waste is recycled or composted, but also
    consider setting-up community recycling facilities for hard-to-recycle items when the
    local authority hasn’t done so, for example in partnership with Terracycle.16 Bisley
    Parish Council has set up a community composting scheme. The best approach for
    waste minimisation is reuse (eg reusable cups) or avoiding unnecessary purchases.
    Ensure money is invested wisely
    Across the UK, local authorities are investing tens of millions of pounds each into fossil
    fuel companies, despite having declared a climate emergency. Although town council
    investments will be tiny in comparison, the council should still ensure any council funds
    are invested safely in low-risk sustainable banks or investment funds.
    Use your powers wisely
    Ensure you know the climate change or nature implications of decisions
    before you make them
    It isn’t credible to accept the need for rapid action on climate change and nature and
    then make decisions without knowing whether they’ll be harmful or helpful. Requiring
    every decision to be well informed is common sense as well as good practice. This
    should extend to demanding that the planning authority provides you with this kind of
    information when consulting you.
    Designate sites within the Neighbourhood Plan for trees, renewable energy
    and nature restoration
    20 actions parish and town councils can take on the climate and nature emergency – Friends of the Earth
    In practice, the development of 90% of Neighbourhood Plans is led by town and parish
    councils working hand in hand with their communities. The Neighbourhood Planning
    process is far from perfect and very time consuming, but it offers the community the
    opportunity to show it means business on protecting and enhancing the environment for
    future generations.
    Use the Neighbourhood Plan to require new homes to be energy efficient,
    nature friendly, and located close to public transport and amenities.
    Given the climate and nature emergency, it’s unfortunate that the government doesn’t
    require all new homes to be as sustainable as possible. Neighbourhood Plans will
    identify sites for future housing and should push for these to be zero-carbon
    (eg Passivhaus standard) and nature friendly, even though the local planning authority
    may seek to override this aim. Homes should also be fitted with renewable energy.
    Homes need to be located close to amenities and public transport to avoid car
    Designate safe walking and cycle routes in the Neighbourhood Plan
    Identify safe walking and cycling routes and where necessary work in partnership with
    district and county councils to deliver them. The Propensity to Cycle tool identifies the
    huge potential for increasing cycling in all areas of the country, particularly with good
    quality infrastructure, such as segregated cycleways and cycle parking, and with the
    use of E-bikes.17
    Use differential car-parking charges to support low-carbon vehicles
    Any car parks run by the council should offer low cost or free car-parking to electric
    vehicles and dedicated spaces with electric charging points.
    This list of actions has drawn on ideas kindly shared by others including Simon Pickering
    (Green councillor, Stroud), Robert Vint (Extinction Rebellion, Totnes) and Chris Gittins
    (Timsbury Parish Council). All three also kindly provided comments on an earlier draft,
    20 actions parish and town councils can take on the climate and nature emergency – Friends of the Earth
    for which I thank them. Any mistakes or errors remain my own.
    Donate to protect our climate
  5. Friends of the Earth, September 2019, Get your council to adopt our climate action plan,
  6. A register of accredited assessors is available at
  7. To qualify for a government grant (Renewable Heat Incentive) to help with the costs of installing renewable
    heat such as solar thermal panels or heat pumps it’s necessary to use a certified installer. The list of certified
    installers is at
  8. See
  9. There are a number of car-sharing schemes across the country, including national and local providers.
    Somerset County Council has a guide on setting up a community car-share scheme, .
  10. Webpage accessed 18 Sept 2019,
  11. Ofgem has guidance on the non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive at
  12. For example, Octopus was the first to offer a tariff to pay for exported energy (which will be metered) Other companies will follow suit.
  13. See
  14. The company WeedingTech has produced a case study, but you might want to check on the current
    situation with Glastonbury Town Council,
  15. Buglife and Friends of the Earth, Helping pollinators locally,
  16. Buglife B-lines Hub,
  17. See
  18. Urban Forestry and Woodland Advisory Committee Network, England’s Urban Forests: Using tree canopy
    cover data to secure the benefits of the urban forest,
  19. NALC website, The Tree Charter,
  20. Terracycle website,
    20 actions parish and town councils can take on the climate and nature emergency – Friends of the Earth
  21. Propensity to Cycle tool,
  • Posted: 5th November 2020