A Nature Recovery Network
The Wildlife Trusts believe in a future Britain where nature is a normal part of childhood and where wildlife thrives across the landscape. Where our urban spaces are green jungles and our seas are bursting with life. Where seeing a hedgehog is an every day experience.
Here are our proposals for a Nature Recovery Network to put space for nature at the heart of our farming and planning systems; to bring nature into the places where most people live their daily lives. We need new laws, including an Environment Act passed by the Westminster government, to ensure this happens. In it, local Nature Recovery Maps would be produced to achieve key Government targets for increasing the extent and quality of natural habitats, turning nature’s recovery from an aspiration to a reality.
If you could travel forward in time, and visit your home town two decades from today, the last thing you’d expect is that people would feel sorry for you.
It might be hard to work out why at first. Of course, there are little differences, but each one doesn’t seem that strange on its own. The air is cleaner, and the hubbub of vehicle noise has almost vanished from the streets. Nearly all buildings seem to have green roofs, or even green walls. Housing estates now come with green arteries, many of them incorporating old hedgerows and trees. Farm fields have colourful wildflower strips running alongside, or ponds, or thick hedges. There are more hedgehogs, swallows and housemartins, and a lot more insects.
Finally, you realise what it is. The people. They simply look healthier and happier, more willing to talk. There’s less stress and anxiety than there used to be. Children especially seem to understand that the natural world is the foundation of our wellbeing and prosperity; that we depend on it, and it depends on us.
Which is, after all, how it is.
Housing estates now come with green arteries: hedges, trees
The UK today is a human-dominated landscape. Most original habitats have gone, and natural ecosystems are fragmented. Woods, meadows, ponds and other places with lots of wild plants and animals are getting smaller, fewer, more polluted, and more cut-off from each other. Most of our plants and animals are declining. One in ten face extinction.
Given the pressure on land for food, roads and housing, this is not surprising. However, our separation from nature has led to other unintended negative effects.
Our lifestyles are unsustainable and overlook the value of natural systems. We need healthy soil to grow food in, clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and green space for exercise and relaxation. No one disputes this – yet our farming and planning systems have often taken us in the opposite direction.
Wildlife can be brought back when the will and the space is there. Previous generations lived with clouds of butterflies, snowstorms of moths, and hedges shaking with dense flocks of farmland birds.
We need to decide what kind of future we want – wilder, or not?
People vs nature: the disconnect
Askham Bog: a familiar tale
An ancient bog on the outskirts of York, Askham was one of The Wildlife Trusts’ first nature reserves. It is a unique place, thousands of years old, and teeming with specialised wildlife. But it faces problems that are common to nature reserves all over the country. It is already bordered by a golf course, a landfill site, a major road and railway. Now it is at risk of being sealed off completely from the landscape around it.
Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has fought off two applications to build on its last remaining boundary.
Wildlife and natural systems joined up, and working, everywhere
A Nature Recovery Network is a joined-up system of places important for wild plants and animals, on land and at sea.
It allows plants, animals, seeds, nutrients and water to move from place to place and enables the natural world to adapt to change. It provides plants and animals with places to live, feed and breed.
It can only do this effectively if, like our road network, it is treated as a joined-up whole.
Our vision for a Network
Making space for nature to meet the needs of wildlife and people
Nature conservation in the last century succeeded in protecting some vital wildlife sites. But wildlife has still declined.
Protected wildlife sites alone cannot meet the needs of wildlife or our society. To achieve that, we also need to provide effective protection for the many other places in the landscape that are still rich in wildlife despite the many pressures they face.
And we must invest time, effort, commitment and money into bringing wildlife back across a far wider area – stitching back together Britain’s tattered natural fabric of wild land.
Every space in Britain must be used to help wildlife.
Sir David Attenborough
We need to create a Nature Recovery Network that extends into every part of our towns, cities and countryside, bringing wildlife and the benefits of a healthy natural world into every part of life. Letting flowers bloom along road verges, installing green roofs across city skylines, planting more street trees to give people shady walks in the summer, encouraging whole communities to garden for wild plants and animals.
A network that brings wildlife into every neighbourhood would also provide fairer access to nature for people. Studies have shown the benefits of living close to nature, but many people are deprived of these benefits.
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Major roads are impassable barriers for many species
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Green bridges allow wildlife to shift as the climate changes
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Many streets are now sealed under tarmac and concrete
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Plants and trees improve the street atmosphere and help reduce flooding
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The sheer mass of concrete in cities heats them up in the summer
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Green roofs and spaces absorb heavy rain and cool things down
Our public spaces
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Two-thirds of amenity grassland is close-mown
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But research demonstrates benefits of meadows to people and wildlife
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Grazing on riverbanks erodes soils and destroys water vole habitat
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Simply fencing off the stream bank allows the plants to return and stabilises the bank
How to make the network
To work towards a wilder Britain that is beneficial to people and wildlife we need the laws, the tools and the people to do it.
1. An Environment Act
We need a new Environment Act, passed by a Westminster Parliament. This would commit future governments to increasing the diversity and abundance of our wildlife, making it a bigger part of everyone’s daily lives; and to improving the health of our air, soils, rivers, seas, and consequently, people.This Act would build on the foundations of existing wildlife laws. It would be about nature’s recovery and rebuilding society’s connection to the natural world. It will need to ensure that regulation, investment, public spending and practical action work effectively together.
2. Nature Recovery Maps
Building a Nature Recovery Network requires detailed information: where wildlife is abundant or scarce; where it should be in future; which places are most important; and where there is opportunity for positive change. The critical tool is a Local Nature Recovery Map. Government must require Local Authorities to publish these maps, which would identify areas where the greatest benefit for wildlife and people can be achieved. They would focus and co-ordinate effective action, funding and regulation.
3. The people to make it happen
People and organisations from all corners of society will need to be called upon make space for nature. This will include land managers (such as farmers and foresters), developers and investors, public bodies and regulators. All of us have a role to play. We can help by taking action for, and providing space for, wildlife where we live and work.
In some places the actions we need for a better future are already happening. From farming and how we use our seas, to allowing the wild to flourish to making space for nature where we live, there are so many ways we can help nature recover. For more detail on the following case studies, read our report.
River Aire, Yorkshire
Long-term study reveals another way to spend farm subsidies. For a similar cost to today’s subsidy system, public benefits would massively increase: more wildlife habitat, improved flood prevention, a healthier population, climate change mitigation, new woodlands and sustainable food production.
Seas need networks too. The Wildlife Trusts propose a national Marine Strategy to provide an overarching plan, which is made concrete in Regional Sea Plans (RSPs) and a network of Marine Protected Areas. The Irish Sea, a complex ecosystem with many competing interests, is one such area that would benefit from an RSP.
Six years of research reveal a trove of linked habitats. A study by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has shown the nature recovery potential of road verges. Between 2009 and 2015 the Trust trained and coordinated volunteers to search 4,800 miles of the county’s verges for wildflowers. This resulted in better protection for 150 miles of verges, amounting to 200 hectares of wildflower-rich grassland.
A development making space for nature among 4,800 new homes. The centre of the site is Kidbrooke Park, which will be designed to be a green corridor for people and wildlife – a natural area weaving between the new houses.
Read our report
Read 'Towards a Wilder Britain' our proposals for a Nature Recovery Network of joined-up habitats to help wildlife and people to thrive.
I want to get in touch about this, how can I do this?
We’d love to hear from you. Please send your comments to:
Dr Sue Young, Head of Land Use Planning and Ecological Networks