A recovery plan for nature in the West Midlands

Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) recently announced plans to develop a recovery action plan to help the regional economy bounce back quickly once lockdown restrictions start to be lifted.

The WMCA has the opportunity to show leadership here, forging a path out of this crisis by putting a resilient economy, healthy communities, and a thriving natural world at the heart of the recovery action plan. The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequalities in people’s access to nature and the need for bigger, better, more joined up areas that benefit wildlife and people.

We know that greenspace performs so many vital functions for people - cleaning air, combatting flooding and cooling cities as well as the well-studied  benefits to health and wellbeing which help to improve everyone’s lives. Access to greenspace can improve mental health, combat stress, increase productivity at work and lead to a healthier lifestyle.

The WMCA has a unique opportunity to design a recovery plan that places the natural environment at the heart of decision making, creating a more environmentally sustainable, resilient and socially equal future for everyone.

Grey heron. Bertie Gregory/2020VISION

Bertie Gregory/2020VISION

The West Midlands Combined Authority should look to

Create a more resilient local economy - Invest in infrastructure, technology and skills to generate thousands of new jobs that directly contribute to a climate-safe future. Exclude high-carbon infrastructure, such as road building and airport expansion, from being prioritised in public and private finance by putting every measure in the economic recovery package through a ‘net-zero test’.

Increase space for wildlife and people - Place the health and wellbeing of people and nature at the heart of the recovery by increasing access to nature-rich greenspace for everyone, as well as restoring and protecting our wild places.  Invest in nature-based projects, incentivise walking and cycling, and support sustainable food, farming and fishing.

Embed the environment into cross departmental decision making – The natural environment has the potential to add significant value to all sectors of the regional economy.  If managed correctly, the natural world can be an economic driver for a more sustainable world, reducing costs by providing natural solutions to modern day problems whilst at the same time generating economic revenue, creating jobs and making the West Midlands a better place to live.  The environment should not be seen as an afterthought or  a barrier to development.

Two thirds of Britons believe Climate Change to be as serious as COVID-19, and the majority want climate prioritised in economic recovery. We now have the mechanisms to assess the existing environmental value of an area and design how it can be enhanced if development occurs. The UK Government has highlighted in its 25 Year Environment Plan the need to develop a ‘Nature Recovery Network’ that enables us to map and then integrate, at a spacial scale, the need to create bigger, better and more joined up areas that allow wildlife to exist everywhere and bring people closer to nature. We urge the WMCA to be pioneering in its approach to economic recovery, show leadership and demonstrate that the experience of COVID-19 has changed society forever. This is our opportunity to create a new, sustainable future. We must seize it.
Ian Jelley
Director of Living Landscapes