Written evidence submitted by RSPB (PEG0102)
The RSPB is the largest conservation organisation in Europe, with more than 1.2 million members, over 2,000 employees and around 12,000 volunteers. We own or manage 158,725 hectares of land on 220 reserves throughout the UK, including woodland, peatland, wetlands and grasslands which connect people to nature and are home to 80% of our most threatened bird species. Our reserves welcome visitors, with our larger centres providing facilities such as cafes, shops and education and family activities.
Nature should be at the heart of decision-making. The RSPB’s policy work covers a wide range of issues including sustainable land and marine management, agriculture, planning, climate change and nature. We undertake large-scale habitat restoration and nature conservation projects, often in partnership with public and private organisations to realise benefits for nature, the environment, society, local economies and future generations.
Response to relevant inquiry questions
What core/guiding principles should the Government adopt/prioritise in its recovery package, and why?
This moment presents an opportunity to rebuild the economy in a way that creates healthy communities and supports a thriving natural world. Poor decisions at this time risk exacerbating the environmental crisis and baking in risk to the economy. The RSPB urges the Government to:
The benefits of this approach are clear; reduced exposure to the risks of environmental breakdown; economies and communities which are resilient to shock; a healthy, thriving population; and natural assets that can sustain us long into the future.
How can the Government borrow and/or invest to help the UK deliver on these principles?
In partnership with Wildlife and Countryside Link we have identified a pipeline of 330 “shovel-ready” habitat restoration projects spread right across England, that could bring millions of pounds of investment and create thousands of jobs into largely rural communities. These projects could support around 10,000 jobs in the environment sector and wider supply chains. If the government delivers on its ambition in the 25-year plan for the environment of half a million hectares of restored habitat, this could mean a further 15,000 jobs in other similar projects.
The RSPB projects in that pipeline could lock away 200,000 tonnes of additional carbon, with an economic value of £70million. For example, our Haweswater Change Project (a partnership between the RSPB and our landlords United Utilities) would, with the right funding and changes in land management, transform the Lake District landscape, restoring upland habitats such as broadleaf woodland, montane scrub, upland heath, montane heath, blanket bog and valley mire. The project would reduce flood risk, provide more sustainable and resilient livelihoods for local farming communities, and the woodland creation element alone would help sequester 70,000 tonnes of carbon.
Whether the government should give a higher priority to environmental goals in future support?
The necessary lockdown measures have changed our way of living, re-forging lost connections with communities, food systems and nature. They have brought us cleaner air and uncongested streets – prompting many of us to reimagine the future. Many people have sought solace in nature to lift our spirits and keep us healthy. But we are losing this priceless natural asset and we need to take its protection more seriously.
And the public agrees. Recent polling carried out for us by YouGov demonstrates the value that people have placed on nature in this time of crisis. It also shows they see it as a priority for the future we build from this moment.
Whether the Government should prioritise certain sectors within its recovery package, and if so, what criteria should it use when making such decisions? What conditions, if any, should it attach to future support?
Investment in natural capital and green infrastructure is vital for our long term prosperity and resilience. It provides essential services such as water purification and protection against flooding, as well as providing natural resources and contributing to tourism. We also need to ensure that our natural capital base is not threatened by damaging developments. Where possible investment in nature and green infrastructure should be given precedence over traditional brown or grey infrastructure.
Where it is needed industrial support and investment should be stress-tested against their impacts on nature and climate and must depend on companies committing to high nature and climate protection standards. Measures taken now to stimulate the economy must not undermine long term national objectives.
How can the Government best retain key skills and reskill and upskill the UK workforce to support the recovery and sustainable growth?
In partnership with other nature NGOs we have developed a proposal for a National Nature Service – an employment and training scheme to boost jobs and skills for tens of thousands including young people and the disadvantaged in both rural and urban settings. In addition to boosting jobs and skills the NNS will fast track nature recovery and climate change mitigation. Projects delivered under the NNS will level up access to nature, address social and health inequalities and reverse the decline of nature. This scheme draws inspiration from the success of the 1930s US Civilian Conservation Corps and the 1970s UK Manpower Services Commission, and has been updated to be relevant to the present UK context.
