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National and local governments must unite in restoring nature

Words: Laura Edgar
Wildflower meadow / Shutterstock: 143503156

The restoration of nature can afford society 'wide-ranging' benefits and help to rebuild the economy following the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report.

A Wilder Recovery: How to Build Back Smarter, Stronger and Greener by The Wildlife Trusts also emphasises that improving the state of nature will help the UK reach net-negative carbon emissions.

It says a transformational approach will be required; nature must be at the heart of a sustainable, green economy. This starts with managing at least 30 per cent of land and sea for nature by 2030, states the report.

To achieve this, nature-based solutions should be invested in and there must also be more nature-positive planning. A Nature Recovery Network should be established to join up initiatives to restore what has been lost and ensure that people “live within the means of the natural world”.

Stats from A Wilder Recovery: How to Build Back Smarter, Stronger and Greener

  • 35% of species in England have suffered population decrease since 1970
  • 1 in 8 species in England are threatened with extinction from Great Britain
  • 8% of England protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest
  • £335 million of UK Government spending on biodiversity in England for 2018/19
  • 33% decrease in government spending on biodiversity in England over the previous five years
  • £3 billion a year needed to support farmers to restore nature and tackle climate change on their land
  • £1 billion UK Government investment needed a year to help meet the 25-year environment plan goals.

A more sustainable, greener economy would create more jobs, ensure that land and sea are “properly managed” for the long-term and enable people to live happier, healthier lives.

According to the report, there has been a failure to recognise the “vital“ role that nature plays in society and the economy. This must be addressed urgently through a £1 billion a year funding package to restore nature at scale.

Although government spending on biodiversity has decreased by 33 per cent in the past five years, it has promised to restore 30 per cent of land for nature by 2030. However, The Wildlife Trusts say the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) funding is inadequate to tackle the size of the task ahead. Additionally, other government departments “are doing little to help reach this target”.

To compound this, the charity adds that the government’s proposals for planning reform threaten to damage the natural world even more. It says that all areas of national and local governments can benefit from working with nature while helping to restore it. It suggests:

  • Treasury: Research shows investing in nature will bring good jobs to the places that need them most. An investment plan in the 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 economic recovery.
  • Housing: New development should integrate nature into designs for new housing while also making communities more attractive and healthier places in which 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, more than 30,000 homes have been accredited using these ‘Building with Nature’ standards. These standards need to be adopted at scale.
  • 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: Nature should be integrated into new developments and a new designation is needed for land that is put aside for nature’s recovery – wild belt.
  •  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. About 30 per cent of the protected sites network should be designated 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, said: “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 Covid-9 – 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 people’s lives. The next 10 years must be a time of renewal, of rewilding our lives, of green recovery – not just more of the same old thinking.”

A Wilder Recovery: How to Build Back Smarter, Stronger and Greener can be found on The Wildlife Trusts website (pdf).

Image credit | Shutterstock