Sharing our vision for a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis
This period of enforced change to our daily lives has undoubtedly been a time of discovery for all of us – some positive, some less so.
We have rediscovered the wealth of compassion engrained within our communities, seen the speed at which financial support systems can be established to help those most in need, and seen afresh what is really important in our lives – and what is not.
For me, it’s been an opportunity to reconnect with the landscape around me in a way that I have not done since childhood.
To reacquaint myself with every nook and cranny of the place I call home in north Wales. To observe the small miracles of nature on my daily walk, and to share those with others on the phone.
I was thrilled the other day when a neighbour rang me to tell me that they could hear a cuckoo calling across the valley – a sound that was once so common, yet now so rare.
Even before this pandemic, there was an increasing focus on the physical and mental health benefits of green space: what has been called the ‘therapy of the green leaf’. Danish researchers recently found that people surrounded by green space in childhood were 55 per cent less likely to develop a mental health disorder later in life.
The impact of the lockdown on over a quarter of a million people in Wales who do not live within a 10-minute walk of green space will have been much harder than for those of us fortunate enough to have greenery on our doorstep.
There is no doubt that the coronavirus crisis has taken a devastating toll on humanity at all levels all around the world, and our thoughts are with all those that have, and continue to be affected.
Yet these days have brought into sharp focus just how much the environment underpins every facet of our modern life - from our health and wellbeing, the food that we eat, the very wealth of our nation – and yet, despite the recent focus on the climate and nature emergencies, it is almost as if we have been surprised by this.
Without a healthy and valued natural environment, we suffer. The growing evidence of a relationship between poor air quality and incidence of Covid-19 just underlines this.
How we emerge from this crisis, and how we decide to live our lives are now coming into very sharp focus.
With the bustle of normal activities muted, however temporarily, the quality of the air we breathe has improved and the usually persistent rumble of traffic has waned, leading to a faster reduction in the level of CO2 emissions than years of climate change negotiations have ever achieved.
The lockdown period has indeed given us a glimpse of Wales we want to see - and safeguard - for future generations.
And so, from under this dark and terrible cloud, we have been given a glimpse of a silver lining. And it has a green glow.
That is why Natural Resources Wales is determined to shape this green re-awakening, and to work with others to help Wales find a path towards a truly green recovery from this crisis.
Our vision is of a recovery that spreads to everyone, across all parts of society.
A recovery that is green and growing - meeting the nation’s ambitions for sound economic revival while protecting the climate and nature for generations to come.
In Wales, many of the key policy building blocks to help address the climate and nature emergencies are already in place.
We have legislation that ensures the well-being of Wales’ citizens now and in the future, and the combination of the Future Generations and Environment Acts is a potent one.
As one of the requirements of the Environment Act, NRW will, later this year, publish its second report on the state of our Natural Resources in Wales. This will focus on the quality of our rivers and seas, the air that we breathe, the value of our soil and forests and the richness of plants, animals and insects.
Wales is the only country in Europe that does this environmental stock-take, and it provides powerful evidence to guide our future path.
The Welsh Government’s declaration of a climate and nature emergency last year signalled a clear call to arms for collective action in the quest for environmental growth.
If we want to succeed in that aim, then we must build a broad coalition. Not just between governments, but between business and the third sector, the tourism, agricultural and recreational sectors - and critically with communities and individuals.
Only by working together will we be able to shape a recovery that strengthens our local economies and capitalises on the renewed sense of place and connection we now have with our environment.
A recent You Gov poll revealed that only nine per cent of people in the UK want to return to life as normal after the end of the lockdown, suggesting that people are now ready for something bigger to believe in and to work towards. A green recovery would provide that focus in this time we never wanted or expected.
By changing the way we live, think and plan for the future, the revival we see in nature can help propel our journey toward a thriving economy, vibrant communities, and a more resilient, greener Wales.
Clare Pillman, CEO of Natural Resources Wales