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'Nature Cannot Wait': UK Youth For Nature On The State Of Biodiversity

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'Nature Cannot Wait': UK Youth For Nature On The State Of Biodiversity

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UK Youth for Nature's Co-Director Talia Goldman writes about the state of nature in the UK and what needs to happen to save it.

Find out how you can help.

Francesca Brooking

Mon 8 Aug 2022

The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world (189th in the world, to be exact).

That means we’re in the bottom 10% of countries in the world for biodiversity - for the amount and variety of plant and animal life in our ecosystems and habitats.

People often react to this figure in shock.

We have, after all, always thought of ourselves as a nation of nature lovers - what with the likes of David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, Charles Darwin, and a nation full of avid bird watchers to show for ourselves.

Map of the UK drawn in the sand on a beach

50ft sand drawing of key British species on Scarborough beach

Image Sand in Your Eye

The UK is home to an incredible number of unique ecosystems, habitats, and species.

From Sefton coast sand dunes and endangered Essex oyster beds, to the fragments of the Atlantic coastline’s temperate rainforest, vast mudflats vital for overwintering migratory birds, and 85% of the world’s chalk streams, found in Southern England.

We live in four nations full of variety.

And yet -

That variety is struggling.

Industry, building, and the intensification of agriculture have led to the degradation of our nations’ ecosystems.

Our waters are polluted, forests have disappeared, peatlands and wetlands are drying out. 41% of the UK’s species are declining with 13% at risk of national extinction.

Protecting and restoring nature is essential for mitigating climate change.

We need it for our physical and mental health, the long-term resilience of our societies, and so much more.

But the importance of nature - of the fantastic and varied, barren and unhealthy ecosystems that exist across our nations - is often little understood or ignored.

Nature in the UK is in dire need of greater protections, investment in restoration, and impactful policymaking - immediately.

Two chalked on birds on a wall

UK Youth for Nature collabroated chalked pictures of wildlife in urban settings that will eventually get washed away

Recognising interlinked crises

Looking ahead, there’s a lot that needs to happen this year to make lasting positive change.

Critical to achieving this change will be recognising that the climate and nature crises are fundamentally interlinked. You can’t solve one without addressing the other.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change 26th Conference of Parties (COP26), which was hosted by the UK in Glasgow in November 2021, catalysed this recognition on a global scale.

It was the first time nature had been a key agenda item at the climate conference.

Here we saw huge high-level commitments to saving nature and financing its recovery (although watch this space to see if this goes beyond high-level commitments).

And then this year, the campaign group Zero Hour! successfully led the tabling of a new Climate & Ecology Bill.

The Bill would write this recognition into UK law and commit the UK Government to halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030.

It recently had its second reading in the House of Lords, so we'll be watching this one carefully to push for domestic legislative change.

A mural depicting flowers and trees outside on a lawn
“The Conservative Party leadership election is set to be a watershed moment for climate and nature”

2022 - The Broad Political Landscape

1. UN Convention on Biological Diversity 15th Conference of Parties (COP15)

2020 was supposed to be the most important year for nature (with a number of significant conferences and international decision points planned). Then it was 2021. Now it’s a little bit of 2022.

COP15 is finally taking place in December in Montréal - after much uncertainty and many date changes.

It's important because the conference will set 10-year global biodiversity targets.

The UK failed 14/20 of the last targets (the Aichi targets) that were set in 2010.

As one of the world's wealthier and supposedly influential nations, all environment-concerned voices will be expecting high ambition from the UK.

Whilst international targets are important - it's essential that, whatever the UK agrees, this gets enshrined in UK law.

If the Climate & Ecology Bill proceeds further into Parliament, this will be a major source of advocacy action next year.

A chalked image of a rabbit on Belfast Lagan Gateway

All eyes will be on the UK government to ensure they meet their nature commitments at COP15

2. Leadership election

The Conservative Party leadership election is set to be a watershed moment for climate and nature.

The new leader's stance on issues such as net zero and the climate crisis, nature-friendly farming reforms, or the survival of significant EU nature legislation such as the Birds and Habitats Directive could be world-defining.

A lot could change with the new leader. COP15 will be in their first 100 days, providing an ideal opportunity for them to publicly show up for nature.

However, inadequate questioning about the climate crisis during the leadership debates and candidates’ refusal to prioritise net zero does leave us wavering. With this in mind, we'll be watching key cabinet appointments.

Will the DEFRA Secretary of State continue to pursue nature-friendly farming? Will the Chancellor see the value in funding nature protection and restoration?

We’ll be watching with a keen, critical, and hopeful eye.

Youth for Nature stall at the Natural History Museum in London

UK Youth for Nature have three campaigns running this year

UK Youth for Nature

We are UK Youth for Nature.

UK Youth for Nature (UKY4N) is the UK’s leading youth movement calling for urgent political action to address the nature crisis.

We’ve been on a mission since 2019 to mobilise and empower young people to campaign for political change on nature across all four nations of the UK.

We believe in the power of art and visual media to engage people in our campaigns.

Prioritising impactful, creative, live and digital campaigns, along with more traditional tactics like letter writing, we work with organisations around the UK to communicate our demands and asks in a way that leaves a lasting impression.

When we campaign, we seek to bring the credibility of our aims and the importance of the UK’s nature right to the heart of politicians and political representatives.

Through young people’s actions, platforming and uniting youth voices, and training the next generation of environmental leaders, we are fighting for a more nature-filled future - and we want change now.

A mural featuring birds and wildlife on a wall in Manchester
“We’re calling on governments across all four nations to set a target of 2025 to halt all nature loss in the UK”

Getting into the detail - 3 campaigns for change

Reflecting on the need for powerful youth voices in the fight for nature, we're launching three campaigns this year.

