Nature restoration could generate ‘incredible’ £6.4bn a year, RSPB report finds

‘Natural world could be one of our greatest weapons against climate change’, charity says, urging greater levels of investment

Harry Cockburn
Environment Correspondent
Thursday 01 July 2021 02:03 BST
<p>Puffins have declined precipitously in recent decades as their prey has become less abundant through the climate crisis and overfishing</p>

Puffins have declined precipitously in recent decades as their prey has become less abundant through the climate crisis and overfishing

Spending greater sums on restoring the natural world could deliver staggering returns on investment and “change the course of history”, the RSPB has said in a major report.

Large-scale conservation and restoration of peatlands, saltmarshes and woodlands are among the “nature-based solutions” which the charity said could unlock £6.4bn a year in public benefits such as carbon storage, air quality improvements and recreation.

Such returns would dwarf current levels of public sector spending on nature by over 1,000 per cent, the charity suggested, with every £1 invested in saltmarsh, peatland or woodland restoration and creation, returning an average of £3 in benefits.

But the report said this was just “the tip of the iceberg”, as the £6.4bn figure does not include numerous other benefits including improved water quality, better flood management, job creation, temperature regulation and combating noise pollution.

Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB said: “The nature and climate emergency is not a terrifying but distant disaster our grandchildren will have to deal with. More than 50 per cent of our wildlife is in decline and extreme weather is putting our homes and our health at risk now.

“Nature, if we invest in it, could be one of our greatest weapons against climate change. Our coastlands, woodlands and peatlands are more than just beautiful landscapes – a hidden power lies beneath.

“These natural habitats lock in huge amounts of carbon, provide homes for endangered wildlife and protect our homes from extreme weather. Our governments must change the course of the future and unleash nature’s potential, before it’s too late.”

In the report, the authors highlight how the impacts of the climate crisis are already more keenly felt than other societal ills.

“People in the UK are more likely to experience flooding than burglary,” the report says.

“The deadly 2018 heatwave killed over 800 people, saw over 500 emergency water callouts and saw 10,000 subsidence claims.

“At the same time, more than one in ten UK species are at threat of extinction. Over half of UK species are in decline and in the last 40 years almost 40 million birds have vanished from our skies.”

The authors said: “We can’t afford not to invest in nature. Economists have found we can save over £176bn over the next century if we restore our peatlands, saltmarshes and woodlands – a conservative investment that does not include benefits such as flood prevention, job creation and water quality management.”

To highlight the extensive role the natural world already plays in our day-to-day well being the RSPB is also launching a “pop-up shop” this week selling unusual products to highlight what a “dystopian future” we face if we lost more species and wild areas.

Instead of corner shop staples like crisps and carbonated drinks, the pop up shops in Manchester, Edinburgh and Cardiff will take members of the public on an immersive shopping trip where products stocked include “cans of breathable air, precious bottles of unpolluted drinking water and sandbags to protect our homes from constant flooding.”

Open from 1-8 July, the shops will also sell “insect protein, as meat and fish will have become too expensive and scarce for most consumers to buy, birdsong vinyl to recreate the lost treasure of live birdsong, and UK grown rice – one of the few crops which can survive the new hotter, wetter climate.”

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