'Grow back better'

| 15th June 2020
For the chop - a wetland forest within Enviva's sourcing area near Ahoskie. Photo: Dogwood Alliance.
For the chop - a wetland forest within Enviva's sourcing area near Ahoskie. Photo: Dogwood Alliance.
Conservationists say nature-focused schemes can deliver returns several times the original investment in economic, environmental and social benefits.

We can grow back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

Investing in "shovel ready" nature projects can boost the economy as part of a green recovery from the pandemic, environmental groups have said.

The conservation organisations say they have a wide range of proposed projects to help reduce flooding, plant trees and seagrass meadows, protect threatened species from juniper to bats and create habitats such as ponds and meadows.

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They want the government to invest in such schemes as part of a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis to create jobs and improve people's lives and health, as well as cutting carbon emissions and tackling the nature crisis.

Species

It will also make the UK more resilient to environmental economic risks such as floods, droughts, loss of important pollinating insects and climate change, the Wildlife and Countryside Link coalition of environmental groups said.

Conservationists say nature-focused schemes can deliver returns several times the original investment in economic, environmental and social benefits.

For example, they say investing £500 million in creating the Northern Forest - increasing tree cover in an area stretching from Liverpool to Hull - over 25 years could deliver benefits of £2.5 billion.

Many of the schemes groups in the Wildlife and Countryside Link have lined up are ones put on hold as a result of the Covid-19 crisis or which could be brought forward as part of a Treasury stimulus package.

Schemes which the coalition say could be funded include a £300,000 project by Bristol Rivers Trust to reduce local flooding in the city, help species such as water voles and give 100,000 more access to nature.

Pandemic

The Woodland Trust's Eastern Claylands project in Essex and Suffolk would deliver 160,000 trees and 30,000 metres of hedgerows, supporting 200 jobs and absorbing and storing 118,000 tonnes of carbon for £4.8 million.

The RSPB is seeking £250,000 for a scheme at Haweswater, Cumbria, to create sustainable grazing and plant trees and scrub to reduce flood risk and store carbon, and could set up a tree nursery for native species within a month.

Projects such as "My Wild City", to make Manchester a wildlife-rich city, and "Tiny Forests" to create small patches of urban woodland, can improve access to greenery, with health and wellbeing benefits that cut costs for the NHS, the groups say.

Schemes would create employment in both the environmental sector and for contractors, and labour-intensive projects such as tree planting or restoring peat bogs would create jobs and an immediate boost to the economy.

Dr Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: "We can grow back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

Economy

"As we struggle to recover from a global natural disaster, investing in nature can make our economy more resilient to future harm from the climate and ecological emergencies: flood, fire, drought, harvest failure, and other risks.

"Quick Government investment in nature now can also level up people's access to a decent environment, ensuring that nature-deprived communities across the country enjoy a greener future."

Woodland Trust chief executive Darren Moorcroft said: "You can't build a more resilient society without a resilient environment. We need to reboot the economy to restore our natural environment and cut carbon.

"Protecting, restoring and expanding our native trees and woods - with all the social, economic and environmental benefits that these will bring - must be at the heart of any 'green recovery'."

He called for the Government's forthcoming England tree strategy to deliver a bold vision for woods and trees and warned against relaxing environmental protections as part of efforts to stimulate the economy.

This Author

Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.

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