These campaigns will focus on issues for long-term change: high ambition at a local, regional, and national level; nature-friendly farming reform; and cleaning up our rivers.

All for the sake of our health, our food security, addressing climate change, and restoring our natural world.

Not a small task at hand. But we’ll be tackling these issues with fierce ambition and creativity.

A chalked mural of a hedgehog at Belfast Lagan Gateway

Nature cannot wait

1. Nature cannot wait

If UKY4N were to have a battle cry - this would be it. This is the headline that needs to be in bold size 26 Arial font on, well, everything.

In March 2022, we joined forces with sand artists Sand In Your Eye, RSPB, and others to transpose this battle cry into a visual piece.

On Scarborough Beach, we created a 50ft image in the sand depicting 4 incredible British species: oak, curlew, salmon, and beaver.

Whilst we watched the drawing get washed away by the tide the message was clear: nature cannot wait.

As we get closer to COP15 in December, we’ll be drawing a more metaphorical line in the sand.

We’re calling on governments across all four nations to set a target of 2025 to halt all nature loss in the UK, and to put it into recovery by 2030. And we’re not alone in this.

We’ll be joining other major NGOs in their call for the Government to: halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity by 2030; protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030 in a fair and effective way; set 2030 targets that will reduce the negative pressures humans put on nature globally by 50%; lead by example and hold countries accountable for their actions; and make sure communities and empowered to make this a reality.

There is a multitude of stories to tell. Of species and ecosystems that have found ways to adapt and thrive - and those that have vanished.

Seven people from Youth for Nature standing on a beach wearing yellow t-shirts

UK Youth for Nature are fighting for the UK's biodiversity

2. Silent spring

Rachael Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring is often credited with heralding the start of the environmental movement.

In particular, it zeroed in on the devastating impact of synthetic pesticides on nature and on our health. 60 years later, not much has changed.

Actually, the state of nature is a lot worse.

Insects (other than bees) are often left out of conversations about nature loss - but they’re actually pretty amazing (if you don’t believe us, check out this virtual exhibition celebrating British insects!).

They are a cornerstone of global food supply for humans and countless other species.

Roughly 80% of the human population regularly consume insects and approximately 75% of the crops we grow rely on them for pollination.

Insectivorous birds (birds that rely on insects as a food source) like the Cuckoo and Nightingale have declined by 77% and 93% respectively.

To save UK nature, we need to look to our insects.

Agriculture and chemical use, urbanisation, invasive species, and climate change are the primary causes of insect decline.

We need to catalyse change on all these causes at all levels - local, regional, national - if we’re going to have any impact over the next few years.

Underwater mural on the side of a building

The movement is campaigning to save UK insects

Action here needs to include:

Nature-friendly farming reform

Farmland covers around 70% of the UK and has had the biggest impact on wildlife.

We need to work with farmers, not demonise them. Having a sustainable farming system in the UK is vital to our food security.

We also need to support and recognise farmers for the public benefits they can provide with nature-friendly practices.

Reducing pesticide and fertilizer use by at least 50%

Drastically reducing pesticide use and supporting farmers with adopting non-chemical methods will help tackle one major agricultural practice that seriously impacts nature.

The Government is planning on publishing a long-awaited Chemicals Strategy this year, and we need it addresses agricultural pollution from chemicals.

Join Silent Spring Week and hear keynote speakers on insect decline

Image Culture Liverpool

Giving nature the space and the opportunity to thrive

Prioritising making space for nature at a local and city level will continue to be important for changing attitudes and behaviours, and can influence real change.

For example, local councils introducing a glyphosate ban, or communities committing to no more months can lead to more change than meets the eye.

We’ll be running Silent Spring Week from the 26th September - 2nd October.

A week full of workshops to educate and upskill young people on the key issues we’re facing this year.

There’ll be a keynote on insect decline and why you should care about it, an introduction to policymaking and nature policy in the UK, a panel on tackling barriers to inclusive action on nature, a photography masterclass, and lots more.

Mural of flowers on the side of a house in Nottingham
“Farmland covers around 70% of the UK and has had the biggest impact on wildlife”

3. Waste in the willows

We're embarking on a quest to make rivers just as iconic as the bee when it comes to public recognition of nature decline. To save nature, we need to clean up and restore our rivers.

Our rivers today are a chemical cocktail.

Only 14% are in good ecological health and they all drastically fail to meet chemical standards. This is putting both freshwater ecosystems and public health at risk.

The two main causes of freshwater pollution are wastewater and agricultural pollution.

In support of our Silent Spring campaign, we’ll be digging into the details of what’s really in our rivers and campaigning for the river-friendly practices that are needed to make long-lasting change.

Watch this watery space.

Girl standing in front of a pond in a winter coat

UK Youth for Nature's Talia Goldman writes about the state of nature

Take action for the planet

Things you can do today:

  • Write to your MP - talk to them about nature-friendly farming reform, chemicals, agricultural pollution, and halting and reversing biodiversity loss. Tell them what you care about and what’s important to you locally. Even better, get a group of people together to write on the same issue

  • Talk to your local council and make a difference for the nature you live in - resources about how to do that here

  • Want to do something at home? Get vocal, get building, get involved, and get gardening! More ideas on how to do that here

  • Know any farmers? Start a collaborative conversation about what obstacles they're facing and why nature is so important.

  • Aged 16-35? Join our Organising Team! We have so many exciting, creative plans and we’d love to hear from you.

Follow us and get in touch on our Instagram or Twitter (@ukyouth4nature) or email us at [email protected] to find out more.

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