The National Trust is urging the Government to ensure its recovery plans support a greener economy, don’t sacrifice environmental progress and ensure more people have better access to nature-rich green space.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the National Trust’s Director-General Hilary McGrady said: “As the country starts to look beyond the immediate crisis, we need the sort of forward-thinking we showed after the second world war when the National Health Service, National Parks and a planning system to protect green space were created.
“The nation’s attention is rightly on dealing with the immediate and profound shock of Covid-19 to health, social fabric and livelihoods. But governments around the world are turning their thoughts to recovery. We must learn from the last financial crisis and opt for renewal over mere recovery. Anything else would fail a nation whose citizens have shown that their collaboration and collective action can defeat individualism, on a colossal scale.
“Delivering green infrastructure will create new jobs and makes economic sense – and there have been encouraging signs from Government.
“No doubt some will argue for quick, high-tariff fixes: new roads, building projects – in some cases cutting back on environmental checks, and spending to help deliver these. Others will want the Government to dilute its proposed new nature-friendly farming legislation. They must not win.
“If we sacrifice the environmental progress we’ve made, everyone will suffer.”
The National Trust is the UK’s largest conservation charity and one of hundreds of green charities based in the UK.
Ms McGrady continued: “We need spending that has a dividend for nature and reduces carbon emissions, and which boosts public health through clean air and nature recovery.
“We need a plan that invests in green growth and responds to what the lockdown has clearly shown: that people want and need access to nature-rich green space near where they live.
“Many living in urban areas have been hit by the poor provision on their doorsteps, following years of loss and sale of public spaces and playing fields. Budget pressures mean many of our local councils were already struggling to care for public parks.”
She also urged ministers to keep at the front of their minds, the vital importance of continuing the Government’s 25-year plan to improve the environment within a generation, and how its delivery depends on the support of conservation charities and green businesses and social enterprises.
“A sharp drop in income is now threatening the very existence of many of those that look after nature sites and create natural solutions to climate change around the country. They are in need of urgent, practical support,” Ms McGrady continued.
“We estimate that our losses could amount to £200m this year. We’ve had to make some incredibly difficult decisions to pause important conservation programmes to clean rivers, prevent upland flooding and improve soil. Our tree-planting schemes must not go the same way.
“Alok Sharma has written to retail and manufacturing businesses to thank them for their efforts and set out a programme of support.
“Ministers now urgently need to address nature, wildlife and environmental organisations with an immediate offer of support, and set out how the sector will contribute towards its green recovery plan.
“On a practical level, this means urgent and more creative solutions to climate change; more trees and naturalised rivers can help us deal better with the devastating, financially crippling flooding experienced by large sections of the country this year – a problem that will not go away.
“And a rapid shift to farming that regenerates our natural environment, improves biodiversity and captures and stores carbon remains one of our most urgent challenges.”
The Director-General also urged ministers to push forwards to grasp the opportunity for the creation of ‘green’ jobs through retro-fitting and scaling renewables, and transport solutions that deliver air quality and carbon reduction, rather than opting for a recovery based on more concrete and steel.
She concluded: “Our towns and cities can’t take any more destruction of habitat and biodiversity. We must grow back in green, not grey.
“The nation must also have fresh air and green space. Equal access to nature and fresh air is what the founders of the National Trust set out to achieve 125 years ago. It remains worth fighting for, today and always.”