Time for the green recovery

| 3rd July 2020
Festival audience sat on hill enjoying the sunset through the trees.
🌳 The heady, carefree days of Timber 2019 seem a world away now. But has the lockdown thrown into relief many things some of us have been feeling for a long time?

There is much talk of a ‘green recovery’, but that has to be far reaching and not just a low-carbon version of the past.

Timber Festival grew out of our desire to show how the National Forest has transformed the lives and the landscape of a post-industrial part of the Midlands, and how many things are better if we find space for trees in our lives.

The impact of nearly nine million trees on this previously scarred landscape, and how they are embraced by the communities who live here, fired the imaginations of Sarah Bird and Rowan Cannon, and all the team at Wild Rumpus, our partners in creating Timber.

To make a donation to support the next Timber festival, visit JustGiving.

Together, we’ve started to tell that story through two amazing editions of the festival: through art and music, talk and debate, high energy activities in the woods, and chilling out over a beer. Now, we’re taking an enforced pause and have the chance to continue some of those conversations (thank you, The Ecologist), albeit through a very different lockdown lens.

Reset

Timber has already shown us the way forward. It inspires us to connect with nature and with each other. The pandemic is making us reassess what is important, even how society thinks and works; now is the time to plan for recovery and to be more ambitious about the future.

Adversity can give us determination, and collective adversity can give us the hope to strive for what we hold dear. So while Covid-19 is still our most immediate threat, its legacy should be as the wake-up call, the catalyst for action on the biggest threat to humanity, climate change.

Our recovery is presented as a conflict between short-term economic reality and longer-term prosperity, but we won’t have a better opportunity to reset the dial on how we invest in the future, re-imagine society and value what’s important.

There is much talk of a ‘green recovery’, but that has to be far reaching and not just a low-carbon version of the past. Let’s use it to move away from Gross Domestic Product as our only measure of economic success, to factor in the true value of the natural world, and fully recognise the importance of wellbeing for us all, across all parts of society. It’s time to readdress the inequalities that impact the everyday lives of many people.

Earlier this year, we had already produced our Green Recovery Plan, our vision for the next 25 years of the National Forest. We were even planning to launch it at Timber 2020 with all the fanfare of the festival. Of course, this wasn’t a green recovery from coronavirus, but our response to the urgency of the climate crisis.

Yet all the principles are the same: people need access to green spaces for their health and wellbeing, we need to shift to a greener economy, the natural world needs to be given due space, care and attention if we are to have any chance of adapting.

Recovery

We’ll have to wait until the autumn now to launch this properly, but the thinking that underlies our Vision can give us the headline to chart that green recovery:

Our recovery from Covid-19 should also address the climate crisisThis seems obvious, but it is the principle that should underpin everything. From planning to investment, decision making to policy, the question we should be asking is will our recovery from Covid-19 also help to address the climate crisis and increase our resilience, not exacerbate it further.

Our recovery should value the natural world differentlyCovid-19 has shown us how much we value the natural world as a source of health and wellbeing, inspiration, safety and security.  Whether it’s clean air, water management, pollination, or our own recreation, our recovery gives us an opportunity to cost in these benefits at the outset and ensure we prioritise the natural world better, and, not least, avoid paying out to address negative impacts made even greater.

Investment in recovery should accelerate the transition to a net zero carbon economyRecovery from Covid-19 will mean rapid investment in enterprise to help boost the economy. Now is the time to use public investment, regulation and other incentives to support more sustainable enterprise and enable our businesses to innovate to radically reduce their carbon emissions. There are some obvious candidates here such as transport, farming and forestry, tourism, renewables, sports and leisure, eco-housing and the creative industries. We cannot afford to go back to business as usual.  

Spending more time outdoors should be at the heart of recoveryOutdoor activities can help us to stay safe as we ease the lockdown, and also become the new normal to support healthier lifestyles.  Our recovery should promote investment in walking and cycling networks, outdoor learning for schools, accessible greenspace for all and outdoor leisure activities to accelerate recovery and support our wellbeing, while also observing social distancing or reducing risk.    

We can all support a green recovery by promoting a local and more circular economyWe have all learnt to rely more on local products and services during lockdown, with farm shops, local places to visit and community schemes all proving essential help.  With movement challenged by Covid-19, we can continue to support our local shops, pubs, attractions and services to help them get up and running again, enhancing the domestic tourism market and supporting local supply chains.     

Action

The National Forest is a living, breathing example of a green recovery in action. We have been championing these principles for nearly 30 years to transform the landscape from its industrial past, and the impacts and value for money are clear to see.

The creation of the National Forest so far, has cost little more public money than two miles of three lane motorway. Timber itself shows what can be achieved: where the creative industries (theatre, music, literature) meet woodland crafts, forest industry and science, where people can enjoy all kinds of outdoor experiences, and where local businesses have opportunities to thrive and grow.

So, let’s be inspired by all the creativity and potential presented to us this weekend when we would have been spending time together at Timber.

Let’s kickstart the green recovery with our ambitions for a better future, set against a backdrop of trees and forests. Engage, enjoy, feedback and interact, and let’s all be a catalyst for lasting change.

This Author

John Everitt is chief executive of the National Forest Company. He is a British environmentalist who has worked in conservation, environmental policy and advocacy for more than 25 years.

Andrew Weatherall works at the National School of Forestry, University of Cumbria. Jo Maker is the Timber Festival coordinator, The National Forest Company. They are together the guest editors of this Special Collection in The EcologistTo make a donation to support the next Timber festival, visit JustGiving.

Image: Andrew Allcock

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