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Azure damselflies. Photo: Paul Ritchie via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Azure damselflies. Photo: Paul Ritchie via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
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Election 2015 - our chance to campaign for nature and wellbeing

Jenny Jones

3rd January 2015

Despite a raft of legislation to protect our wildlife, 60% of our key species are in decline, writes Jenny Jones. That's why we need a new and positive approach, going beyond protection to rebuilding flourishing, sustainable wildlife populations. And people too will see the benefits - in our own as is our health and wellbeing.

Sadly, the laws that should be in place to stop the further loss and erosion of our beloved widlife are clearly inadequate. And the signs are there all for us to see.

The problem with existing nature conservation laws is that they are focussed on conserving what nature we have left, rather than reversing the decline.

So I greatly welcome the initiatiative for a Nature and Wellbeing Act - proposed legislation to bring about the recovery of nature in a generation, for the benefit of people and wildlife.

This call for new laws to restore nature and increase everyone's access to it came from The Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, with support from a coalition of wildlife and conservation groups.

It is a recognition of, and response to, the alarming decline in species and natural habitats across the UK documented in the State of Nature report and part of a global catastrophe catalogued by the Zoological Society of London and WWF in their Living Planet Report.

This report highlighted that of the thousands of UK species assessed, over the last 50 years, 60% of our native species have declined, 30% have declined strongly and one in ten is thought to be under threat of extinction.

And a growing population along with the increasing impact of climate change, mean that the future is likely to bring more challenges.

Hedgehogs and other once common wildlife species in decline

The extinction of the Dodo appears to belong to another era, but this enduring symbol of casual, careless extinction is even more relevant today than it was to the Victorians. For all the wonderful efforts of the World Wildlife Fund, David Attenborough and numerous others, we are facing a growing catastrophe.

Sadly, the laws that should be in place to stop the further loss and erosion of our beloved widlife are clearly inadequate. And the signs are there all for us to see.

For instance, the once common sight of the hedgehog in our gardens and streets is becoming a rarity. Whilst there is much speculation about the reasons behind this decline, the likely candidates are habitat loss and fragmentation of habitats, due to housing developments and new roads where thousands of hedgehogs are killed by traffic.

This is a worrying trend that is expected to get even worse. With the pressures of a growing population that will create even more crowding in our cities and a political environment that is pulling resources away from the conservation sector, it is becoming more and more difficult to provide adequate protection for nature.

London - a case in point

On current trends, London's population is set to increase by 1.3 million by 2025. To accommodate this growth the Mayor has set a target of building 42,000 new homes each year, and 80% of this new build is expected in a set of 33 major regeneration projects around the capital.

Clearly, this scale of development will put even more pressure on open spaces and threaten further decline of species and habitats. This is on top of the loss of green garden space. Each year it is estimated that garden space two and a half times the size of Hyde Park is lost to paving. 

When you consider that over 90,000 planning applications are submitted each year in London, including nature and bio-diversity as an integral part could be transformative in new developments as well as in the current housing stock.

For instance, if every planning application for a loft conversion had to build in a nature measure, innumerable 'swift bricks' or roof eaves could be incorporated to the works to provide potential nesting spaces for swifts and other birds. Swifts are with us for three months each summer, bringing spectacular action and drama to our streets, but modern and renovated buildings are removing nesting sites and excluding them.

And the will is there in the London Assembly, of which I'm proud to be a member. We recently gave our unanimous cross party support for a Nature and Wellbeing Act for England - and fellow members joined me in asking the Mayor to act for nature in his own planning policies.

The next challenge - the General Election agenda

Our success in the London Assembly was, however, just the warm-up act for a far greater challenge. Supporters of the Act are working hard to get their MPs and prospective candidates for the 2015 elections, and all political parties, to commit to backing the Nature and Wellbeing Act in their election manifestos.

Let's not forget that nature is good for us. The health and happiness benefits of nature are the human upside of this proposed legislation. There is considerable evidence showing that contact with nature can help prevent and reverse poor mental health and encourage physical health and wellbeing. 

Unfortunately, many people are detached from nature. The National Ecosystem Assessment calculates that by putting nature at the heart of development it saves £33bn per year. In contrast the wrong kind of economic growth between now and 2060 would cost the UK £20bn per year because of the damage it would cause.

The Nature and Wellbeing Act for England should also include:

  • A long-term commitment to specific targets for nature's recovery;
  • The establishment of the Natural Capital Committee in law, to scrutinise the environmental impact of new laws, and propose new policies for incorporating the value (not just financial) of nature in decision-making;
  • An effective mechanism for creating a national ecological network - composed of numerous local ecological networks developed locally and to include the seas within UK jurisdiction, but to a high common standard;
  • A system to encourage the local support for and targeting of action to recover nationally threatened species; and
  • An amendment to Section 78 of the Education Act to include care for the natural environment in the curriculum.


This isn't a fluffy, NIMBY policy, for bunny hugging dreamers. This is part of improving all of our day-to-day lives, making all our cities work for humans, not just machinery, while guaranteeing a future for us and our descendants.

So please join our campaign - and help to build strong political support for the Act, and secure firm commitments from parties and candidates in the 2015 general election.

 


 

The campaign: Act for Nature - sign up now!

Jenny Jones is a Green Party member of the London Assembly. She sits in the House of Lords as Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb.

 

 

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