WSP, one of the UK’s largest environmental consultancies, has supported a unique and comprehensive analysis published today by Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism.
Entitled Nature positive?, the research analyses public attitudes towards the value of the UK’s natural environment, how we access and engage with it, and the responsibility of different stakeholders for its protection and enhancement.
Biodiversity in the UK and around the world is declining at an alarming rate and should be viewed as an equally important and interconnected issue alongside the climate crisis.
Find a link to the report here.
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 government 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.
- PRIORITIES: 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.
- POLICY: 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%).
- Over half (59%) of the UK public prefers bans on products which are harmful to the natural environment, in comparison to 41% who prefer financial incentives from government for individuals to make more sustainable choices.
- RESPONSIBILTY: 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.
- Three in five (62%) believe charities and voluntary groups doing enough to protect and enhance the natural environment. Over two in five (44%) believe businesses are not doing enough to protect and enhance the natural environment.
- Majorities of the public believe government agencies (59%), national (58%) and local governments (52%) should have very high levels of responsibility for the protection and enhancement of the natural environment.
- ACCESS: Two-in-five (41%) would be willing to pay at least £5 to access the natural environment if the amount paid went towards its protection and enhancement. Over half (51%) of the public said they would not be willing to pay.
- BENEFITS: A majority of people value the mental wellbeing (60%) and improved physical wellbeing (54%) benefits of natural environments.
- If given £1,000 to spend on improving the natural environment, a majority of people (53%) would spend it on their own property or their local neighbourhood.
- DEVELOPMENT: 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.
- URBAN: Urban green spaces and parks are the most visited natural environment by the UK public, with 17% visiting daily and 32% visiting weekly.
- However, only one-in-ten (11%) said urban green spaces and parks were the most valuable natural environment in the UK, and they have a relatively low perceived quality, with a third (33%) labelling them as “Fair” and nearly one-in-ten (9%) as “Poor”.
- Over a third (36%) placed a high value on close proximity of public parks as a factor when considering where they would like to live.
- On the perceived benefits of incorporating nature into urban environments, increased biodiversity (23%) and reduced urban flooding (24%) ranked low.
Reflecting on the findings, Tom Butterworth, Technical Director for Natural Capital & 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.”
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.”
Jenny Merriman, Associate Director for Natural Capital & 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.
“Within the Environment Bill, councils and combined authorities will be required to boost biodiversity through measures such as Local Nature Recovery Strategies but will need additional resources and skills to be able to do so.”
David Symons, UK Director of Sustainability at WSP, said: “This study shows the public expects government to lead on protecting nature through regulation, policy and trade agreements. It also shows that there’s more government needs to do to engage the public. Government cannot do everything to address the nature and climate emergency – there will need to be significant changes in everyone’s behaviour.”
Professor Alastair Driver, Director of Rewilding Britain, commented: “An excellent, eye-opening report from Bright Blue showing clearly that we have some way to go to get the message across to the public that climate change and biodiversity loss are critically entwined with economic resilience and should be top of everyone's "biggest worries" list. Not that we should be gloomy about this - we know what to do to tackle these problems - we "just" need to get our act together and make it happen, before the problem becomes irreversible.”
Dan Williams, UK PR Manager, WSP
[email protected] / 07341 681 673
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