Much work is being done at the moment to plan for a recovery from this crisis which sees better outcomes for people and nature. Framed around an idea of 'Build Back Better', partners are coming together to discuss what positives we have seen as a result of lockdown, that we would want to hang on to, and what negatives have become apparent, that we need to rectify.
The cynic in me imagines that society will return to normal quickly if actions are not taken to secure permanence to the changes in behaviours that have occurred.
Respondents to the LNP's Covid survey (launched in late April) saw an opportunity to capitalise on the fact that people are using their cars less. But in the week before the announcement of an easing of lockdown measures we saw an increase in traffic of 23% in Gloucestershire. Extension of rural broadband services are needed immediately if people in area not currently well served with internet access are to continue flexible working patterns. Pedestrianisation of appropriate areas in towns and cities should be trialed and enforced in the very short term, to encourage people, when they do start to return to more normal daily routines, to either work from home more, or use public or active travel to access services, places of work and shops. Installation of Green Infrastructure, such as tree planting in urban areas, can have the multiple benefits of making places more attractive to spend time, reducing the urban heat island effect, improving air quality, reducing flood risk AND sequestering carbon.
Many of the public's favoured and easily-accessible green spaces in the county are of extremely high nature value. Immediately following the announcement of the easing of lock-down measures, many of these sites were severely impacted by people coming in their hundreds, hungry for a dose of nature. One massive positive of lock-down has been the increased awareness of the importance of the natural environment to both physical and mental health. The natural environment sector has spent years trying to get people into nature, but this must be balanced with the well-documented and ever-increasing pressures on key sites from visitors. A strategy is needed where any new housing development that might conceivably increase such pressures on an area of high nature value must contribute to mitigating this effect, by funding the development of a new green space designed for people and nature, such as a regional park. The LNP is working hard to develop a plan for the designation of the Severn Vale Regional Park, which would see new wetland areas created, and be a magnet for people wanting to come and spend time in the outdoors.
A key issue that is highlighted in the Local Nature Partnership's COVID partners survey is a worry about levels of funding for the natural environment post-lockdown (see wordcloud below). An incredibly challenging financial environment will likely lead to recession, meaning less money all round, even given the increased strength of the case for investment in natural solutions. In this climate, an innovative response is required. The LNP is working hard to develop a Natural Capital Investment Strategy that can lever money from many different sources (including housing developers, Big Business, impact investors, charitable trusts, individuals and more) to invest in natural solutions such as woodland creation, and more green spaces for recreation, both close to where people live and work and in the wider countryside.
The LNP's survey was aimed at partners. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust have launched a survey of individuals in the county, to find out what they want post-lockdown. This will be a really useful source of information to guide decision making in the coming weeks and months. https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/MHP8ZXK
This crisis represents a massive challenge for everyone. The natural environment and climate sectors will be hard hit, and face sever challenges, but also recognise that there are significant opportunities. We must work hard, together, to come up with innovative solutions, at pace, in order to achieve the change we all want to see - a reversal of declines in biodiversity, better public health enabled by access to nature, and a reduction in carbon emissions. All of this is vital to securing a functioning, resilient local economy and the LNP works tirelessly to achieve these goals.