In 2019 the State of Nature report (National Biodiversity Network) highlighted just how bad things have become right here in the UK. Us Brits pride ourselves on being nature lovers, we spend more per head on bird food than anyone else . Yet we live in one of the most nature depleted countries on Earth.
It turns out that our green and pleasant land isn’t so pleasant after all – not if you’re a bird, a bee or a hedgehog.
A news article posted by the Natural History Museum in May 2023 – Britain has lost 73 million birds over the last 50 years | Natural History Museum (nhm.ac.uk) – references a more recent study by the British Trust for Ornithology, detailed in a press release, which found that the UK has lost 73 million birds over the last 50 years. Most of the declining species are farmland birds, where a mix of increasingly industrialised agriculture, habitat loss and the climate crisis are having severe impacts. 73 million birds gone since 1970 – but which have vanished near you? | BTO – British Trust for Ornithology
And things are just as bad globally: ‘A wake-up call’: total weight of wild mammals less than 10% of humanity’s’ – Guardian article March 2023
More than half of all species live in the soil, according to a recent study that found it is the single most species-rich habitat on Earth. More than half of Earth’s species live in the soil, study finds | Soil | The Guardian (ampproject.org) – Guardian article August 2023
A third of the planet’s land is severely degraded and 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil are lost every year through intensive farming alone, according to a UN-backed study, the Global Land Outlook.
So through intensive agriculture soil is deteriorated, becomes devoid of life, releases its carbon stores and loses its ability to store water.
For centuries nature in the UK has been driven out – seen as in the way of progress, unproductive, too messy, unnecessary – just a nice to have when we feel like it. Huge areas of our countryside, which ought to be a sanctuary for wildlife, have become a hostile place for too many of our animals and plants. Through intensive nature harming farming practices and hunting estates much of our countryside is now lacking in the food and habitats (homes) that our wildlife need. Parts of our countryside are literally toxic – where chemicals are sprayed and sown to maximise yields at the expense of healthy soil, clean water and our wildlife.
But it’s not just in the countryside that our wildlife is under attack. Nature has even been starved and tidied out of our urban green spaces and gardens. We have come to worship sterile neatness at the expense of the bounty of nature. We’ve starved and made our wildlife homeless with our obsessive mowing, strimming, leaf blowing and spraying.
Loss of wildlife isn’t just a shame for nature lovers. Like it or not we are an animal, and we need to eat as much as any other species. We are part of nature and we can’t survive unless nature thrives.
We need functioning ecosystems that supply oxygen, clean air and water, healthy soil, pollination of plants, pest control, wastewater treatment and many other ecosystem services.
We need to urgently and at scale:-
It’s that simple!
Like us wildlife needs food, a safe home, not to be poisoned and not to be killed in such numbers that its population can’t recover!
Contrary to popular belief – we are not a crowded nation. There is more than enough room for nature and people to thrive. But right now, huge areas of the UK are being used in a way that is not only harmful to wildlife, but which delivers very little benefit to people.
As individuals – the biggest thing that we can do to restore nature is to aim for the less and better in all forms of our consumption. In particular:-
By consuming much much less new stuff
See Living kindly and sustainably for more tips.
A growing number of people are re-looking at how we use land in the UK and coming up with really innovative and hopeful projects. From the Knepp Estate in West Sussex to community garden projects in our inner-cities, more and more people are waking up to the realisation that restoring nature restores us too. During lockdown people both missed our green spaces and appreciated our birds and other wildlife.
Books like Rebirding by Benedict McDonald and Wilding by Isabella Tree offer practical ways of making nature restoration work for both our rural and urban communities. Vertical and insect farming is showing how we can produce food with less land, less water and less chemicals – leaving more space for nature.
We are in an Ecological Emergency as well as a Climate Crisis. We can’t tackle one without the other. We hope that reading about some of the amazing projects we support will inspire you to join the nature restoration revolution.
Apply rewilding nature-friendly principles to your own garden:
The mental and physical benefits of access to nature and green spaces is clearly documented. Despite this, we the public are allowed access to only 8% of English land. Of the 92% of land we are excluded from, only 6% is built on and 56% farmed. Even worse, we are allowed access to only 3% of English rivers. 50% of English land is owned by 1% of its population. Meanwhile, 1 in 8 families have no access to a garden, and in Tower Hamlets, London, 40% of families have no garden.
We need and deserve a comprehensive right to roam responsibly through our green and pleasant land. We urgently need to be out amongst our wild and green spaces and rivers, observing and reporting the destruction of nature that has for too long been carried out behind closed walls and barbed wire. Of course many landowners have been good guardians of the land, but many have not, and whether they have or haven’t it still does not justify us being shut out. A right to roam is a fundamental human right that we need to take back.
To be clear, the Right to Roam campaign is seeking a right to access our countryside responsibly and considerately – just as they already have in Scotland and Norway. Noone is seeking a right to litter, and indeed those who walk the countryside generally pick up litter as they go. Most littering is tossed from cars. Noone is asking for a right to let dogs off lead to worry sheep or a right to trample anyone’s rose bushes in accessing someone’s garden. Woods and moorland and river banks are very different to the private space around someone’s house.
But no one needs 50,000 acres of private space. And of course a comprehensive right to roam should be accompanied by better education and promotion of the Countryside Code.
It’s no coincidence that nature has withered away in an England which is for the most part out of bounds to most of us. It’s no surprise that we face a health crisis, mental and physical, when so many people have no easy local access to green spaces and so are suffering from nature deficit disorders. Restoring land to nature and people is central to tackling the multitude of crises we face.
We need nature restoration urgently on a massive scale. To do that we need to use every tool in the toolbox – and that means looking at new funding mechanisms.
Yes, we need to lobby for more funding from government but we also need to explore new investment models.
So, in one of our most exciting projects, We Have the POWER is supporting The Wildlife Trusts to develop new mechanisms to enable investors big and small to be part of exciting programmes to bring about nature’s recovery at the scale and pace needed to bring our UK wildlife back and effect a green recovery. Find out more about how I am Funding nature.
In June 2021 I helped Dorset Wildlife Trust secure 420 acres of land for nature restoration (around 230 football pitches). The 2019 State of Nature Report was a wake-up call for everyone with a love of nature. I became determined to do my bit and buy some land where nature could thrive.
As well as starting my search for land I also started a reading journey (included Wilding by Isabella Tree) and discussions with local conservation groups. I soon decided that I wanted to secure land for nature beyond my lifetime and in the hands of experts in conservation, rather than an amateur enthusiast like me.
After agreeing a purchase of the land, I continued discussions with local conservation groups and eventually agreed to work with Dorset Wildlife Trust to secure the land in their expert care. By leading on the purchase, I gave Dorset Wildlife Trust time to obtain funding for the land including from our local councils. Wildlife in Dorset will now get more of the space it desperately needs to spread and regenerate and local people and visitors will get access to a wonderful new nature space.
Read more about A place for nature and people in Dorset.