Optimism has been in short supply for the last year. Covid-19 has disrupted and undermined so much of what we love and find familiar. But as the vaccines roll out there is a sense of the country unlocking and feeling safer to be itself again. And for those of us who care passionately about the need to address the accelerating crisis in our natural world, and at the same time confront the challenge of climate change, there is much to be done.
So my optimism starts here; the signs of a nation and its politicians waking up to the true value of a rich, healthy natural environment have never been stronger. People have flocked to the outdoors. National Trust properties which offer nature and beautiful landscapes near towns and cities – whether that’s Formby near Liverpool, Longshaw near Sheffield or The Leas outside Sunderland – have never been busier. The nation clearly needs nature and beauty more than ever. We’ve enjoyed welcoming back our regular visitors and have been delighted to also welcome many new visitors, often from urban neighbourhoods with little access to green space. With such an influx of visitors we have the inspiring opportunity to show nature’s physical and mental wellbeing benefits to new audiences.
There’s also now consensus amongst enviromental groups that investing in nature is critical in responding to the climate crisis. Expanding woodland and restoring peat to capture and store carbon; or restoring river valleys and floodplains to slow the flow of water as the risk of flooding increases: these actions deliver for nature, for climate and for people. If you read speeches by Government Ministers, you will see a lot of support for this agenda. But the time has come for more concerted action and we need the Chancellor to be at the forefront of this.
The potential for nature- and climate-based jobs growth is huge. The Trust has recently formed a partnership with Yorkshire Water to restore significant portions of the Calder Valley above Leeds. The ambition is high, and the partnership vision has mapped out a £45m landscape-scale programme of tree planting, habitat and species restoration and community engagement. Already 3 rangers, 2 estate managers and 2 programme and project managers have been newly employed to deliver the work. This is scalable, replicable work which, with the right policies and investments, can proliferate in many forms across the country. So many landscapes around our towns and cities are ripe for restoration, with the potential to drive local job opportunities while revitalising access to green spaces for currently under-provided communities and tackling climate change.
But none of this will happen on its own. We need the PM and Chancellor to move on some immediate actions. For example, the new Levelling Up Fund has 60 times the money of the Defra Green Recovery Challenge Fund. It’s there to improve local infrastructure, and environmental projects have a huge role to play. Let’s put green infrastructure at the heart of levelling up. Confidence also matters to investors, and we’ll need private sector money to crowd in and support green job creation. We need the government to publish a long term environmental investment plan to set out the role of public and private finance. Alongside firm, long-term regulation – stewarded by a new Office for Carbon Removal – this would provide the private sector with a solid and level playing field on which to base investment.”