Survey: 8 in 10 Brits want nature jobs for those left unemployed by Covid-19

A 2019 review commissioned for Defra recommended the creation a National Nature Service 

Conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Wildlife and Countryside Link, the survey asked participants whether they would approve of the Government offering nature conservation and restoration jobs to those made redundant as a result of Covid-19, paid at the living wage level (£9.30 per hour, rising to £10.75 in London).

83% of those polled said they would approve of this move to some extent, with just 6% disapproving and the remainder saying they were unsure. Levels of approval were consistent between demographics such as age range, gender and which political party respondents supported at the 2019 general election. 

The survey also asked respondents whether they believed that the UK Government is doing enough to protect and improve nature, in line with the Conservative Party’s overarching commitment to ‘leave the environment better than they inherited it’ in 2010. Less than one-quarter (23%) said measures are sufficient, with those aged 18-24 the most sceptical about the impact of policy supports to date.

Moreover, more than half (54%) of the respondents said the Government is investing too little in tackling nature loss. The Summer Economic Update saw £3bn earmarked for energy efficiency improvements but just £40m to help local authorities and environmental charities create or extend nature conservation and restoration programmes.

The Wildlife and Countryside Link is using the funding to bolster its calls for the creation of a National Nature Service, which it has made repeatedly in recent months, including to the Treasury’s spending review. Such a service would create jobs at ‘shovel-ready’ conservation and restoration projects for unemployed people and those entering the workforce for the first time, in the immediate term and beyond.

“We’re in the midst of an economic crisis, an employment crisis and an environmental crisis – and they’re all interlinked,” Wildlife and Countryside Link’s chief executive Richard Benwell said. “Listening to what the public want and investing more in nature can help provide much-needed jobs and a boost for our wildlife and environment.”

The Link has argued that a National Nature Service would create or enhance more than 200,000 hectares of habitat, plant 4.5 million trees and sequester 100,000 tonnes of carbon. On the social side, it would increase access to green spaces in deprived communities and improve the financial and mental wellbeing of marginalised groups in particular.

More broadly, the organisation, along with dozens of the UK’s biggest wildlife groups, is calling for the Treasury to allocate £1bn annually in creating and restoring priority terrestrial and marine habitats and £3bn annually to improving environmental standards across the agri-food sector. It also wants a one-off package of £1bn to be spent on improving access to green spaces in low-income areas, building on the BEIS Committee’s ongoing inquiry into ‘levelling up’ regional economies.

It’s only natural

The past few weeks have been a busy time for nature-related announcements, research publications and comments, in anticipation of the UN’s Biodiversity Summit.

At the summit, many world leaders, including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have signed the UN’s Leaders Pledge for Nature – a precursor to the organisation’s ‘Paris-Agreement-style’ deal designed to avert Earth’s sixth mass extinction. The pledge binds signatories to protecting 30% of terrestrial haitats and the deal will extend this to freshwater and marine habitats also.

While the biodiversity benefit of reaching this target is clear, researchers have also outlined how it could deliver a $500bn economic boost and accelerate job creation in the conservation sector.

The measures announced at the summit have been measured with cautious optimism, but green groups have voiced concerns that many protected areas have been degraded in the past two decades and that commitments to restore them, and to prevent the same mistakes from recurring, are needed. Indigenous groups have also been calling for specific measures to ensure that national governments do not “land grab” when striving to meet the Pledge or Deal commitments.

Sarah George

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie