Wildlife groups in the North East are challenging political parties to introduce new laws not only to protect nature, but also for the sake of people’s health and wellbeing.
The Nature and Wellbeing Act Green Paper – published by the national Wildlife Trusts movement and RSPB – sets out evidence which shows how much people need nature.
It offers measures to turn around the decline in our natural environment and generate economic and social benefits for people.
The charities have joined to launch a campaign called Act for Nature, as part of a movement of people and organisations who want to see the natural environment recognised for its true value to our lives.
The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB – which together have more than two million members – are calling for cross-party agreement to include legislation for nature and wellbeing in manifestos ahead of May’s General Election.
They warn the health of the economy and communities, education and our own wellbeing are inextricably linked to that of the natural world .
They say that inactivity and obesity are increasing; poor mental health is having a significant impact on wellbeing; many communities are facing flooding risks; and the economy continues to exploit the natural world in a way that can’t be sustained, damaging future prosperity.
Jim Cokill, director of Durham Wildlife Trust, said: “The messages in Act for Nature are common sense and I think people across the North East know that better than most.
“This region has experienced environmental destruction and the associated social problems, which is why there has been a massive programme of environmental restoration over the last 20 years.
“Many former colliery and industrial sites are now nature reserves, but the region still has more than its share of social and economic deprivation.
“The way to deal with that is to look at all the issues together. The natural environment is at the heart of that.”
Mike Pratt, Northumberland Wildlife Trust chief executive said: “The Green Paper provides powerful arguments for why we need urgent change.
“If we look after the natural environment, it will look after us and it can help solve some of society’s most expensive problems.
“We need new and visionary legislation to underpin the needs of 21st-century society in building a better relationship with nature – for people and wildlife. It’s vital that we have a joined-up approach for the recovery of wildlife and wild places, and to bring nature into everyday lives.
“Northumberland and Tyneside are particularly well blessed with countryside and urban green space which is of good quality – a ready-made landscape opportunity for people to utilise for improving their health – and our trust is developing a series of new programmes to help link people to these and gain relaxation, exercise and other benefits from being out in the open air in beautiful places, which naturally make us all feel better.”
Caron Henderson, RSPB community engagement officer for Tyneside, runs Nature of the North East, a project aimed at inspiring people in Newcastle and Gateshead about wildlife. She said: “Spending time outdoors, experiencing nature is hugely beneficial for physical and mental well being.
“Looking after our natural environment not only benefits our local wildlife but can help us to live healthier and happier lives.
“This is why the Nature and Wellbeing Act is so important.”
The Green Paper shows that the most deprived communities are 10 times less likely to live in the greenest areas, and fewer than one in 10 children regularly play in wild places, compared to almost half, a generation ago.