Peter Bridgewater, Advanced Wellness Research Centre, Sheffield Hallam University.

It’s an old joke – “How many X do you need to change a lightbulb?”  This came to mind as I was reviewing the mounting pile of assessments and reports on the state of the world’s nature.  Since 2019 the world has had the UNEP GEO 6 report, the IPBES Global Assessment Report, the WWF Living Planet report, and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) 5 unleashed upon it.  Slightly more niche was, in 2018 the Ramsar Convention Global Wetland Outlook, and UN Convention on Combatting Desertification produced a Global Land Outlook.  Oh, and the FAO released a Global Forest Assessment in 2015.  So many outlooks, and the message is increasingly sharp and brutal – Biodiversity loss is accelerating; ecosystem services are degrading.  In brief, people are not living well with nature. 

In commenting on GBO 5 in the latest BES News, President Jane Memmott noted “Being able to find the right policy solutions will fundamentally depend on the latest science, continued innovation and the commitment of all.” Among innovative policy suggestions the GBO saw a need for several “transitions” needed to improve the state of the world’s biodiversity, including Lands and Forest; sustainable fisheries and oceans; sustainable agriculture; climate action; health; cities and infrastructure and sustainable freshwater transition.  This latter would guarantee “water flows required by nature and people, improving water quality, protecting critical habitats, controlling invasive species and safeguarding connectivity to allow the recovery of freshwater systems from mountains to coasts”. Yet the GBO did not mention the Ramsar Convention – established  in 1971 to do just those things, and with which the CBD has a joint work programme.

One area missing from these transitions, then, is greater international coherence in global governance for nature.  Only more adaptive and dynamic global governance mechanisms will help take global decisions to implementation and action locally, nationally, and regionally; restoring the balance needed between people and the rest of the biosphere in the Anthropocene. Of course, anyone who has even a glancing acquaintance with the Sustainable Development goals will recognise these “transitions” also reflect many of the 17 Goals.  Speaking of goals and targets the Executive Secretary of the CBD announced that the Convention had achieved none of the eponymous targets set in 2010 at the meeting in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture, Japan.  What is not mentioned is that this is the second decade in which targets were set and then not achieved.  We do not, then really need more targets – we need circuit breakers, and we need to use stories and scenario planning activities to paint pictures we can use to help us chart a better future.

In the UK the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, has just launched a Revive Our World report, pushing for legally binding targets to restore nature by 2030 and for a green recovery from the pandemic across the UK.  And the authors of “Making Space for Nature Report” from 2010 sprang back to life suggesting in a letter to the Prime Minister that £1 billion be allocated as one off to make more space for nature in three key areas: Better protect and manage our remaining wildlife habitats; Deliver ecological restoration at scale; and Bring nature to people.  The letter opined that “a decade ago, England needed more, bigger, better and joined up spaces for nature”.  The problem is that was not what was wanted then, nor now.  In an article in the BES Bulletin in 2017 [p 30–31] I suggested that a better slogan would be that we need spaces for nature that are managed, mended, and supported.  We are beyond the stage where protection of nature is sensible or possible – it is working with nature, finding our place in the rest of nature that we need to accomplish.  And this, in a word, is stewardship.

The UK government’s 25 Year Environment plan speaks about a Nature recovery plan as a flagship element, that will feature “Local Nature Recovery Strategies” being rolled out in England.  Yet this is not an English thing only, nor British, nor UK – to be fully effective it must be an initiative that covers the whole of the British Isles, land, and sea.  Easy to say, perhaps less easy to do – but the British-Irish Council may be an ideal mechanism at a high level to achieve this.  Government can do so much, but, as in times past, it is at the local level nature conservation starts and finishes.   It is local communities that in the end will help manage, mend and support nature.  In the next decades seeing conservation and ecosystem management through a stewardship lens by and with local people supported by Government and non-government agencies alike, can help manage, mend and support nature and give us a greener and healthier future.

Finally, some optimism in a very encouraging tweet I noticed recently was the discovery of a new variety of Broomrape (Orobanche minor) in an Ikea carpark. Yes, you read that right.  This shows well how much we still have to discover about our wildlife, and how nature will continue to change and morph in step with global change in this time of the Anthropocene.