It’s official – nature is good for us

From RSPB Martin Harper’s blog 

The UK National Ecosystem Assessment is out today.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it’s a staggeringly impressive piece of work.  So please read it – there’s even an excellent one page summary on page 5 – so no excuses.

My view is that it fundamentally challenges the way we currently make economic decisions.

Well done to Hilary Benn for commissioning the work when he was Secretary of State and well done to Caroline Spelman and Oliver Letwin for launching it.  And praise also to the 500 scientists (some from the RSPB) who did the hard graft in pulling it together under the chairmanship of Prof Bob Watson and Steve Albon.

It makes a compelling case for a step change in the way we value our environment – and it proves that if we carry on with the ‘business as usual’ approach we are selling ourselves, and our children, short.

Wildlife and natural landscapes are not just something nice for us to look at – they bring many benefits to society and these must be taken into account when we are making decisions that affect them.

The traditional view of economic growth is based on chasing GDP, but in fact, as the NEA implies, we will all end up richer and happier if we begin to take into account the true value of nature. Nature is good for us – plain and simple. It gives us clean air and water, it helps our crops to grow and it is vital for our mental and physical wellbeing. To ignore these benefits is crazy.

Figures which illustrate the economic value of nature include the service bees provide in pollinating crops – estimated to be worth £430m – and the £2.6m brought to the local economy by tourists visiting the Galloway Red Kite Trail over the last five years. The NEA also cites the benefits of inland wetlands to water quality which are worth £1.5bn.

Of course no-one can put a pounds and pence value on everything in nature – the song of a skylark hovering over a field, the sight of a salmon leaping upstream to its spawning grounds or a walk through a wildflower meadow buzzing with insects. But equally we cannot ignore the importance of looking after nature when we are striving for economic growth.

The NEA confirms what we have been saying for a long time, that as a society we have consistently under-valued and over-exploited our natural resources. That needs to change.

The Government has shown it is open to a new way of thinking by launching this fascinating report, but now it needs to follow through on its good intentions by imbedding this fresh approach to valuing nature in its decisions on development, transport, agriculture and energy.  This starts next week with the launch of the Natural Environment White Paper, but it must also influence the draft National Planning Policy Framework and the Treasury’s own green book which governs how and when Government should intervene.

Ultimately, it would be great if this report did for protection of the natural environment what the Stern report did for climate change – by convincing people that it pays to take action today rather than do nothing and deal with the consequences in the future.


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