The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, must “seize the day” and create a national nature service to restore wildlife and habitats in England, say a coalition of the country’s biggest green groups. It said the move would create thousands of jobs, a more resilient country and tackle the wildlife and climate crises.
The coalition has drawn up a list of 330 projects that are ready to go, including flower meadows, “tiny forests” in cities and hillside schemes to cut flooding. It said a service to fund the projects and train workers would create 10,000 jobs and be part of a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
“A new national nature service could restore our land, coastlines, oceans and economy for a greener, more prosperous future,” the coalition said in the letter to Sunak. “In doing so, we will create a more prosperous and resilient society and train up a new workforce to power a green, modern economy.”
“From you, we need a well-funded training and employment programme, investment in a co-designed portfolio of conservation projects to kickstart green recovery, and the bravery to seize the day,” said the coalition of 50 groups.
It includes National Parks England, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, WWF, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, representing millions of members. Others include the Black Environment Network, councils in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, the National Youth Agency and the Nature-Friendly Farming Network.
Sunak is reported to be planning a “green industrial revolution”, with a possible announcement in July. Environment groups, however, fear plans to spend billions on energy and transport infrastructure are overshadowing the role that restoring nature can also play in the post-pandemic recovery. In March, Sunak pledged GBP640m for a “nature for climate fund” to support tree planting and peatland restoration, which was a Conservative manifesto commitment in the December general election.
A national nature service was supported by a high-level food and farming commission in 2019. Nature has also been shown to improve people’s health and wellbeing. However, the UK is “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world“, according to experts. The government’s official advisers said in 2019 that the UK was due to miss almost all of its nature targets.
Richard Benwell, head of Wildlife and Countryside Link (WCL), which is part of the coalition, said: “Investing in nature can provide a short-term boost with thousands of jobs, and it can provide long-term, cost-effective protection against costly risks like flooding, soil degradation, and climate change.”
“Helping the poorest, most nature-deprived communities first can help improve people’s way of life at the same time as helping wildlife,” he said. “This is the chancellor’s chance to grow back better by including funding for these projects in July’s budget announcement.”
Funding the 330 projects would create or enhance at least 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) of key habitat, such as woodland, heaths, peatland, marshes and rivers, WCL said, an area 25% bigger than greater London.
At least 4.5m trees would be planted as part of the projects. This would capturie about 3m tonnes of carbon dioxide, and give a lifeline to threatened wildlife, from seahorses to hedgehogs and bats to birds. Populations of the UK’s most important wildlife have plummeted by an average of 60% since 1970.
Among the projects is the restoration of wildflower meadows being undertaken by Plantlife, which provides habitat for bees and other pollinators, benefiting both crops and wildlife. Another group, Earthwatch, is creating “tiny forests”:dense, tennis-court-sized groves in urban areas which grow five times faster than conventional woodland, absorbing CO2 and creating habitats for biodiversity.
In the Lake District national park, the RSPB is working with landowner United Utilities to increase wildlife and carbon storage, as well as reduce the downstream flood risk to homes. Assessment of a subset of the projects indicated every GBP1 spent would produce GBP5 of benefits to the environment and people’s health.