There is a slight sense of irony when spending a couple of sunny days indoors talking about the benefits of contact with nature. But there were a few gulls outside the conference centre in Bristol and I saw a three red kites on the train, so I just about managed get my daily dose of nature.

That said, the organisers (from the Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and the RSPB) did a great job in ensuring the two-day Nature and Wellbeing summit was informative and fun. We spent a day creating a recipe for successful landscape-scale conservation (primarily for nature but also for people) followed by a day exploring how to maximise the health  benefits of contact with nature (primarily for people but also for nature).

Outputs will emerge in due course, but, for those of you who were unable to attend, I've cobbled together a stream of consciousness based on the excellent contributions over the two days from Professor Sir John Lawton, Teresa Pinto-Correia, Richard Louv, Associate Professor Marcus Grant, Dr William Bird, Stephen Moss, Miranda Krestovnikoff and from the c200 people from the nature conservation, heritage and health sectors with collectively c3,000 years of experience.

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Nature’s in trouble

60% of UK species for which we have data have declined in my lifetime and there are 421m fewer birds in Europe today than there were 30 years ago.

There is growing consensus that we want to recover nature in a generation, say 25 years.

And science tells us we need more, bigger, better, connected landscapes (Aichi target 11 obliges up to 17% of land).

Size matters. The world’s largest wildest places are some of the most important places for wildlife (eg Okavango Delta and Yellowstone National Park). The 2,000km2 of accidental wilderness created by the Chernobyl disaster is hooching with wildlife including c150 wolves.

To put this in context, our largest rewildling project in England - Ennerdale - is 47km2.

We are making progress through Living Landscapes, Futrescapes and Nature Improvement Areas. But, we should be raising our sights.  Within Europe, our Natura 2000 network covers 787, 678 km2 area but just 13% is wild. As John Lawton said, imagine if we did more to join up some of these sites?

We can and do want to work together to do more and, based on our collective experience, we have developed a recipe for success to make it happen.  Watch this space.

Humans are in trouble

By 2020, it is estimated that chronic/non-communicable disease (depression, cancer, cardiovascular, diabetes, dementia etc.) will account for 73% of all deaths (see here). 

A chronic state of stress can be the root cause of these chronic diseases.

Our species were designed to be outdoors and there is growing evidence of how detachment from nature can cause stress and contact with nature can reduce levels of stress.

Few children ever play in natural environment and some children in the US spend over 50 hours in front of electronic devices. And more than 50% of the world’s population now lives in cities. We need to make it easy for people to experience nature either by helping them to have access to the countryside (exemplified by President Obama’s commitment to ensure all students in the fourth grade visit US National Parks) or we create ‘biophilic’ cities for people and nature.

Here’s an idea of how you could do it.

If you want more green infrastructure, you either design it in to new communities (eg what Barratt are planning to do at Kingsbrook in Aylesbury) or you retrofit it.

Retrofitting is expensive – so where does the money come from?

Well, the health budget is massive and there is growing evidence to show that contact with nature improves our wellbeing thereby saving money from the health service. Perhaps we could think of redirecting some of the spend to encourage more people to have contact with nature.

For example, the recently merged Manchester Health and Wellbeing Budget is c£6 billion. Imagine if 1% of this was set aside for green infrastructure as a pilot to test whether this could improve the health and wellbeing of Mancunians and thereby demonstrate that green infrastructure was an investment not a cost.

If proven, imagine rolling this out this 1% concept across the country. With a total health budget of over £100 billion, this approach could realise £1billion for green infrastructure and transform our towns and cities providing everyone with the opportunity of a daily dose of nature.

And there were many more ideas like this one!

Making it happen

Creating more space for nature and encouraging human connection with nature is a major societal challenge requiring change in land-use, health care provision, planning, education and economics.   We need a step change in thinking and approach. A Nature and Wellbeing Act could be just the catalyst we need.

  • Martin, the pilots are already in place - especially in the north west where the (now abolished) Regional Development Agency (RDA) put £50m into greening derelict landscapes - and the results are stunning. there is still an assumption that we can only do wildlife in remoter areas, on land developers and farmers don't want. If you stop and think, you realise that is rubbish: the land around our towns and cities is far more valuable for people - and wildlife - and for the 'setting' of our cities. It isn't just about health: the RDA spent that money because they found that internationally the north west was perceived as a damaged, post industrial landscape and attracting business and jobs depended on creating a place people wanted to live. And the money is there - development generates £ billions, not millions, and serious green space makes economic, social and environmental sense.

  • A Nature and Wellbeing Act is so obviously needed, so why are the main political parties not giving their fullest support to such a Bill? Our leading politicians need to be able to look "outside the box" and have far fewer of these "what's in it for me" political arguements. Sadly only a small number of our politicians have the perception and ability to "step outside the box" and take a broader view.