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Bringing climate and planning together in Yorkshire

Mia Foord
By Mia Foord

The climate emergency is the biggest threat facing our countryside. Rosalind, a climate change research volunteer at CPRE North and East Yorkshire, tells us how her research is helping to ensure climate change and biodiversity loss are not forgotten in rural development.

Rosalind ‘was fortunate enough to grow up spending a lot of time in a small rural village’. She explains: ‘I’ve definitely observed biodiversity change and loss and the creation of new housing developments over the course of my time living here.’

‘I have a real love for the rural countryside, but I know how fragile it is. It’s not as resilient as housing developers want us to believe.’

'I'm really interested in how the countryside and developments can co-exist'

This first-hand hand-experience inspired Rosalind’s passion for ensuring environmental sustainability is prioritised in planning: ‘It’s really important to me that biodiversity and climate change don’t get forgotten in rural and urban development.’

‘The countryside is a beautiful but also fragile thing’, she adds. ‘There are landscapes you can’t replicate if you build over them. It’s important that developments are mindful and conscious of this. I’m really interested in how the countryside and development can co-exist and how the right developments can enhance the countryside, and not just fill a tick box.’

Rosalind’s childhood fostered her deep connection with the English countryside, but she also believes that we need to look beyond aesthetics. ‘We need to put more importance on preserving what is seen as wasteland in urban areas, which can get paved over very quickly. Biodiversity in cities is just as at risk as biodiversity in the countryside,’ she says.

Becoming a CPRE climate change researcher

Rosalind first encountered CPRE while reading Bill Bryson’s ‘The Road to Little Dribbling’. However, her interest in CPRE grew further when she conducted research for her university dissertation on new developments and land use in Cambridgeshire. ‘I came across CPRE in one of the books I read, titled ‘The Rural Housing Question: Communities and Planning in Britain’s Countryside’ by Satsangi et al. (2010)’, she says. After graduating with a Geography degree, Rosalind noticed a climate change research volunteering opportunity with CPRE North and East Yorkshire that closely aligned with her dissertation.

‘I thought that gaining some experience of analysing planning documents would be useful for me and that it looked like something I could be really interested in’

So, in September 2023, Rosalind joined the team of 8-15 other climate change researchers. Rosalind explains: ‘Together we help guide the council and raise their awareness about the importance of integrating and embedding climate change mitigation and adaptation into their responses to planning applications, and in their own’. ‘We’re trying to highlight to them that they should be following their own policies’, Rosalind adds.

'I'm a firm believer that planning and land use has a direct impact on climate and biodiversity'

Each volunteer was assigned two local authorities in the area and became responsible for ‘reading through their local plans and picking out their council policies that aim to protect biodiversity and address climate change’. They then read through several development plans in each local authority to decipher whether councils ‘had been following their own policies on climate change and/or biodiversity, and if this had guided their decision to accept or reject each development’. Rosalind adds: ‘We’re now writing this up into a report for each local authority that we’ll share with them, to show what they’ve done well and what they could do better in the future’.

‘I’m a firm believer that planning and land use has a direct impact on climate and biodiversity. Councils need to make carbon neutrality a priority, so developers will have to change their approach.’

Gaining a new, holistic perspective on planning

Rosalind has found it ‘really interesting to read development applications and see what they include and what they miss out…it’s fascinating to see how housing developers are approaching the creation of communities. It’s also building on the insights I gained from my dissertation into the planning system.’

‘It has helped me to see developments holistically and confirmed to me that this is a big issue that I’d like to explore in my career. Hopefully this volunteer experience will also help me to get to that career.’

More widely, Rosalind thinks that ‘you can change a lot about the UK’s response to the climate emergency and biodiversity loss through planning.’ She believes her research could have a big impact in her community; ‘because I live in the North Yorkshire County authority, my investigations into local plans could help sway the wider North Yorkshire council plan. I’m hopefully helping to guide councils’ responses to climate change through their planning policies.’

'Volunteering has helped to link me up with other people who are interested in climate change and planning, including town planners'

She has also been able to access many networking opportunities in her role: ‘Volunteering has helped to link me up with other people who are interested in climate change and planning, including town planners. It’s great to put your name out there as someone who is interested in these issues.’

She adds that ‘I’ve been able to go to the CPRE North and East Yorkshire AGM in York and meet some of the local councillors with CPRE’. Overall, Rosalind believes that being part of the wider CPRE volunteering network has allowed her to ‘become part of a valued group of people and connect with others from across the country.’

An important and challenging project

Interpreting council documents has presented challenges for Rosalind, including deciphering developer and government jargon. She explains: ‘There’s quite a lot of reading involved, which I like, but there’s a lot of information to comprehend’. ‘I had to double check everything, as I can’t go in and claim that councils aren’t doing something if they are- I can’t go in looking uninformed.’ She admits: ‘Managing my time and being resilient in this process, especially when you’re faced with 300 pages of council policy, has been challenging.’

'It's such a big task, so I've also improved my perseverance and time management skills'

However, this experience has improved her ‘objective analysis of planning documents’ and ‘helps to keep the analytical side of my brain going alongside working part-time’. ‘It’s such a big task, so I’ve also improved my perseverance and time management skills.’

A flexible role

Outside of working a part-time job and volunteering with CPRE, Rosalind has many hobbies and really enjoys going on long walks in her local area and exploring Yorkshire.; ‘there’s lots of really great things to see and places to visit.’ She also volunteers with a ‘local nature reserve, doing more practical conservation, like wildflower planting and ecosystem enhancement.’ Yet, she feels ‘‘it has been easy to balance volunteering alongside my other commitments.’

One of the benefits of being part of an extensive project like this, Rosalind says, ‘is how satisfying it is to see the course of the whole project.’ She has also enjoyed being able to ‘get on with something independently’. She adds: ‘you’re provided with support from your volunteer lead, but also enough freedom to direct and lead your own work.’

Over the course of the project, she’s had a number of meetings with her project leads and notes how great it felt ‘for them to come back and agree with what I’ve suggested to councils’ after reviewing her work. She’s also looking forward to ‘presenting my work to councillors in the future’.

Find out more

In Rosalind’s words, ‘there’s a diversity of volunteer roles and a breadth of opportunities at CPRE’. If you’ve been inspired by her story and want to stand with the countryside, take a look at our volunteering pages and current opportunities, or get in touch with us at You can find out more about CPRE North and East Yorkshire by visiting their website.

Photo of Rosalind in the countryside
Rosalind Cooper


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