Last week I wrote about the why nature must be at the heart of the economic recovery from the impact the pandemic.
In the coming days, weeks and months, decisions will be made which will have profound consequences for our natural world and our climate for decades to come.
At this crucial time, we need politicians to do three things: maintain and improve vital legal protections for our wildlife (eg by giving the Westminster Environment Bill teeth); insist that businesses that receive bail-outs and government support do so in exchange for higher environmental standards; and invest in projects that help nature and the economy recover together.
On the third test, we believe there is a huge opportunity for the Chancellor Rishi Sunak to kick start the economy quickly and address the growing unemployment crisis by investing in nature.
Last night you might have seen Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, discussing just what is possible on BBC Countryfile.
Working with Richard and others we have identified a pipeline of 330 “shovel-ready” habitat restoration projects spread right across England, that could bring millions of pounds of investment and create thousands of jobs into largely rural communities.
In the short term, these projects could support around 5,000 jobs in the environment sector and 5,000 jobs in delivery and wider supply chains. In the medium term if the government delivers on its ambition in the 25-year plan for the environment of half a million hectares of restored habitat, this could mean a further 15,000 jobs in other similar projects.
This is the Chancellor’s chance to grow back better by including funding for these projects in July’s budget announcement.
To give a sense of just what is possible - the RSPB projects in that pipeline could lock away 200,000 tonnes of additional carbon, with an economic value of £70million. For example, our Haweswater Change Project (a partnership between the RSPB and our landlords United Utilities) would with the right funding and changes in land management, transform the Lake District landscape restoring upland habitats such as broadleaf woodland, montane scrub, upland heath, montane heath, blanket bog and valley mire.
The project would reduce flood risk, provide more sustainable and resilient livelihoods for local farming communities, and the woodland creation element alone would help sequester 70,000 tonnes of carbon.
Upland oak woodland at Haweswater (Andy Hay, rspb-images.com)
To help deliver these project and a whole lot more, we are also calling for the establishment of “a new National Nature Service which would employ and train up thousands of people in environmental work across the UK, from habitat creation to controlling invasive species”. More information, and a declaration to sign in support of the scheme, can be found on the National Nature service website here.
It will be a disaster if we pursue environmentally destructive, short-term growth such as badly sited and designed infrastructure projects; or trade deals that sacrifice hard-won environmental standards for farming.
Instead, we urge politicians to choose a different path and invest in nature.
The wins are obvious: turbocharging our progress towards meeting the UK Government’s plan to restore nature in a generation, delivering much needed jobs in rural communities, making progress on climate and protecting communities from increasing threats.
For, if we look after nature, nature will look after us.
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