The importance of a green recovery

Jane Memmott looks forward beyond the pandemic and encourages work towards a greener future, as she introduces our 2020-21 Annual Review.

Jane Memmott

My two-year term as President of the British Ecological Society (BES) is coming towards its close. As I look at all the highlights in our Annual Review covering November 2020 to October 2021, it’s another reminder how much this period has been dominated by coronavirus.

Yet the stories throughout the Annual Review reveal how much has been achieved, thanks to the hard work of staff and volunteers, and I am pleased and proud of where the Society finds itself today.

It hardly needs saying that the impact of the pandemic on the research, teaching and practice of ecology has been profound, and many of us will be dealing with personal loss as well. As vaccinations bring some measure of normality back – at least to the Western world – we also need to look forward.

What we must grab hold of with both hands is the new recognition of the critical role science plays in society

There is much we have learnt and should keep from this time, for example the advantages that online delivery of activities can bring and the importance of support for people’s wellbeing.

But what we must grab hold of with both hands is the new recognition of the critical role science plays in society, shown in the success of vaccines and new treatments, and the importance of nature to our wellbeing, which so many of us have relied on during this time.

As economic activity picks up again, we absolutely must make the most of these factors in seeking a greener future with a new commitment to reducing carbon and restoring nature.

All eyes have been on the COP26 climate change talks as well as the COP15 biodiversity talks that will conclude next year. Let us hope our leaders commit to a level of action that matches what is required and what wide swathes of the public are demanding.

We must seek a greener future with a new commitment to reducing carbon and restoring nature

In this context, the BES launched a major report on nature-based solutions in the UK. Over 100 experts played a part in reviewing all the evidence on tree planting, peatland restoration, coastal salt marshes and many other ways to store carbon and boost nature. This important assessment should influence future policy on maximising the benefits of nature-based solutions.

Increasing people’s access to nature is also important for a greener, happier future. A large £250,000 grant from the UK government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund has been awarded to the BES and partners. It will fund a truly inspiring project that will increase students’ connection to nature at 50 schools in North-East England.

The core work of the Society continues to go from strength to strength. We have continued to attract new members during the pandemic, with membership having grown 22% in the last three years. And our online Festival of Ecology last December had the most delegates we’ve ever had at a BES Annual Meeting.

There will continue to be challenges ahead as the world finds ways to live with coronavirus. We will need to continue to adapt at the BES as we seek to promote our science and support the global community of ecologists. I am convinced we are in a tremendous position as we work towards a greener future.

Read the Annual Review 2020–21