“No more harm to nature”: Public calls for urgent change following pioneering citizens’ assembly
- 23 March 2023
The first ever UK-wide citizens’ assembly for nature has published its recommendations for renewing and protecting our natural environment, calling for urgent and immediate action from every part of society.
Decades of damage have pushed wildlife and habitats to the brink. Thirty-eight million birds have vanished from our skies in the last 50 years, and 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the Second World War.
Experts believe that only 5% of UK land is effectively protected for nature.
Now, the People’s Plan for Nature aims to turn the tide by challenging governments, businesses, charities, communities, and individuals with a public demand for immediate and sweeping change.
Published today, the plan calls for a fundamental change in how we value nature in the UK, including making sure nature is included in all levels of decision-making. It says there must be ‘no more harm to nature’ and demands stronger legislation and clear targets.
Among the top calls to action are:
- All commercial and policy decisions to take into account potential impacts on nature
- An overhaul of current farming subsidy systems to prioritise sustainable and nature-friendly farming
- Greater government accountability through a permanent Assembly for Nature made up of NGOs, industry and public expertise
The plan is the result of several months of discussions by members of the public via a unique citizen engagement process. It included an open call for ideas on how to save nature, which received 30,000 responses, and a citizens’ assembly made up of 100 people from all four nations of the UK and all walks of life. The assembly came together to review evidence on the state of nature and find common ground on the action needed to reverse the shocking declines.
The citizens’ assembly was run independently by Involve, an organisation that develops new ways to involve people in decisions that affect their lives, and the Sortition Foundation, who specialise in selecting participants to take part in these kinds of events. An independent panel with representatives drawn from different sectors provided input to ensure the process was fair, balanced and well-informed. It was convened by the National Trust, the RSPB and WWF to give the public a clear say on how to solve the nature crisis.
Other calls to action include:
- Access to nature to be recognised as a human right.
- A universal quality standard label in supermarkets showing the source and nature impact of products to help consumers make nature-friendly choices.
- The urgent restoration of all rivers and wetlands, investment in wastewater infrastructure, and the establishment of Marine National Parks.
- Cross-party commitment to future farming practices that help nature, and incentives for farmers to farm sustainably and help them through this transition.
- A national conversation on how and why we should change our diet to support nature, and food hubs to help people access local produce.
Daniel, a 33-year-old project manager for a research institution from Norwich, who took part in the assembly, said: “As nature does not have its own voice, I realise it is so important to have a citizens’ assembly. The People’s Plan for Nature should be used as a handbook, to support projects to renew nature, as the plan was written by its citizens who encourage these projects.
“The People’s Plan for Nature must inject urgency from policy makers, businesses, local government, individuals, and communities to do much more to renew nature, as collective action is now our only hope to improve biodiversity in the UK.”
Pauline from Queensferry, Scotland, another assembly member, said: “It's been phenomenal what I've learned. It's my generation that’s done the damage. So I kind of thought of this as something only younger people were interested in.
“What I've taken away from it is that I can make a change, too. We all can. It’s a very diverse group but this is our collective view and our voice and our opinion. And I hope that the diversity of views can be used to focus the people in power, whoever they are, at whatever level they are.”
Over the course of four weekends between November and February, assembly members listened to evidence on UK nature restoration, food systems, mental health, access to nature, fishing and agriculture. They heard from a range of world-leading experts, including academics, farmers, supermarkets, local authorities and water companies, and a range of viewpoints.
The assembly now hopes to create a groundswell of support and is calling for people to back the People’s Plan for Nature by adding their voice at peoplesplanfornature.org. Governments, businesses, communities and charities are also being urged to respond to the recommendations to deliver transformative change.
Claire, from Northern Ireland, said: “I'm not into nature for nature’s sake. I'm a doctor. I care about people. And the scientific information and the courses that I've done have shown me how important nature is for people's health. I’d like to see nature improved so that it would improve our lives.”
Jodi, a carer from Swansea, Wales, said: “Clean water, clean seas, rivers - I think that's a major thing. I’ve always tried not to damage things purposely, but I’ve not really cared enough. For the future, I hope to be able to go sea swimming all the time, in water that’s not polluted and dangerous. And to drink clean water and eat food that's not got chemicals in it. And I want my son to get to do the same things.”
Fawad, a 20-year-old student living in Manchester, said: “Being a part of the People’s Assembly was a really cool and unique experience. We had the rare opportunity to engage in discussions with people from across the UK who we might otherwise have never even come across, let alone speak to, which was really interesting and special. By the end, we all came together with shared conclusions to the plan, and the resulting camaraderie created a really hopeful space.”
Professor Nathalie Seddon of the University of Oxford, one of the assembly’s academic leads, said: “The People’s Plan for Nature is a roadmap to help us get from where we are now, living in a highly degraded nature-depleted country, to where we need to be, empowered and living as part of flourishing landscapes, seascapes and cities, healthier, happier and re-connected with nature.
“I was impressed by the rigour of the process, the spirit of collaboration and openness among a very diverse group of Assembly members, and the quality of their discussions and questions. I think that the Assembly has come up with a really compelling set of critical actions to restore the vitality of our environment.
“The experience left me feeling hopeful for the future of UK nature as well as for nature in general; there’s a good chance that if we get things right here, other places will be inspired to do the same.”
Sarah Castell, Chief Executive Officer of Involve, said: "The People's Plan for Nature shows how the public can take a lead in tackling the big challenges of our time. A modern, healthy democracy needs to place people at the heart of decisions about our future. Involve are proud to have supported people from all four nations of the UK to find a way to protect and restore nature; those in power should listen to their recommendations and take action."
The assembly is encouraging people to read the People’s Plan for Nature in full at peoplesplanfornature.org and to add their voice in support of the plan.