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Remembering to nurture nature

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"I hope that, when it comes to dealing with the financial aftermath of Covid-19, we don’t forget the role that nature and the countryside is playing in helping us to stay healthy and happy during this difficult period. I also hope that we don’t decide, once again, that the conservation of these vital natural resources can wait until we have – according to the prevailing economic norms - put our economy back on its feet"

If I remember correctly, ecology is often described as the study of the interaction of organisms and their environment. As with many fields, the historic trend in ecological science (dominated by anthropocentric mindsets) was to see humans as somehow separate from this; naturally we sat on a pedestal above the rest of nature, and it was ours to command, dominate and exploit. More recently we have become more acutely (and accurately) aware of how closely we are integrated with and dependent on nature. This is formalised in concepts such as socio-ecological systems, and recognition that many of the benefits that we get from nature – derived from nature’s ecosystem services – are in fact co-produced by people and nature interacting.

When put like this, our connection to nature feels distant and abstract. What has this to do with everyday life? It’s hard right now, in our Covid-19 world, to say what everyday life is. But perhaps it’s in unprecedented times such as these that we find out just how dependent on nature we are, and not for material goods such as water, timber, or sheep. Many of us, during this period of lock-down, are keen to keep some kind of connection with nature as part of our daily routine. This isn’t, I’m sure, just because of the physical exercise value associated with a run or walk in a park or out in the countryside. We have increasing evidence of the psychological health benefits of interacting with nature – how it can help us deal with anxiety, stress and depression, benefits which are clearly timely given concerns about the psychological impacts of current isolation measures.

I worry though that, at a time when we are perhaps being made more keenly aware of how important nature is to all of us, the Covid-19 crisis will impact on efforts to deal with the global biodiversity crisis. As well as being intended as a key year for climate change, with COP26 for the UNFCCC originally scheduled to take place in Glasgow this autumn (but now postponed), it was also supposed to be a key year for global biodiversity, with the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) due in Kunming, also in the autumn. This vital meeting for the CBD, now also likely to be postponed, would have seen us assessing how well (or poorly) we’ve delivered against the most recent 10-year global biodiversity targets, set in Aichi in 2010.

A key challenge for nature conservation over the last decade has been a shortage of funding, caused in part by a focus on dealing with the fall-out from the 2008 financial crash, for example through a period of austerity here in the UK. This focussing on the health of the economy, with substantial detrimental impacts on funding available for nature conservation, was despite hopes raised during the financial crash that we would find a new economics, less focussed on GDP and more focussed on the delivery of wellbeing rather than wealth. Similar thoughts have been voiced during the current Covid-19 crisis, that perhaps we’ll realise or remember things other than work are important for our happiness, that there are better ways of working, and perhaps this is a chance to reconnect to some of the things that make life worth living.

Such thoughts are much easier for those of us leading a financially buffered middle-class lifestyle in a rich European country such as the UK. I understand the imperatives are saving lives and supporting businesses so that we can restart the economy at some point down the line. But I hope that, when it comes to dealing with the financial aftermath of Covid-19, we don’t forget the role that nature and the countryside is playing in helping us to stay healthy and happy during this difficult period. I also hope that we don’t decide, once again, that the conservation of these vital natural resources can wait until we have – according to the prevailing economic norms - put our economy back on its feet. Otherwise its ability to see us through future times of crisis will continue to be diminished.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author, and not an official position of the institute or funder.

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Printed from /blogs/ecologicalsciences/remembering-nurture-nature on 07/07/20 02:10:46 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.