It’s now clear that yet another tragedy of this awful virus will be lost livelihoods and financial struggle for many.
Friday’s economic figures hit the headlines when the Office for National Statistics reported that GDP had fallen by 10.4% in the first three months of 2020 and by 20.4% in April. . We do not yet have the unemployment figure, but this is clearly likely to rise with the Office for Budget suggesting it will be 7.3% at the end of the year (once the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme closes) – more than double what it was before the pandemic.
There was also a second set of figures released this week that didn’t hit the headlines in quite the same way. The UK Government published its report on progress with its 25 Year Environment Plan – its plan of action for England to improve, in the words of the last Prime Minister, “our most precious inheritance”. Sadly, it showed that the condition of our finest wildlife sites has flatlined over the past decade, relative abundance of priority species in the UK fell by 60% since 1970, pollinator populations are down, while pressures, such as from extreme weather, are growing.
I twin these two reports because we know that GDP is not a great measure of our overall wellbeing, neglecting so many of the things that we hold dear, such our own health, happiness and security, which can all be enhanced by a healthy natural environment. But there is also another crucial link: investment in nature could play an important role in to getting the right economic recovery.
We’ve made the case to the Prime Minister, to the First Ministers in Wales and Northern Ireland and also to the Scottish Government’s Economic Advisory Group.
Now, in the run up to his latest set of stimulus packages expected in early July, here are four key arguments which we and many others are making to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum reported that the top five risks to the global economy are all environmental challenges. This includes biodiversity loss. Infectious diseases did feature as a serious risk but was not deemed likely. Yet, we should not be surprised by the impact of the current pandemic.
Research has exposed the link between the deforestation, the wildlife trade and prevalence of zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19. We know that if we do not respect nature and our natural world then we will continue to run the risk of exposing ourselves and our way of life to new diseases and further harm.
Climate change, the massive loss of species across the world and a global pandemic all highlight how we are part of nature and that we have an important role in not just recognising the health, nature and climate crises but actively working to prevent, slow and repair the damage we are doing.
The current crisis reminds us that our economy and the health of society are dependent on a flourishing natural world and any recovery package that doesn’t include nature will be incomplete.
The Chancellor will want to kick start the economy quickly and also address the growing unemployment crisis. For inspiration, he could take a look at the proposals being made in New Zealand where our BirdLife partner Forest and Bird has been instrumental in securing over a billion dollars in investment to create thousands of jobs in conservation delivery.
My colleague, Kate Hanley helping to restore RSPB Dove Stone reserve in the Peak District (Ben Hall, rspb-images.com)
We can do this stuff at home – right now. Working with other organisations through Wildlife and Countryside Link we have identified a pipeline of “shovel-ready” habitat restoration projects that could bring millions of pounds of investment into largely rural communities while creating thousands of jobs, providing more sustainable and resilient livelihoods for local farming communities, turbocharging our progress towards meeting the UK Government’s plan to restore nature in a generation.
The Chancellor should be confident that this is a good investment because our sector has a great track record of transforming landscapes. As I wrote last month, we recently calculated that across the whole of the upland estate, we have restored 2,400 ha of broadleaved woodland and native pinewood, having felled about 2,700 ha of non-native conifers. We’ve also re-wetted about 14,000 ha of upland peatland. This is not just good news for wildlife, but in a paper published last week by the RSPB and Aberdeen University, we showed that restoring peatland to good condition could counterbalance one third of UK's agricultural greenhouse gas emissions every year. So, investing nature is good for tackling climate change as well as providing clean water and protecting communities from flooding.
We’ll be sharing more about the RSPB projects in that pipeline in the coming weeks.
Our need for nature and green spaces has also been brought into sharp relief over the past few months. Those of us fortunate enough to have access to gardens, parks or wild spaces have relished watching wildlife from a window or out on our daily exercise. But many millions have not been so fortunate and have been left without the many benefits that access to nature can bring (this has been made apparent in a growing body of research, for example here and here).
For a truly resilient recovery, nature needs to be available to anyone, irrespective of race, colour, class or creed.
This is why legislation to scale up environmental protections and introduce targets for nature’s recovery is so vital. For example, in the Environment Bill there is a provision for Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs) which can provide a strategic mechanism to plan for nature at a local level in cities and in the countryside. However, as I wrote last week they need to be strengthened to ensure that local authorities act on them and don’t just let them gather dust on a shelf.
While lots of debate has become increasingly polarised over recent weeks, one issue that continues to unite the public is the crucial importance of nature. In research we recently conducted 77% of people agreed the UK Government should invest in nature as part of its economic recovery plans. That’s a clear incentive for the Chancellor to invest in nature-based projects when he stands up at the dispatch box in a few weeks’ time.
What’s more, we expect thousands of people to take these messages directly to politicians on 30 June as part of the Climate Coalition’s virtual lobby of Parliament. We are encouraging people to set up virtual conversations with their MPs. We need as many people as possible to make the case for people, climate and nature to be at the heart of our nation’s recovery.
There are incredibly difficult choices ahead as we take the big decisions that shape the kind of world that we build out of this crisis. If we make the right choices the benefits are clear; reduced exposure to the risks of environmental breakdown; economies and communities which are resilient to shock; a healthy, thriving population; and natural assets that can sustain us long into the future.
Let’s put aside our reliance on destructive, polluting industries. Let’s invest in nature for the benefit of us all. Let’s recover better.
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I support this, so far in my life I have stood to make a change in where I live and have lived. I used to live in a city where the air was highly polluted, i notified the local council about it,when i had moved out of the area the issue was raised and is now being watched and kept a check on. I now live in a beautiful small landscaped village where I am also trying to make a change slowly around here. I've been here for 5 years now and every year I had seen the council cut down trees,trim hedges for the trees each time that was growing to be cut back and down. I emailed my local councillor who then forwarded my email to the local council who deal with the cutting and trimming of the road side. They dont realise that where I live is a place that wildlife and nature does actually live. I begged and pleaded with them not to cut the hedges or trees as birds nest and feed of the bugs and other wildlife is also living close by which the insects are their source of food. Without the trees and bushes it leaves the rest of the wildlife with no food. Without the trees been allowed to grow there is a possibility of the land also sliding ,which would have very bad consequences if they dont let the tree and plants grow as these hold the soil back. So far so good. I was asked if I thought that the land could become a form of conservation area or ground and I had said yes. There is so many many reasons to let nature take its course instead of humanity taking over every bit of land there is. The earth does not belong to man ,man belongs to the earth. I'm now waiting to see if it has or is going to become a conservation area and land that could become protected for our wild life. So far ,so good nothing has been cut down .
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