Nature needs to be at centre of policymaking, new research shows

The UK public wants nature at the heart of policymaking, according to new research published today (19.7.21) by the think tank Bright Blue with support from WSP.

A report entitled Nature positive? outlines the UK public’s attitude towards the value of nature and engagement with the natural environment. The research analyses public attitudes towards the value of the UK’s natural environment, how people access and engage with it and the responsibility of different stakeholders for its protection and enhancement. 

The report finds that, while support is high for current leading UK government policies to protect the natural environment both domestically and overseas, the UK public believes government and agencies are currently not doing enough. There is public support for new housing and infrastructure developments so long as they improve the natural environment, indicating support for the ‘biodiversity net gain principle’ included within the environment bill, which requires developers to ensure the natural environment be left in a better state than before.

The report also shows clear recognition of the benefits of nature from a mental and physical wellbeing perspective and a desire for local benefits from the natural environment. However, though urban green spaces and parks are the most visited natural environment by the UK public, they are perceived as relatively low value and quality.

Some of the key findings from the research include: -

  • Fewer than one in eight of the UK public (11%) claim that climate change or the natural environment are their single biggest concern.
  • Despite being a small personal concern, a third (33%) of people believe climate change should be the most important foreign policy priority for the UK government. Nature conservation is significantly less important at less than one in five (17%).
  • Plastic pollution was seen as the greatest threat to the UK’s natural environment (41%) followed by climate change (37%). Only 14% of the public perceived it to be a decline in plant and animal numbers.
  • The public strongly supports the leading domestic government policies to protect and enhance the natural environment. Protecting 30% of the UK’s land from environmental harm by 2030 is the most widely supported policy (75%), followed by a requirement for developers to enhance the natural environment when building new houses (74%).
  • Only a third (32%) of the public believes that local authorities are doing enough to protect and enhance the natural environment in the UK and this falls to 28% for the UK government. 
  • BA majority of people value the mental wellbeing (60%) and improved physical wellbeing (54%) benefits of natural environments. 
  • Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the public support a requirement for developers to enhance the natural environment when building new houses.
  • 72% of the public would be more likely to support new infrastructure development if the organisations constructing them are obliged to materially improve the local natural environment.

Reflecting on the findings, Tom Butterworth, technical director for natural capital and biodiversity at WSP, said: “Public support for infrastructure projects which improve the local natural environment is timely given recent amendments to the environment bill mandating biodiversity net gain to nationally significant infrastructure projects. 

“It will not be mandatory though until nearly 2024, giving us only six years to the 2030 target to reverse species decline. We need to be doing as much as possible as quickly as possible to protect and enhance nature and biodiversity, as time is short to realise these ambitions.”

Jenny Merriman, associate director for natural capital and biodiversity at WSP, said: “According to the polling, the public do not consider government to be doing enough to protect and enhance the natural environment. Local authorities have a pivotal role to play and public support was evident in the survey for money to be spent locally for nature protection. “

Patrick Hall, senior research fellow at Bright Blue and report author, commented: “The public strongly supports the government’s current policies to protect and restore the natural environment. However, the public expect to see the government and its agencies taking a higher level of responsibility than currently to conserve nature.

“The public marginally favours more interventionist policies for the protection of the natural environment over those which are financially incentivising. The public want to see higher fines for littering, minimum product standards, mandatory product labelling and bans on non-recyclable black plastic and non-flushable wet wipes.”

Click here to download the Nature positive? report.

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