Priceless nature – worth nothing?

We take nature for granted; it is all around us, we use it for our food, fresh air, clean abundant water and exercise. Yet the natural world is the poor cousin of the sustainability triumvirate; economy, society and ecology. We know it matters so why isn’t the natural world factored into political thinking; Priceless nature – worth nothing?

The way that government in England is treating nature in local affairs underlines this flawed thinking. Millions of pounds of development funds are to be channeled through LEPs, the Local Enterprise Partnership economic bodies, whilst LNPs the Local Nature Partnerships receive nothing. Indeed the letter telling Gloucestershire’s LEP of its economic good fortune was not copied to the LNP even though it was signed by a Defra minister David Heath MP. I know this because I am interim chair of Gloucestershire’s LNP.

River Cam Gloucestershire; restored to health for wildlife, water management and landscape Copyright Gordon McGlone / GWT River Cam Gloucestershire; restored to health for wildlife, water management and landscape
Copyright Gordon McGlone / GWT

Our natural environment is under threat because it is seen as a ‘nice to have’ – an optional extra which can be afforded during good times but not so much when economic growth is weak, according to environmentalist Tony Juniper.

The truth is that our economic well-being depends on nature. In Natural World, The Wildlife Trusts’ magazine (Summer 2013 issue, available from 1 July), Tony Juniper writes that the idea of nature and the economy being at odds, that one must be sacrificed for the other, is one of the most dangerous misconceptions of modern times.

In a short film Tony Juniper explains the motivation behind his most recent book, What Has Nature Ever Done For Us. He confirms that it lays out the evidence to prove nature is fundamental to the economy and, if we look after nature, we can look after the economic prospects for people in the future.

Tony says: “There are legitimate concerns that ‘valuing nature’ is about putting a price tag on wildlife, so turning something intrinsically valuable into a commodity. This is not the intention. There must always be recognition that nature has an intrinsic value. You cannot put a price on hearing the songbird sing or seeing the spectacle of a wildflower meadow in full bloom. But, there are things that nature does, such as the way wetlands can reduce flooding, or the pollination of crops by bees that do have an economic value.

“This value has not been recognised in the way we make decisions and has therefore been assumed to be zero. This is totally disastrous for wildlife, people and the economy, and has to change, quickly. However, the idea is beginning to take hold in mainstream business and coupled with public awareness and changing policy, I think we have a huge opportunity in front of us and it’s time to seize it.”

In Natural World, Tony writes that several conservation groups are adapting their work to make it more obvious how looking after nature is good for people. The Wildlife Trusts’ mission to create Living Landscapes and secure Living Seas is a case in point. It is about not just nature’s recovery but delivering social and economic benefits such as reduced risk and improved wellbeing.

Stephanie Hilborne, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says that the narrative that underpins conservation action is beginning to shift:

“For many years we’ve had to resort to rare species to make a case against something that is blatantly bad for the whole ecosystem, the whole economy and society of the area in the long-term. When we can get to a position where we’re arguing about the real things, we’ll have made a lot of progress.”

John Everitt, Chief Executive of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, is featured in the film alongside Tony and Stephanie, to show how relevant this is to every locality.

He said: “Nature is central to Nottinghamshire’s economy. Two of our biggest industries are tourism and farming and nature is the driving force of both. The farming sector relies very heavily on soils and on pollination. Both of which are intrinsically linked with making sure that our natural environment is very healthy.”

In the Idle Valley, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust is involved in mental health provision, as are many Trusts around the country, by taking groups into the natural environment to do active conservation work, horticulture and food growing. In terms of recovery from mental illness, this can be about eight times cheaper than using drug therapy or counselling. This means many more people can benefit or more money in the NHS can be used to save lives in the way only it can do.

Tony Juniper concludes: “If we are going to hang onto what nature does for us we need to shift our collective consciousness, to see nature for what it actually is: the source of every aspect of our welfare. If we did that, then it would be far easier to break out of the trap of seeing ecology and economy as conflicting choices.”

Anyone can show their support for The Wildlife Trusts’ vision for A Living Landscape and Living Seas by joining their Wildlife Trust or donating to the range of projects being delivered in every part of the UK. All 47 are involved in schemes locally, which combine to achieve the UK-wide vision.

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Posted on May 1st 2013 under News & Press. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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