The RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts have challenged political parties to ‘Act for Nature’ by committing to a Nature and Wellbeing Act. The Nature and Wellbeing Act Green Paper, which was published yesterday, outlines an ambitious package of measures for tackling the decline in the natural environment and increasing people’s access to natural space for the benefit of their health and wellbeing. The organisations state that nature “underpins every aspect of our existence” and “offers immense benefits to our mental and physical health, and this needs recognition”.
Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “We know that nature is good for us but we also know that nature is in trouble and that our children rarely play in natural places. In this Green Paper, we demonstrate that our national wealth and our national health depend on action to protect nature, and so do many of our most wonderful species and habitats. That’s why the RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts are challenging all political parties to introduce a Nature and Wellbeing Act in the next Parliament—only by valuing, protecting and connecting people with our natural world will government achieve its social and economic plans.”
The Green Paper calls for all political parties to back the recovery of nature through manifesto commitments in the run-up to the next general election in May 2015. Action would be taken to better value nature and put it at the heart of policy-making, protect and restore nature by establishing a ‘national ecological network’, and connect everyone to nature by increasing the extent, accessibility and quality of natural green space near homes.
Targets for the in-coming government include a 10% increase in populations of key species and for 80% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) to be in good condition by 2040. The Act would also establish an independent body with statutory powers for holding Government to account on how the country’s natural assets are being utilised.
The conservation organisations state that there is compelling evidence which shows just how much people need nature:
- The most deprived communities are 10 times less likely to live in the greenest areas
- Fewer than one in 10 children regularly play in wild places, compared to almost half, a generation ago
- If every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space it could save an estimated £2.1 billion in health care costs.
The Green Paper also cites escalating inactivity and obesity, the impact of climate change on urban areas and countryside productivity, a growing risk of flooding, and the unsustainable exploitation of natural assets putting a brake on economic progress and development as further evidence for the need for a Nature and Wellbeing Act.
Dr Tony Juniper, author and campaigner, said: “Nature is neither an optional extra nor a barrier to development. Healthy nature is a vital prerequisite for our long term health, wealth and security. That is why we need a new Act of Parliament, to help reverse historical trends and to restore nature in a generation.”
Prime Minister David Cameron famously announced that he was committed to achieving the “greenest government ever”. However, the Coalition Government’s action on the environment was recently delivered a ‘red card’ by the Environmental Audit Committee for failing to make satisfactory progress in any of the ten policy areas identified, including biodiversity, air pollution, and mitigating flooding. However, political support for the Green Paper received a boost when the Liberal Democrats announced a set of manifesto proposals which included the introduction of a Nature Bill.
The campaign to achieve cross-party consensus for nature and wellbeing legislation in the next parliament will continue up to the general election. Environmental organisations are hoping that the adoption of a Nature and Wellbeing Act will herald a new era of government in which nature and the environment is consistently considered across all areas of policy.