With the right investment from government the NNS will contribute to reducing health inequalities and save approximately 1,328 lives per year and billions of pounds for the NHS, as well as boosting productivity through a happier, healthier workforce and delivery of ecosystem services such as improved air quality. It will support rural and urban economies across the UK, lock away millions of tonnes of carbon and protect people and businesses from future natural disasters.
How should regional and local government in England, (including the role of powerhouses, LEPs and growth hubs, mayoralties, and councils) be reformed and better equipped to deliver growth locally?
Local authorities will be an important partner in the NNS, as well as in our broader efforts to protect nature. The development and delivery of Local Nature Recovery Plans and the national Nature Recovery Network will rely on local authorities. These institutions should be recognised for the vital deliver partner for nature recovery that they are and should be funded and resourced accordingly.
Many of the problems planning authorities face – and in particular the speed of decision making – aren’t really about the tools and policies, but about their implementation. Local authorities have been the victims of many cuts, especially to their planning services and to specialist roles such as ecologists. Finding ways to resource the right skills and capacity will be crucial to facilitate good development under an efficient system.
What opportunities does this provide to reset the economy to drive forward progress on broader Government priorities, including (but not limited to) Net Zero, the UK outside of the EU and the ‘levelling up’ agenda?
The Covid-19 crisis and lockdown have highlighted inequalities in health, the quality of our living environments, and access to nature and green space. We need to invest in improving space for people and nature to ensure that everyone has a good quality living environment and access to high quality green spaces, and in improving our Natural Health Service, thereby tackling health inequalities and reducing pressure on the NHS. This should form an important part of the ‘levelling-up’ agenda and will help to prepare us for future crises and lockdowns.
Place the health and well-being of people and nature at the heart of the recovery by increasing access to nature-rich green space for everyone, as well as restoring and protecting our wild places on land and sea. There is significant scientific basis for the role of nature in promoting health and wellbeing, a clear incentive to invest in nature-based projects, promote active travel, and support sustainable food, farming and fishing systems that promote the recovery of nature.
To lock in the benefits of a green recovery for the long term we must tighten the laws that ensure the natural world is protected not degraded, by ensuring the swift passage of environmental legislation, especially that needed as we leave the EU Transition phase. This will protect our natural capital base, which is essential for our long term prosperity and wellbeing.
This is an opportunity to define Global Britain as a fundamentally green project. The UK should lead the world in tackling the climate crisis and restoring nature by bringing global leaders together to plan for a green and sustainable recovery in the run-up to the United Nations COP26 event in Glasgow next year, the UK’s Presidency of the G7 in 2021, and the equally important CBD COP15.
This crisis should serve as a reminder that our economy and the health of society are dependent on a flourishing natural world. There are difficult choices ahead as we take the big decisions that shape the kind of world that we build out of this crisis. If we choose right, we can recover better and build the climate-safe, nature-rich, healthy world that we all want and need.
What lessons should the Government learn from the pandemic about actions required to improve the UK’s resilience to future external shocks (including – but not limited to – health, financial, domestic and global supply chains and climate crises)?
The current crisis has exposed the fundamental importance of making our economy resilient to major shocks and has highlighted the globally interconnected nature of our economic, social, and ecological systems. There is a clear need to plan better for risk. Environmental risks have not been properly addressed and could create a highly damaging series of economic shocks - the World Economic Forum considers the five greatest risks to the global economy are all environmental. There are green solutions to these risks that could help to grow our economies and also address the vulnerabilities within our society.
A key environmental risk is flooding. Our climate is changing, with increased extreme weather and rainfall. Around 2.4 million people currently live in immediate flood risk areas in England, with approximately one in six homes at risk of flooding. Natural flood management (NFM) is a nature-based solution to protect, restore and replicate the natural functions of catchments, floodplains and rivers. A wide range of techniques are available to reduce flood risk for communities downstream by slowing and reducing flow, whilst also achieving other benefits. These include restoring peatland, constructing leaky dams, re-meandering rivers, allowing rivers to spill out temporarily onto farmland in floodplains, targeted woodland planting, re-introducing beavers, installing sustainable urban drainage (SuDs), wetlands and green infrastructure, improving floodplain connectivity, and delivering managed re-alignment schemes on the coast.
