It’s now been almost a month since Boris Johnson proudly announced his plan to “build, build, build”. In the same speech he vowed not to be held back by “newt counting delays”. I think it’s fair to say it upset a few people.
And rightly so.
It seems to me that if the lockdown has highlighted one thing, it is that Britain needs nature!
How many of us have taken solace in the few minutes of exercise allowed each day and felt the relief of retreating into our countryside?
How many of us realised that a lot of the travel we used to assume we had to do wasn’t as necessary as we had first thought?
When our lives were thrown into harsh perspective, how many of us looked at the “stuff” we have worked so hard to accumulate and the lifestyles we had so perfectly curated and realised that love, happiness and wellbeing were so much more important than anything we build?
All this begs the question, should our first priority really be to “build, build, build”, or should it be to protect the natural world that was there for us when our world was turned upside down?
To me the answer seems obvious, but in case you’re still not convinced, I’ve put together a quick guide to all the things that nature does for us.
I hope by the end you’ll agree, BRITAIN NEEDS NATURE!
1. Food and Drink
Let’s start with the obvious.
When I teach photosynthesis I like to get my pupils to think about the ingredients in a cake and trace them back to their source. Eventually, they all come back to plants.
Whether you are an omnivore or a herbivore (or a carnivore?), nature feeds you.
Even with the food we can now create in laboratories, it’d be nowhere near enough to feed our growing population.
If you enjoy a drink of cider, thank the bee that pollinated the apple tree it came from. Do you like an egg in the morning? Thank the chicken that made it and the corn that fed it. How about tuna in your sandwiches? Thank the plankton that formed the base of the food chain that fed the fish.
Everything is connected. We can’t pick and choose. If you value food, you need nature.
2. Clean Water
In a couple of weeks I’ll be talking about rewilding the UK and how beaver dams help clean water, but there is a plethora of other organisms contributing constantly to our clean water supply.
From the plants and microbes that absorb nutrients to the porous rocks that act as filters, nature is on a constant cleaning cycle.
On top of that itt does a great job at delivering water to us as well!
Rivers capture the rain water as it runs off the land and move it around the country so that most of us are within a few miles of one of the UK’s water ways.
3. Clean Air
I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone that plants provide oxygen.
Our forests, wetlands and soil all play a role in removing pollutants from the air.
If we are to clean our polluted and smog filled air, nature stands a far better chance than any kind of man-made technology!
4. Health and Wellbeing
The health benefits of the things we have already mentioned alone are huge.
Think of all the diseases that you stand a much better chance of not getting (or recovering from faster) if you eat a healthy diet. It goes without saying that you couldn’t last long without water. And air that’s free of cancer-causing pollutants benefits us all.
But what about the benefits of having space to take a walk or run? Or a natural pool to swim in? Or the benefits of the vitamins we take from nature that are essential for our health.
All of these make us feel better inside and out. A walk in fresh air can achieve what no pill ever could.
Sure, you could survive in an underground bunker, but I think very few people could argue that it’d lead to a happy or healthy lifestyle. Britain needs nature to quite literally save lives.
5. Carbon Sinks
Trapped in our arctic tundra is billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide. If that melts, mankind is in for a nasty surprise (though it shouldn’t really be a surprise- plenty of scientists and activists have been screaming about it for decades).
In the UK, trees, grasses and plants lock away carbon as they grow.
CO2 dissolves in our oceans.
Our biggest carbon sinks are provided by the natural world. By this I mean environments which store more carbon than they release. Without them, things will get sticky pretty quickly in terms of our warming climate.
Britain needs nature… because it’s our best hope of solving this climate crisis!
6. Flood protection
Trees roots hold together soil. This forms solid banks that are less likely to burst and cause landslides.
Beaches provided protection against stormy, wet weather long before humans arrived on the scene and built walls.
Flood plains play a vital role in draining excess water, yet we continue to build on them.
As flooding increases here in the UK why are we not looking to nature to provide us will all of the defences it has always offered.
7. Money, Money, Money
You might well have got to this point and agreed with absolutely every I have said, but still have a niggle at the back of your mind. There’s one other thing that lockdown has perhaps, more uncomfortably, revealed: our society is built around a thriving economy.
The point of build, build, building is to provide services like trains, roads and housing that allow people to live and work and keep our economy moving.
But I would argue that still, nature has the upper hand here for one simple reason: nature provides all of this for free.
If you read my article What is wildlife conservation? you’ll already know that the monetary value of everything nature provides us for free, is greater than the amount of money made the world over each year.
And that, in the end, is why Britain needs nature- because Britain cannot exist without it.
If you want to build a thriving economy, you need people; people who are happy, healthy, and protected by a diverse, complex, prosperous natural world.
You cannot pick the parts you want and those that you do not, because it all works together in one beautiful symbiosis that we cannot afford to lose.
The laws that protect nature, those “Newt counting delays” are there to ensure that we don’t destroy that one thing that’s holding this whole operation together!
One Wild Thing
Over the coming months there will probably be further announcements which may be troubling in regards to plans to “level up” the UK.
Keep your eyes and ears open. Be critical. Read between the lines. Where you see things you don’t like, say something.
In Britain we pride ourselves in our value of democracy. Use your democratic right to have your say. Write to your local MP.
Inform them of the benefits you and they have taken from nature. Show them this list if you’d like. Tell your stories of the impact that nature has had on your own life. Explain why you are concerned. Request that they attend all votes and debates on topics which put nature in the firing line. Ask that they consider your views when they vote.
The Wildlife Trusts have put together a fantastic guide to help you to find your MP and what to include in a letter.