Skip to main content

Do we care too much about nature?

Over 80% of British adults believe that the natural environment should be protected at all costs. Yet, a recent report suggests that “government progress on commitments to the natural environment has been largely static” (1). Indeed, the budget for DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has been slashed by 10% (£37m) and a reduction in green levies is likely as the government attempts to reduce domestic energy bills.
Has the government lost interest in the environment? Or do we care too much about nature?
oxfam
John Burton and Hannah Stoddart
To discuss this further, the Cabot Institute hosted a public recording of BBC Radio 4′s Shared Planeta show which explores the complex relationship between the human populations and wildlife. John Burton, CEO of the World Land Trust (WLT), was the first panellist and is a well known journalist and conservationist who has raised £19m for nature conservation in Africa, Asia and Central and Southern America. He believes that we should think about policy on “the life scale of an oak tree” and that further measures are required to protect the environment, both at home and abroad. The second panellist, Hannah Stoddart, is the head of the economic justice policy team at Oxfam GB and believes that fairer redistribution of wealth is more important than wildlife conservation.
How the UK could look if we reintroduced
missing megafauna to the landscape.
Do we care about nature?
A new report, by the Environmental Funders Network, suggests that one in ten UK adults are now a member or supporter of Britain’s environmental and conservation groups (2). This equates to nearly 4.5 million people, with 81 organisations protecting species and 78 working on climate change. Although 44% of funding is allocated to biodiversity and nature protection, only 7.3% of total funds have been allocated to the climate and the atmosphere. This suggests we are more interested in ‘traditional’ environmental issues than climate change. A recent research project by the RSPB indicates that four out of five UK children are no longer connected with nature (3). Dr Mike Clarke, the chief executive of the RSPB, explains that “…nature is in trouble, and children’s connection to nature is closely linked to this”. At a time where UK species are in decline, are we doing enough to engage young people in the natural world?
An alternative to conservation
Both John Burton and Hannah Stoddart agree that nature is important and that conservation can help protect endangered landscapes. However, many conservation sites are maintained in ”favourable condition”. In other words, they are kept in the condition they were found when designated as conversation sites. A alternative concept, known as rewilding, attempts to reverse the destruction of nature by standing back and allowing nature to control its own destiny.
Currently, farmers have to prevent the development of foreign or exotic vegetation on their land. This results in the development of bare land, lacking in biodiversity. Removal of the ‘agricultural condition’ rule and the introduction of rewilding may allow this land to flourish once again. George Monbiot, author of Feral, is particularly interested in the reintroduction of megafauna, large animals that existed at the end of the last glacial period (>11ka) (4). It seems hard to believe, but over ten thousand years ago, elephants, rhinoceri and camels roamed Europe while other animals, such as bison, wolves and wildcats, were particularly widespread throughout the UK.
Indeed, the re-introduction of missing species can have a profound effect on wildlife. In 1995, grey wolves were reintroducedto Yellowstone National Park for the first time in 50 years (5). The elk population, who were now at risk of predation by wolves, began to redistribute. This allowed willow and aspen trees to flourish and increased the habitat for certain bird species, small mammals, beavers, and moose. This effect, known as a trophic cascade, suggests that careful reintroduction of megafauna into the wild can allow ecosystems to flourish. However, rewilding can backfire. In 2008, endangered Mallorcan toads were reintroduced into the natural population but were infected with Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a well-known fungus that can threaten amphibians (6). As a result, the Mallorcan toads are now in danger of being wiped out once again. Despite this, I believe that rewilding in the UK is feasible and could allow the public, especially children, to reconnect with nature in new and exciting ways.
  1. Nature Check 2013. http://www.wcl.org.uk/docs/Link_Nature_Check_Report_November_2013.pdf
  2. Passionate Collaboraton. http://www.greenfunders.org/wp-content/uploads/Passionate-Collaboration-Full-Report.pdf
  3. RSPB Connecting with Nature. http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/connecting-with-nature_tcm9-354603.pdf
  4. Monbiot, G. Feral: searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding. Allen Lane.
  5. Ripple et al,. 2001. Trophic cascades among wolves, elk and aspen on Yellowstone National Parks’s northern range.Biological Conservation102. 227-234
  6. Walker et al, 2008. Invasive pathogens threaten species recovery programs. Current Biology18. R853-R854

Popular posts from this blog

Powering the economy through the engine of Smart Local Energy Systems

How can the Government best retain key skills and re-skill and up-skill the UK workforce to support the recovery and sustainable growth? This summer the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) requested submission of inputs on Post-Pandemic Economic Growth. The below thoughts were submitted to the BEIS inquiry as part of input under the EnergyREV project . However, there are points raised here that, in the editing and summing up process of the submission, were cut out, hence, this blog on how the UK could power economic recovery through Smart Local Energy Systems (SLES). 1. Introduction: Factors, principles, and implications In order to transition to a sustainable and flourishing economy from our (post-)COVID reality, we must acknowledge and address the factors that shape the current economic conditions. I suggest to state the impact of such factors through a set of driving principles for the UK’s post-COVID strategy. These factors are briefly explained belo

Farming in the Páramos of Boyacá: industrialisation and delimitation in Aquitania

Labourers harvest ‘cebolla larga’ onion in Aquitania. Image credit: Lauren Blake. In October and November 2019 Caboteer  Dr Lauren Blake  spent time in Boyacá, Colombia, on a six-week fieldtrip to find out about key socio-environmental conflicts and the impacts on the inhabitants of the páramos, as part of the historical and cultural component of her research project, POR EL Páramo . Background information about the research can be found in the earlier blog on the project website . Descending down the hill in the bus from El Crucero, the pungent smell of cebolla larga onion begins to invade my nose. The surrounding land transforms into plots of uniform rows of onion tops at various stages of growth, some mostly brown soil with shoots poking out along the ridges, others long, bushy and green. Sandwiched between the cloud settled atop the mountainous páramos and the vast, dark blue-green Lake Tota, all I can see and all I can smell is onion production. Sprinklers are scattered around, dr

IncrEdible! How to save money and reduce waste

The new academic year is a chance to get to grips with managing your student loan and kitchen cupboards. Over lockdown the UK wasted a third less food than we usually would. This is brilliant, as normally over 4.5 million tonnes of edible food is wasted from UK homes every year. For students, it’s even higher. The average cost of food waste per student per week is approximately £5.25 - that's about £273 per year !  It’s not just our bank accounts that are affected by food waste – it’s our planet too. The process of growing, making, distributing, storing and cooking our food uses masses of energy, fuel and water. It generates 30% of the world’s CO₂ greenhouse gas emissions. The same amount of CO₂ as 4.6 million return flights from London to Perth, Australia! So it makes sense to keep as much food out of the bin as possible, start wasting less and saving more.  Start the new term with some food waste busting, budget cutting, environment loving habits! Here’s five easy ways to reduce