Today the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, set out plans for nature’s recovery. The full speech on amending the Environment Bill to require an additional legally binding target for species abundance is available here. The actions set out in the speech to restore nature are an important step. Getting the details right will help nature’s recovery, but can also deliver benefits for human wellbeing through creating a closer relationship with nature.
The Environment Secretary noted how the events of the last year have led people to appreciate the difference that nature makes to our lives more than ever before. There is an increased awareness of the link between our own health and that of the planet. Sadly, the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries and that is strongly related to lower levels of nature connectedness and wellbeing.
In our upcoming paper on people’s engagement with nature during the pandemic we found that the increase in noticing nature explained wellbeing to a greater extent than the increase in visits to nature. Indeed, when people are prompted to notice nature it can deliver clinically significant benefits to mental health. We also know that people have an inherent ability to spot greater biodiversity – and that brings positive emotions. Nature’s recovery will create more nature to notice. And if that nature is visible it can help build a closer relationship with nature that is good for wellbeing – and encourages pro-nature behaviours too.
The speech stated the need to work on habitats in both protected sites and the wider countryside. Clearly, that scale is essential to deliver nature’s recovery. However, there was little on the places where people live, urban areas and schools for example. Corridors to bring nature from the wider countryside to people could do great things for wellbeing.
The renewed emphasis on nature’s recovery and call for creative public policy thinking does allow opportunities to maximise the benefits. It would be great to see:
1 – Everyday biodiversity to unite human and nature’s wellbeing – bringing visible wildlife to the places people live to foster pro-nature behaviour, nature connectedness and wellbeing.
2 – The design of urban spaces to foster meaningful engagement with the abundance of nature on everyone’s doorstep. Design to prompt people to notice, engage and care for nature.
3 – New woodlands as new spaces for meaningful engagement and delivery of nature based social prescriptions.
4 – Creation of a life-long relationship with nature – bringing nature’s recovery into secondary schools to address the ‘teenage dip’ and support adolescent wellbeing.
Building back greener can help create a new human-nature relationship through delivering nature everywhere for everyone.