Caroline Spelman is Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Since the publication of the groundbreaking National Ecosystems Assessment last week, we now know how to properly value the things that nature give us for free, and how to incorporate them into our decision making. On that basis, the Natural Environment White Paper, The Natural Choice, which I have launched this week, represents a unique opportunity for my generation to pass the environment on to the next in a far better state than we inherited it. We want to move from a net loss of nature to a net gain.
I am delighted to announce a competition to identify 12 Nature Improvement Areas, putting £7.5 million in to the initial phase. These areas will span across ecosystems – from the managed landscape to urban areas, to national parks – creating wildlife corridors and stepping stones to allow species space to flourish and move.
We are also supporting the development of Local Nature Partnerships. They will bring together all the interested parties in a local area to deliver environmental goals. They will ideally have strong links with Local Enterprise Partnerships to better inform decision making. Alongside this we will pilot the concept of biodiversity offsetting in the planning system, making development greener and meeting public aspiration to access green space. A new Green Areas Designation will allow local people to protect the green spaces in their local areas as part of their neighbourhood plans.
I am also delighted to announce a Natural Capital Committee which will advise government on the best way to protect our natural resources. It will report in to the Chancellor. Alongside this, we will work with the Office of National Statistics to fully include natural capital in the UK natural accounts for the first time. We will also be working alongside business to drive forward the green economy agenda. A new task force, chaired by Ian Cheshire, the CEO of Kingfisher, will look at the opportunities for UK businesses of expanding the market for green goods and payment for services which provide a benefit to the environment. This might be, for example, where water companies work with farmers to keep the water supply clean and free from run-off from fields.
Of course it’s not just about money. Nature has an intrinsic value – the ‘wow factor’ that you get when you walk into a bluebell wood. This cannot be underestimated, nor captured through traditional economics. Most people in the UK will want to protect nature because they simply like it. They enjoy seeing it, walking through it, living near it. They want their children to enjoy it. This is why the White Paper sets out measures to reconnect people with nature, to provide health benefits and greater opportunities for children to learn outdoors.
Finally, no White Paper on the natural environment would be complete without taking a look at our impact abroad. I have always made clear that I want the UK to play a leading role internationally, through our efforts to implement Nagoya, to support biodiversity initiatives in other countries through Darwin and International Climate Funds, green the CAP and reform the CFP, and promote the Green Economy. This vitally important work will continue.
Working with departments across government to draw the White Paper together, we have set out how to better protect and improve our natural environment, how to grow a greener economy, and how to capture all the benefits that nature can bring to our society. As Sir John Lawton himself said in his report last year, Government alone can’t do it all. But the 15,000 responses we received to the consultation on the White Paper show just how much people really do care about, and want to invest in, the natural environment around them. Working with all of you, we can fulfil the huge opportunity that The Natural Choice affords us.