A new report from The Wildlife Trusts reveals how restoring nature – at a time when it has never been more degraded – can bring wide-ranging benefits to society, help reach net-negative carbon emissions and rebuild the economy following the pandemic.
The report argues that taking a transformational approach to putting nature at the heart of a sustainable, green economy, will create more jobs, ensure that land and sea are properly managed for the long-term, enable people to live happier, healthier lives, and restore our much-depleted natural world.
A Wilder Recovery says that there has been a failure to recognise the vital role that nature plays in our society and economy – and that this must be urgently addressed with a £1 billion per year funding package to restore nature at scale.
Government spending on biodiversity has shrunk by 33% over five years even though big promises have been made to restore 30% of land for nature by 2030. Defra’s funding is inadequate to tackle the size of the task ahead, and other Government departments are doing little to help reach this target either. Worse still, some Government proposals such as planning reforms, threaten to damage our natural world even further.
The Wildlife Trusts believe that all areas of Government – locally and nationally – can benefit from working with nature, as well as helping it to recover. For example:
• Treasury: Research shows investing in nature will bring good jobs to the places that need them most. An investment plan in our environment can provide the new jobs and skills needed to tackle the nature and climate crisis. Surrey Wildlife Trust’s ‘Naturally Richer Holmesdale’ project, for example, has shown how repairing nature can help drive our economic recovery.
• Housing: new development should integrate nature into designs for new housing whilst also making communities more attractive and healthier places to live. In Gloucestershire, the local Wildlife Trust has worked in partnership to set new standards to define what good green infrastructure looks like. So far, over 30,000 homes have been accredited using these ‘Building with Nature’ standards. These standards need to be adopted at scale.
• Health: a vast body of evidence links nature with better health. Equal access to wild places is vital because such places provide a natural health service. Investing in nature-based activities improves people’s skills and confidence, helping them get into employment and stay active. Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s MyPlace scheme, for example, empowers people, improves their well-being, and saves the NHS money.
• Planning: we need to think big if we are to ensure that 30% of land and seas is protected to help the natural world thrive again by 2030 – but planning reforms look set to harm nature further and the cumulative impact of developments is not being taken into account. Nature should be integrated into new developments and a new designation is needed for land that is put aside for nature’s recovery – Wildbelt.
• Safeguarding the sea: If offshore renewable energy is developed without strenuous efforts to minimise negative impacts on marine ecosystems, it will damage the ability of underwater habitats to help tackle climate change. We should designate 30% of the protected sites network as Highly Protected Marine Areas as a matter of urgency. The sea must be protected for wildlife and for the carbon its habitats can store.
Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:
“Ultimately, our economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of nature and not the other way around. Everything we hold dear – our health, homes and livelihoods – depends on what nature provides. It’s time we recognise this and behave accordingly.
“Nature is our strongest ally in building a resilient recovery after Covid19 – but for too long decisions have come at the expense of the natural world, and the amount we spend on activities which damage nature still far outstrips our spending to restore it.
“We must halt old-fashioned business-as-usual, and stop wasting public money on the polluting infrastructure of the past, such as £27 billion on new roads, and invest instead in green infrastructure. This means restoring wild places for wildlife, flood prevention, storing carbon, and to improve our physical and mental wellbeing.
“Rather than proposed measures to weaken our planning system, we need it strengthened so that it stops badly planned developments and rewards good development that protects and enhances nature and improves peoples’ lives. The next ten years must be a time of renewal, of rewilding our lives, of green recovery – not just more of the same old thinking that perpetuates our current mess.”
A Wilder Recovery – how to build back smarter, stronger, greener can be read or downloaded here. It includes contributions from Richard Walker, MD of Iceland; Alex Willey, Director at Clarion Homes; and Dr Amir Khan, GP and TV presenter.