If I were Prime Minister: I'd create a public holiday for people to appreciate nature

Our series in the run-up to the General Election – 100 days, 100 contributors, but no politicians – continues with the chief executive of the RSPB

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The Independent Online

If I were Prime Minister, my goal would be to save democracy from the tyranny of short-term politics. We need to plan for the long-term public good. If we place nature at the heart of how decisions are made about health, housing and other development, education, economic growth, flood resilience and social cohesion then both people and wildlife will benefit.

Alongside nature, I would want to get back more fun and freedom for children. The time has come for fun - headed up by kids.

If people don’t care, they won’t act, so top of my list will be the announcement of an Annual Nature Day - a public holiday for people to spend enjoying nature. There will be free visits to nature reserves and public transport to parks, advice on how to create a wildlife garden or window box, free materials to build a hedgehog house or bird box, and recipes for suet ball.

Before convening the Cabinet, I’d pop a note around to my neighbour next door; just to let my Chancellor know that the economics of the Treasury are no longer fit for purpose. To reinforce the point, I’ll ask my Chancellor to start accounting in ways that embrace new economic thinking: valuing the true wealth of nations – with a healthy environment and the wellbeing of people sitting alongside a healthy economy.

The agenda for my first Cabinet meeting would start by asking “What are we going to bequeath to our children?”

Leaving our children a burgeoning deficit in natural capital is even less acceptable than passing on financial debts.  So we will adopt a 25 year investment plan to restore nature and improve the future health of the planet. This will reverse the decline in our green infrastructure at every level, creating more space for nature - bigger, better and joined-up.

My Government would lend its support to a growing movement to reclaim nature for childhood - re-connecting children with the natural world and thereby improving their mental wellbeing, long-term health and life chances. Most people connect with the environment through what they eat so I will ensure all children understand where their food comes from.

On health, I would establish a cross-cutting Cabinet Committee to fundamentally review the relationship between health, food, the environment and agricultural budgets. Diet-related ill health accounts for 40 per cent of the growing NHS budget, and yet the vast majority of the £4bn UK taxpayers give to Common Agricultural Policy each year is still directed at supporting largely unsustainable food production systems while doing very little for the most environmentally-friendly farmers out there.

I would ask how land is best used for long-term public benefit, in the face of climate change. The meeting would initiate a National Land-use Strategy, recognising the wider geographic reality of environmental issues, which transcend political boundaries. My European policy would seek to ensure that existing common environmental standards are maintained across the continent, from migratory wildlife and special habitats, to safe water we can drink and clean air we can breathe.

I would introduce policies that help harness the ideas and energy of civil society, and measures to encourage volunteering. The Government would recognise the important role that civil society organisations - charities and academia - play in maintaining the evidence base that informs our policies for the long-term public good, and in speaking truth unto power.

Finally, I would ban the ministerial ‘too difficult’ box. We don’t have time to put things off. We are the last generation that has a choice in stopping a catastrophic break-down in our natural life support systems and the mass extinction of nature.

Today’s "long term" is our children’s and grand-children’s "too late".