Since our last newsletter much has changed again in the world around us. Whatever the state of the times, we continue to deal with a new reality of how we live. This continues to have real uncertainty about what the future may hold for us all in terms of health, social contact, and economics in the longer term. However, the certainties and challenges with us now and for the long term future are without doubt, climate change, biodiversity loss and the 6th extinction, food and fresh water insecurity, and the continued decoupling between people and nature as a result of expanding urbanisation and infrastructure.
Steering the UK through the current crisis of Covid-19 on top of all other environmental and political emergencies is a monumental challenge for any Government. Whilst recognising this – it is essential for leaders and decision makers to maintain a focus on the key priorities and drivers of human well-being, coupled with biodiversity, landscape and environmental protections as they provide the necessary ecosystem services for society to thrive.
Our children and future generations have the rights to experience at all levels the values and benefits of a healthy and secure natural world, regardless of the economic pressures. There is no price that can be put on nature. It is our evolutionary domain and our birthplace. Whichever landscape we choose to live in, open country, wilderness or tower block cities, our position within the natural world and our relationship as a species with the rest of biodiversity remains key. Any action we take that causes loss or degradation in the environment comes at a cost to us. Whether we wish to acknowledge it openly or not, we are the biological products of evolution, and ‘biophilically’ hard wired.
Covid 19 has exposed a refreshing insight into the human-nature relationship, our innate yearning to keep the ties with the natural world strong – everyone I speak to has a story to tell about their joy of walks and exploration in the outdoors during lockdown. They share their excitement of finding new pathways, woodland, birdsong and connection with themselves, their family and the other than human…and how important this was to their sanity and happiness. It is therefore important to maintain and reinforce this relationship into the future ahead of us.
Most of us in the UK are city and town dwellers, and experience nature on a daily basis in their immediate neighbourhood – home and community gardens, town parks, urban riversides, city church yards, allotments and town sports fields. A much smaller number of people live in the green belts surrounding urban settings but together, these areas for most of us, make up our living landscape, our nature refuge. Human relationship with nature is a very individual experience. To some, it is an opportunity for exhilarating physical exercise while for others, a moment for quite reflection and tranquillity. A few take the relationship to another level through art, science exploration and nature-watching. Whatever the relationship, it builds resilience in mind and body, thus forming an integral part of our well-being.
The Times (20.7.20) reports on GPs now prescribing outdoor walks for health benefits, whilst at the same time, another article shares that the main environmental charities are lobbying the government to protect green belt and spaces from development as planning laws change to favour development to be easier and less bureaucratic. These massive contradictions need to be addressed and given attention. They are symptomatic of the issues that governments around the world face.
Contemplating this further reinforces why the work of the UK Wilderness Foundation with mental health and nature is such a valuable tool for conservation. Our published research over 12 years with the University of Essex looks at what the NHS spends on mental health and how connecting to nature can produce cost savings in terms of mental health restoration due to wild nature based therapy programmes. Our true focus is to promote the intrinsic values of healthy minds, healthy people and healthy nature and matchmake us to have a lifetime love affair with the natural world. We do however have to appreciate that introducing the facts and figures around the economics and savings that wild nature can offer us, must be a credible addition to the varied approaches that wilderness and wild land conservation require.
Another string to the bow for nature lobbying is (along with a fellow Trustee Professor Peter Hobson), I have recently been appointed as a Commissioner to the Essex Climate Change Commission. We hope that through this engagement we can work constructively on the benefits of protecting biodiversity and the natural environment as a fundamental part of climate change mitigation. The Essex Climate Action Commission are reviewing an ambitious proposal to target a minimum of 30% of the county to promote a green and sustainable mixed landscape of settlements and countryside. The project, if accepted, will include rewilding and foresting designated open spaces in villages, towns and surrounding landscapes. The aims of the project are quite simple, to safeguard our cherished natural world, to store carbon and mitigate the impacts of climate change, to provide a more resilient and healthier environment for future generations, and to greatly improve the health of communities. Green economies, sustainable food and water systems, all with nature at the heart of design and planning is the only way forward if we wish for a flourishing future for generations to come. More and more evidence links mitigation to environmental protection -with healthier rivers and riparian woods, woodlands, peat and meadows, marshes and wetlands as all playing a part in this complex web.
Finally, another angle that presents opportunities for wilderness and biodiversity conservation, is the link between human communities and wilderness. Our SA partners are working hard to deliver food packages to vulnerable communities on the edge of reserves in the Eastern Cape. The hardships experienced by many South Africans is overwhelming with no jobs and little money trickling through in a range of areas. One source quoted that there is a chance that more people may die of starvation than from Covid as the virus threatens to takes hold in new areas such as the Eastern Cape.
The food distribution is being carried out by the Wilderness Foundation Africa and partners – and helps communities see the relationship between wilderness benefits and humanitarian help through this service. We have to make a difference to people who need help, and to Mother Nature who can be defenceless in the wake of economics drivers, population growth and housing need… and sprinklings of avarice thrown into the cauldron.
These are just some reflections on some of what is going on. We must stay alert, creative and responsive – never forgetting to keep a balance between the needs of all forms of life, and how our lives depend on this. Please let us know your thoughts, ideas and reflections and help us continue to raise a wild flag by donating or sharing on social media. These are on our website if you are not yet active.
Thank you for your support for wilderness, wildlife and people.