NFM can also reduce soil erosion and sedimentation of lakes and rivers, increase carbon sequestration, improve water quality, reconnect rivers with species-rich floodplain wetlands, enhance community recreation opportunities, and create new habitat to help restore biodiversity. NFM can also play a role in tackling the climate crisis, by increasing the capacity of the land to sequester carbon.
The RSPB have been involved in a variety of successful NFM and managed realignment projects on the coast, including Wallasea Island, where we created wildlife-rich saltmarsh, mudflats and lagoon habitats whilst controlling water levels. We have also undertaken projects in-land, including Dove Stone, where we have restored a large area of peatland in partnership with United Utilities to increase biodiversity, carbon sequestration rates, and reduce flood risk downstream as the peats’ ability to soak up water is improved.
The natural systems that underpin our economies and our societies are global and interdependent so we must take a global approach to the recovery. The recently published Riskier Business report highlights that the growing pressure placed on the natural world by the UK’s overseas land footprint is increasing our exposure to risks such as pandemics from zoonotic diseases and unsustainable supply chains. Now is the time to change the way we legislate, operate, and trade, to ensure that our supply chains do not drive further destruction of nature.
This crisis is an immense challenge for people’s mental wellbeing, and many have found resilience through nature. For this reason, wellbeing and resilience of the population should be a central goal of recovery. It has also become clear through this crisis that some parts of society have unequal access to the benefits of nature. Access to nature is an effective health risk mitigation strategy so for a truly resilient recovery nature rich green space needs to be available to all. The success of our recovery from this crisis should not be measured solely by GDP growth. The value of wellbeing and community resilience during times of economic uncertainty is clearer than ever and we should take into account the wellbeing of the nation as we assess the impact of our decisions at this time.
What role might Government play as a shareholder or investor in businesses post-pandemic and how this should be governed, actioned and held to account?
Government needs to lead the way in investing in our green recovery. It should be the lead investor, facilitator and regulator of a system designed to maximise the benefits of nature of everyone. This reflects the responsibility and capacity that rightly lies with Government. However, over time there are opportunities to leverage in more private investment, providing government puts the right policy frameworks in place to facilitate this investment.
The more mature US natural investment markets employ 220,000 people directly in the ‘restorative economy’, equivalent to the US timber, coal and steel industries combined, with total GDP contributions of over $25bn p.a. The UK has the opportunity to go further and create a large number of jobs across a range of skill sets.
The RSPB has identified several opportunities to expand private sector investment rapidly and to a large scale – alongside the principles and controls needed to ensure this finance is effective in delivering public benefit. These opportunities could facilitate significant investment from domestic and international investors into the UKs natural assets.
The specific policy opportunities identified here (with indicative private investment amounts that they could attract) are for:
Government has the opportunity to scale up these areas of investment – through approved new interventions such as the Natural Environment Investment Fund, and strategic use of existing commitments.
Key conditions will need to be in place before nature conservation can attract greater private investment and use it effectively. Environmental NGOs can catalyse and deliver private investment in nature, but only if these safeguards are in place and environmental benefits are internalised for investors. These conditions can be put in place quickly, without major changes to existing strategies:
Demand risks need to be reduced. Government must provide clarity on the outputs it will guarantee to fund, indemnify or support a market for. Long-term investments in nature will only happen if there is clear demand.
Strategic priorities must be established and maintained. Government will need to channel private sector investment into meeting national and local priorities, and must ensure nature strategies are detailed enough to incentivise and track private delivery.
Existing environmental principles must be met. Without protections such as the mitigation hierarchy, private-sector incentives could increase environmental risks and the UK will miss the opportunity to develop innovative, exportable solutions that meet international standards. There must be no reduction of existing regulatory requirements, standards and policies, and investment must be compatible with these.
Delivery must be measurable. Measurable output targets with appropriate metrics will be needed to guide private investment and create functioning markets.
Contracts and regulations must be met. Poor performance against baseline regulations and public-sector contracts creates significant delivery risk for private-sector investments in nature, if outcomes are undermined by bad practice elsewhere. To avoid this risk, public-sector controls and enforcement may need to be stepped up in areas such as pollution control.