Time for ambitious action for nature

© Amy Lewis

With the government publishing their long-term plan for the environment, we look at what this means for wildlife

Teresa May unveiled the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan this week, setting out how, between now and 2042, the UK government aims to clean up our air and water, restore wildlife, and create a greener country for us all.

We at the Wildlife Trusts were pleased to see such an ambitious vision from government, and it’s encouraging to hear the Prime Minister recognising some of the pressing environmental challenges facing us locally and beyond.

Many of the headlines covered new measures to reduce plastic waste, which have been at the forefront of many of our minds since the airing of Blue Planet II, and are very much welcome. But there’s a wide range of other policies affecting wildlife, also worth looking at in more detail. It was particularly good to see the government planning to adopt and promote many policies that we have been calling for over many years.

Barton Meadows nature reserve

© Elspeth Green

Development giving back more to nature than it takes

With at least 100,000 new homes planned in Hampshire alone over the next twenty years, the potential impact to our wildlife is huge. Of course these homes are needed, but there are ways to meet the need while not only protecting but restoring nature, as The Wildlife Trusts set out in our new vision for UK housebuilding, also launched last week. At Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, we’ve been calling for developments to give more back to nature than they take, what some call ‘net gain’.

We’ve seen this in practice at Barton Meadows near Winchester, where by working with the developer we were able to get two agricultural fields reverted to wildflower meadows, and protected from any development threats for the foreseeable future. Knowing that this can work, it’s fantastic to see the government considering enforcing this.

Nightingale

© Amy Lewis

Creating networks for nature

Too often wildlife is forced into ever-dwindling pockets of wild spaces, which are hemmed in by urban development on all sides. As a result populations of our more delicate and fragile species, like marsh fritillary and nightingale are in decline.

We at the Wildlife Trusts have been arguing for government and councils to take a step back and look at the bigger picture; rather than focussing on individual sites for wildlife in isolation, let’s look at how we can restore nature on a landscape scale, linking up existing protected areas, and creating bigger, better and more connected areas for wildlife.

Re-wilding our communities

We all know that nature is good for us – and there are reams of evidence to show that its benefits to our mental and physical wellbeing could amount to millions of pounds of savings to the NHS. So it’s great to see the government proposing a new Natural Environment for Health and Wellbeing programme, which will see nature promoted as a way of helping people get healthier.

We’ve seen first hand how this can work through our Woodland Therapy project on the Isle of Wight, where thanks to generous grants from the Big Lottery Fund and Ninevah Charity Trust, we’ve been working with adults with mental health issues to help them build confidence and self esteem. As a result most have found they needed to use other support services less.

It’s also great to see the government recognise the importance of creating a new generation of nature champions, through supporting schools to create nature areas in their grounds – something we have been working with local schools on for several years.

Young girl exploring Milton Locks

Action needed now

The biggest thing missing from the plan was any kind of legal backbone. We are now calling for the government to go further and introduce an ambitious Environment Act in the next Queen’s Speech, committing this and future governments to the actions that are needed. Our concern, and one that is shared by many others, is that without this legal certainty the promise of the plan could easily evaporate over time.

The problems facing our environment are, of course, long-term and complex, so fact that this is a 25 year plan is a good thing. But there also needs to be more sense of urgency in starting to tackle some of these intractable issues. With up to 90% of seabirds already found to have plastic in their stomachs, can we afford to wait until 2042 to end our dependency on plastics, for example?

Given the urgency of saving our environment on land and at sea, we must ensure that action happens now rather than in twenty five years’ time. This plan is just the start of the process. Though it points us in the right direction, we now need clear and bold action to restore nature for future generations.