From conservation to regeneration

Cllr Jonathan Elmer, National Spokesperson for the Natural World, outlines the newly reworked policies set to be proposed by the Habitats and Wildlife Working Group at the upcoming autumn conference.

Jonathan Elmer

The autumn conference should usher in a fundamental shift in policy for the green party.  The Habitats and Wildlife Working Group, after two years of work, are presenting a completely reworked chapter of policies that will replace our current wildlife and conservation policies.  

Until now, our policies in relation to the natural world have been separated across various thematic areas. This vital work aggregates, modernises and consolidates the party’s position on the Natural World, and correctly places it as of foundational importance to everything the party stands for.

A shift towards system-based regeneration 

As party spokesperson for the natural world, I couldn’t be prouder of what the Habitats and Wildlife Working Group have produced. It represents a fundamental shift in emphasis, a movement away from traditional site-based conservation to systematic regeneration of nature. This is of vital importance, as the former approach is clearly not working. A recent report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee concluded that since 1970, there has been a 68 per cent decrease in the population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish across the globe, and in the UK, 15 per cent of species are threatened with extinction. It also noted that of the G7 countries, the UK has the lowest level of biodiversity remaining.  

The approach of the UK and most other countries around the world to the natural environment has been that of conserving valuable habitats and making efforts to protect certain species. It has focused on protecting specific sites of wildlife importance, such as nature reserves, but success has been limited, as is evidenced, for example, by the overall declining number of UK Sites of Special Scientific Interest that are in a favourable condition. The current system has failed quite simply because nature doesn’t recognise artificial human boundaries – it exists as a system that is interconnected across landscapes and the planet, and whose stability is dependent on so many ‘off-site’ factors.  

The historic approach to conservation has left us with a legacy of protected sites whose condition varies. Most of the landscape between these protected sites is hostile to nature – it may be intensively farmed land, urban development, or a network of infrastructure. The current situation creates a high degree of vulnerability for wildlife because if living conditions change for the worst within a protected site, plants and animals are prevented from migrating to a location with more favourable conditions. Our changing climate is already resulting in different patterns of rainfall and temperature, but plants and animals are ‘stuck’, and, without a fundamental shift in approach, will be seriously threatened. Indeed, many already are. That is why the modern focus needs to shift from conservation to the regeneration of natural systems.  

The new Regeneration of Nature Chapter tackles the challenge of rebuilding natural systems head-on, and is based around the fact that all life on Earth is interdependent. The evidence shows this interdependence – alongside a decline in nature, there is a decline in human health, climate stability, and soil quality. Broken ecosystems plagued by our attacks upon them bring monocultures that degrade the variety of our world, and, alongside that, our resilience and longevity. It is a challenge to communicate this in a world where humans see nature as their servant, but this fundamental shift needs to happen, and, once again, it will be for the Green Party to take the challenge to the masses.  

So what needs to happen if we are going to shift towards regeneration? Our policy has the answer.

We must rebalance our relationship with nature. If this policy is to be successful, all people must support a cross-societal effort to regenerate nature. There is no way of denying that this is a huge ask! We will ensure people really understand what science is telling us about the consequences of collapsing natural systems, and get them motivated to regenerate nature in every human activity. In particular, the policy sets out how we will ensure the national curriculum supports direct experiences and learning about nature through outdoor activities designed to help pupils learn to care about the natural environment. It also sets out how we will ensure that everyone will have access to wild spaces near their home and place of work; that free courses and educational opportunities for all will be provided by local authorities, alongside incentives and rewards for community biodiversity initiatives; and that the role of nature in helping to improve human health and wellbeing is recognised through education and medical practice.

All land, aquatic and marine areas play a part in the regeneration of nature, and wildlife should become abundant everywhere – not just on wildlife sites. That’s not to say that the conservation of wildlife sites isn’t important, as they currently represent places where nature is hanging on. We need to grow these sites and connect them together so that wildlife can once again move and flourish across the landscape. We have to find ways of ensuring our farmland, cities, roads and industrial activities are completely compatible with nature. Amongst other things, this will involve phasing out intensive and destructive agricultural practices and replacing them with regenerative agroecology farming. This will also require stronger international and national laws for nature, including Ecocide, to deter further loss of ecosystems.

To coordinate this expansion and stabilisation of natural systems, we will create a Nature Regeneration Network. It will buffer and protect all existing sites for nature and map all opportunities for their expansion and connection. The whole network will have protected status and will be recognised in the national planning policy framework. Any activity that damages nature will be severely limited – no new roads, no new houses, just nature.  

The rights of nature to exist, persist, regenerate and evolve will be protected. The policy establishes that the Green Party will enact a Rights of Nature Act to recognise that ecosystems have rights and to give a voice to nature in law. We will establish an independent Commission for Nature to oversee the enforcement of the Right of Nature Act, by setting and monitoring short, medium and long-term targets for the regeneration of nature. The Government will be required by the Rights of Nature Act to properly fund the regeneration of nature.

The benefits of biological diversity are fairly shared with future generations. When we properly understand that Natural Systems are the foundation of all life on the planet, it’s obvious that placing them under serious threat represents gross intergenerational injustice. Our new policies will ensure all threatened species show a sustained recovery by 2030, removing the threat of extinction on our isles.  

Damage to nature caused through supply chains must be avoided or mitigated. A key contributor to natural system collapse is the extraction of resources, such as timber, which causes damage in one part of the world to satisfy the needs of consumers in some other distant location, perhaps the other side of the planet. The impacts are not directly experienced – we don’t see the harm we are causing.

The policy establishes the need to develop a new standard and reporting framework for companies to report on what they remove and put back into nature. The policy rejects the idea of allowing offsetting of impacts on nature or monetising biodiversity, as this will enable richer organisations to pay their way out of responsibilities.

My final word aims to excite your support for this policy and our party. The Green Party’s policies present an innovative solution to frontier challenges, and we have done this once again. This well-researched, stress-tested policy opens a different type of conversation, and can completely alter the way we approach the restoration of the natural world through politics and practice. We are again breaking new ground, pushing the limits of what’s possible and continuing to challenge the other parties to go further.  

Come to the conference, vote on our policy, and let’s help nature regenerate.