Posted: Tuesday 18th March 2014 by TheWildlifeTrustsBlogger

Nature for all. The view from Rowley Hills where the Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trust is restoring and protecting wildlife habitats next to a large urban population (credit: Paul Harris/2020Vision)

Tomorrow is an important date in our political calendar – Budget day. There is always anticipation about what will come out of the Chancellor's red box but from an environmental perspective, more often than not, after the political gestures, re-announcements of existing spending and some shuffling of money between government departments, there’s usually disappointment and a sense of missed opportunity. The Budget is a chance for Government to show it is planning to make critical decisions about creating a better world for us all to live in but, we normally just get more of the same. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Last week saw the publication of the 2nd State of Natural Capital report. Just like the first one it underlined the fact that our wealth as a nation and our individual well-being depend critically upon the environment. Importantly, it reinforced our understanding that we are currently running on a deficit – taking out more out than we are putting back.

The nation’s natural wealth supports our personal wealth and well-being. Our ecosystems, and the services they provide us, underpin our very existence. We depend on them to produce our food, regulate water supplies and climate, and break down waste products. Spending time in nature also makes us feel good and is known to have positive long-term impact on health and happiness. The Wildlife Trusts have been making the links between people, nature and a more sustainable economy for many years – it’s what we do, day in day out – and we see the benefits of this firsthand.

Unfortunately, despite all this knowledge at our collective fingertips, and the economic crisis which led many millions of people to question what they really valued in their lives, we have not yet broken free of the psychology that economic growth at all costs is the only answer. In fact, politicians have allowed (or encouraged) the nation to return to a self-reinforcing public conversation that consistently strengthens the focus of economic policy on the short-term need to grow GDP, whilst simultaneously underplaying the role nature can play in the provision of health care, high quality education and the essential basics of life.

Little profile is being given to the long-term dependence of these important areas of public policy on the recovery of a healthy natural environment. According to UNICEF the UK's children are the unhappiest in the developed world and in interviews they consistently state that having access to outdoor space to play will help them be happier. The Wildlife Trusts have been working with mental health charity Mind on ecotherapy projects where nature-based treatments are prescribed. Introducing just five people with mental health problems to ecotherapy saved the State more than £35,000 each year in costs for medication, Jobseeker’s Allowance, and healthcare. Investing in nature is a win win.

So tomorrow we need to see the Government starting to make better and more prominent links between our natural capital – our wildlife, landscapes and seas - and our social capital – happy healthy people - and reflecting this in how it chooses to invest public money. We have a massive opportunity to restore our natural environment and provide the solutions to societal problems, and to create a greener and fairer economy that has the natural environment at its heart.

Stephanie Hilborne OBE is The Wildlife Trusts' Chief Executive

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