Climate crisis: ‘Biggest ever’ initiative to restore natural world launched amid warning it needs more cash

Funding for green recovery projects is already 10 times oversubscribed and job losses loom

Harry Cockburn
Thursday 05 November 2020 15:46 GMT
Natural England says scheme aims to significantly expand and link-up wildlife habitats across the country
Natural England says scheme aims to significantly expand and link-up wildlife habitats across the country

A national push by the government and numerous wildlife and environment organisations to restore the natural world across England has been launched, aiming to tackle biodiversity loss, climate change and people’s isolation from the natural world.

But it comes as some of the same environment groups supporting the initiative have warned that public funding for green recovery projects is already 10 times oversubscribed.

The Nature Recovery Network — led by Natural England, the government’s advisers on the natural environment — aims to restore existing protected sites and landscapes across the country and also help provide at least 500,000 hectares of “new wildlife-rich habitat”.

Natural England has described the scheme as “the biggest initiative to restore nature ever to be launched in England”, and said individuals from over 600 organisations were backing the effort to link together the country’s nature-rich places and restore rural and urban landscapes.

The initiative has been backed by organisations including the RSPB, Wildlife and Countryside Link and National Parks England, but some of the same organisations have also signed an open letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak warning charities in the sector are struggling and calling for a significant increase in investment.

The letter describes the Nature Recovery Network as “a very welcome initiative,” but warns it "simply cannot succeed without additional public funding dedicated to biodiversity.”

It also tells the Chancellor that the government’s £40m Green Recovery Challenge Fund — a package of grants “to help the nation build back greener from the coronavirus pandemic” — falls far short of the investment needed to stop existing projects being cancelled.

“It is even further from the amount needed to begin to restore our natural environment. We now know that the Fund has been oversubscribed by £330million,” the letter says.

The call comes as the UK builds towards hosting the UN’s Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow next year, when international attention will be on how Boris Johnson’s government is tackling emissions and biodiversity loss.  

The partnership aims to recover spaces for wildlife

Natural England said the Nature Recovery Network aimed to “recover threatened animal and plant species and create and connect new green and blue spaces such as wetlands, ponds, meadows, woodlands, and peatlands.”

“These restored habitats will help address climate change through capturing carbon, while improving the quality of our air, water, and soil, and provide natural flood protection. They will also provide us all with places to enjoy and connect with nature and help to improve our health and wellbeing.”

Launching the new initiative, Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England said: “We are firing the starting gun on England’s Nature Recovery Network, backed by the biggest ever collaboration between government, business and charities to drive forward the biggest programme for nature recovery in England’s history.

“The natural world upon which we all depend has for far too long been in decline, and now is the moment when we must change our approach, to move beyond preserving what little remains and to embark on restoration at scale.”

Environment minister Zac Goldsmith, said: “Our country’s rich biodiversity and ecosystems are under threat, and that is true all around the world. Last month at the UN, seventy-five leaders registered their support for our ambitious Leader’s Pledge for Nature to put nature and biodiversity on the road to recovery by 2030. Our duty now is to turn those words into meaningful action.”

Emma Marsh, Director, RSPB England, also speaking about the launch of the partnership said: “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a step-change in how we protect nature in England. The public wants this. The experience, skills, and ambition are there. Together, we can leave the natural world in a better condition than we inherited.”

Among the signatories welcoming the initiative, but calling on the government to increase investment, are Dr Richard Benwell, the chief executive of the Wildlife and Countryside Link, and Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts.

Dr Benwell said: “The promise of a Nature Recovery Network is a brilliant commitment to weave wildlife and wilder places back into the fabric of our lives. We owe it to nature and to all the people who are living nature-deprived lives.

“Charities hard hit by covid-19 have brought forward bold proposals which would bring life back to the economy and communities. But the network needs new investment from government to succeed.”

Mr Bennett added: “The government’s own advisor on climate change has said investment in nature should be a priority in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. It offers a quick route to opportunities for highly-skilled employment, providing on-your-doorstep nature for people and tackling climate change."

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