Scientists tell us that we are currently living in and presiding over the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, a period defined as a loss of 75% of species. This mass extinction is caused by humans – the others have all been volcanoes and meteors. In the last 50 years, the abundance of nature on our planet has declined by 60%. In human terms, this is the equivalent of every human dying in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. So far, most of this devastation has been caused by poor land use (e.g. cutting down forests, intensive agriculture) and over-exploitation (e.g. taking too many fish). Add to this climate change and our planet and its people faces a catastrophe that will make COVID19 look like a walk in the park.
Well, these are global issues, nothing to do with the UK, surely? Wrong. The UK is now one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. We come in 189th place out of 218 countries. In the UK, 60% of all monitored species in the UK – that’s across birds, bugs, bees, butterflies, frogs – are in decline and 10% are at risk of extinction. And these statistics exclude the footprint we choose to export elsewhere. When you eat a biscuit, it likely contains palm oil. Unwittingly you may have helped just kill an Orang Utan. And when you next have bacon for breakfast, spare a thought for the Amazon, as your UK reared pig may well have been fed on imported soy grown on what used to be pristine rainforest.
Well, these are national issues, surely not in Suffolk? Again, wrong. When did you last hear a Cuckoo? Or a Turtle Dove purring? Or see a Hedgehog in your garden? Words like Acorn, Adder, Bluebell and Kingfisher have been removed from the Children’s Oxford English Dictionary and replaced with gems such as chatroom and selfie. If we don’t know the name of something, if we have become disconnected from it – we are hardly likely to protect it.
Yes, of course, we have won battles here in Suffolk, such as saving the ancient Bradfield Woods or bringing both Avocet and Marsh Harrier back from the brink of extinction in the UK, but the truth is that, despite the best efforts of many, we have been losing the war. Or as the Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich simply puts it: “In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.”
Me, you, all of us together
Excitingly scientists and conservationists know how to solve both nature loss and reverse climate change. But we cannot point at, or leave it to, politicians, business, others. Change starts with me, with you, with us. Together in Suffolk we can build something magical.
Doing so is not only good for nature’s sake, it is good for us. A healthy planet and a healthy Suffolk provides beauty. Being in nature dramatically improves our mental health and wellbeing. Nature gives us free services such as pollination, flood defence from rising seas, clean air to breathe and water to drink. Put another way: a healthy planet underpins a healthy society; and, a healthy society is a prerequisite for a healthy economy. Nature adds to Suffolk’s health and wealth.
Suffolk 2030 – Naturally Better Living
We could make Suffolk the most naturally vibrant and healthy county in the UK. We already have a beautiful, stunning county and so this is within our grasp. We can be a beacon of hope, showing the way forward for others, of naturally better living.
- Our heritage coast, from Felixstowe to Lowestoft, joined end to end as a new National Park, by footpath and cycleway, thronging with nature, both onshore and offshore. Marine Conservation Zones supporting sustainable populations of fish and taken to the vibrant port and fish market in Lowestoft. Carlton Marshes, the Gateway to the Southern Broads holding breeding Spoonbill, Bittern and Crane and joining Minsmere in attracting >100,000 visitors per year to witness the spectacles of nature, open skies and sense of place that epitomise soothing nourishing Suffolk.
- Our great river valleys, the Alde, Deben, Stour, Blyth and Waveney, nourishing our water meadows and replenishing our clean seas. Ospreys and Beavers, once again breeding in the wild in Suffolk. Glorious footpaths through alder, poplar and willow, enabling picnics, lazy lolling afternoons and skinny-dips for the brave or effervescent.
- Our ancient woodland and heaths, such as the unique Bradfield Woods with its incredible stands of coppiced ash and butterfly glades, or Rendlesham Forest – home to the Dartford Warbler and perhaps even UFO’s, to Knettleshall Heath or the more evocative Captains and Pin Mill Wood’s. Imagine these areas now joined by woodland corridors and wilded landscapes and wildflower meadows, enabling both nature as well as people to traverse our county freely.
- Private and public landowners will reap the benefits of investing for a return on nature – financial returns and nature’s reward, supported by the government’s new subsidy regime to support environmental outputs – the proof of public subsidy for the public good.
- Our county, the first to declare energy independence, only allowing sustainable energy supply and the first to ban all petrol and diesel cars at the ‘border’ – replaced by a shared mobility fleet that enables public transport for all.
- Suffolk as THE destination of choice within the UK for a truly sustainable holiday or weekend break.
- Suffolk as the county of choice to bring up the next generation experiencing how the world could and will be, with termly access to forest school education embedded in nature. Moth snowstorms on a summer evening will cloud bike rides home, the Aldeburgh Food Fayre will continue to dazzle and point the way to homegrown sustainable produce – and a new series of concerts ‘Outside at Snape’ will reconnect us all to the vitality and joy of our place in nature. The First Light and Latitude Festivals show what sustainable entertainment can really provide.
- The people of Suffolk will become pioneers and leaders of the newly established National Nature Service, working hand in glove with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, RSPB and National Trust as well as local Parish and County Council’s – re-establishing pond, expanding and improving road verges and field margins.
And how do we get there? By the people of Suffolk demanding it from leaders, from business and from each other. By people and organisations coming together and making it so: farmers, landowners, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, RSPB, National Trust, county and local council, our local businesses and tourist board.
Nature in Suffolk will recover and thrive. And so will its people.
James is a Director of FutureAgenda.org, an open source think tank and advisory delivering foresight, strategy and innovation to some of the world’s leading organisations (e.g. Apple, WWF, Mastercard). He is also a co-founder of #voicefortheplanet, the coalition aimed at securing a global deal for nature in 2020, launched at the World Economic Forum in 2019.