A Focus On Nature

A Vision For Nature

Nurturing nature, top to bottom – by Richard Benwell

Welcome to our series of blog posts in the run up to the general election (7th May 2015). Over this month AFON members will share their own Visions for Nature: what they want the natural world to look like by 2050 and how they want to get there. We have created a hashtag on Twitter so why not join the conversation? What’s your #VisionforNature?

My vision for nature is that in 35 years, we’ll live in a world where the nature-positive choice is the natural choice—nurturing nature becomes the norm, not the ideal we have to fight for at every turn.

So, how do we achieve it?

As Findlay points out in his blog, none of us can save nature alone. This can lead to a sense of resignation—people ask, if other countries aren’t curbing carbon emissions, why should we? Sometimes it leads to a sense of recrimination and blame—the idea that it’s all the Government’s fault.

The answer is to take responsibility for different problems at different levels.

There’s no doubt that we all have individual responsibility. I can just about conjure up a vision for nature for my garden for the next 12 months and it’ll need some work. I’d like all four nest boxes to be homes this year; I’d like the mad great tits to nest successfully on the ground again; I’d like the plants in the pond to grow a bit more, and maybe the ground elder a little less. But I should also resist the temptation to drive more often, turn the heating on a little less, and get involved in local community action some more.

Local action: Attack of the ground elder

The political trend for localism can do a lot to give communities a sense of responsibility for the nature around them. Giving councils power to reward nature-positive action, or granting communities powers to manage their own green spaces, can go a long way to protecting nature from the bottom up. I hope that the next generation will feel much more ownership of the nature near them. Perhaps, by then, Local Nature Partnerships will be well-endowed with cash and power and every Local Authority will have its own biodiversity plan.

But clearly the drive for localism needs to be tempered by a recognition that some challenges need to be met nationally, regionally and internationally. No single community can save migratory birds like the turtle dove, which is battling against extinction in the UK. No single nation can stop climate change or restore fish stocks.

That means, one way or another, we’re going to have to strengthen national and international targets, monitoring and enforcement for protecting nature. First and foremost, we need to protect the Birds and Habitats Directives from being weakened at the European level. They’re a highly effective set of regulations that shouldn’t be watered down, but a political push for deregulation and repatriation of powers means that they’re under threat. We can’t allow that threat to be realised.

Saving the Nature Directives is just a first step, however. Nationally, we need to set out a vision of prosperity with a sharp focus on nature and sharp teeth. For me, that means long-term legal targets for sites and species. While we measure our success almost exclusively in economic terms—GDP, job creation, balance of trade—we’re blind to the fortunes of our natural world. If we want our politicians and businesses and communities to look after nature, then we need to set some clear objectives. They can be pretty simple: more land looked after (a sixth of land and a tenth of sea for nature by 2020), habitats in better condition, and biodiversity going up not down. As Rory remarked, improving the state of nature will be better for wildlife and for people.

National action: we need a 25 year national plan for nature

Internationally, we’ll also need to do more—some challenges simply can’t be met at anything less than a global level.

The next big decision is coming up in Paris at the end of the year, when UN Framework Convention on Climate Change talks must reach a strong conclusion to help to beat climate change. My vision for nature would see a similar international commitment to biodiversity. The Aichi Targets set out under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity are a good starting point. And, of course, I’d like to see our need for nature built into the fabric of the climate agreement this year. Restoring nature is crucial in ensuring effective mitigation (through carbon sequestered in nature) and helping people to adapt and be resilient to the inevitable impacts of climate change (through “ecosystem services” like flood prevention).

Global action: some challenges need us all to cooperate.

Finally, some of the allocation of responsibility can’t be a simple geographical slice. In the modern world, businesses and networks operate with amazing freedom across jurisdictions. We need to make sure that businesses that invest in the natural world are rewarded and that activities that exploit nature unsustainably are deemed universally unacceptable.

Ensuring that responsibility for our natural world is apportioned correctly from top to bottom is a massive transformation. It’s amazing, really, that we can even consider a world where 200 nations could cooperate to protect our environment, but it’s already beginning to happen.

As we head toward the General Election, I’m encouraged that a cross-party consensus is emerging that we need a 25 year plan for nature. Ideally that would be set out in law. I would encourage everyone to keep asking politicians to #ActforNature, so that this important consensus isn’t lost amidst the turmoil of political wrangling around the election. If we can take this important step in setting out an ambitious vision for nature in the UK, then we really can lead the world in helping to make sure that everyone does their bit.

Richard Benwell is Parliamentary Programme Manager at the RSPB and a keen birder. He wrote his PhD on the design of carbon emissions trading systems and went on to be a Clerk in the House of Commons, serving with the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee and the Home Affairs Select Committee. You can follow him on Twitter at: @RichardSBenwell