Spotlight on: Nature-based solutions
21st March 2022
In our latest Spotlight On article as part of the Climate Action Programme, Stuart Gardner, West of England Nature Partnership Manager, explains how businesses can help support nature in the region.
The Covid-19 crisis highlighted the importance of a thriving and wild natural environment to our collective wellbeing and sense of place, restoring a connection to local nature that for many had been lost. And we know that a functioning and resilient natural environment is vital to our society, economy, and wellbeing, and will also be crucial to mitigating the effects of climate change.
But despite an overwhelming majority of people recognising the importance of nature to their wellbeing and the economy, and supporting greater action to protect and restore nature (source RSPB), the stark reality is that nature is collapsing at an alarming and unprecedented rate. Globally we have lost 60% of wild vertebrates and up to 76% of insects since 1970. And in the West of England, numbers of once common songbirds like swifts and starlings have dropped by more than 96%.
With the need to restore our natural environment being more pressing than ever, it is critical that we get enough investment into nature to reverse the decline in wildlife, as recognised in the West of England Nature Partnership (WENP) Strategy. Fortunately, nature is more than capable of offering us something in return.
What are nature-based solutions?
Nature-based solutions (NBS) offer us a deceptively simple way to address the challenges posed by both the climate and ecological emergencies in one go, as well as providing a raft of other societal and economic benefits. For example, an oak tree supports a colossal 2,300 species of wildlife (source Woodland Trust), while in 50 years sequestering around 750 tonnes of CO2 for every hectare of oak (source Natural England).
The International Union for Conservation of Nature defines Nature-based Solutions as ‘actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural and modified ecosystems in ways that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, to provide both human well-being and biodiversity benefits’. More succinctly, NBS are solutions to a problem faced by society that are provided by the natural environment. These can range from the carbon stored in peatland, to flood management provided by wetlands, to the cooling and shading from urban trees.
Nature-based solutions done well
As we better understand the huge range of benefits that nature provides to society and the economy, more and more businesses are becoming interested in the various opportunities that investing in the natural environment offers, in addition to reducing their net carbon emissions. A water company may want to pay farmers to reduce runoff of harmful nutrients into rivers; a group of shop and office owners could invest in street trees and green walls to increase patronage and improve staff productivity; or a business may want to fund a wetland or natural drainage systems to reduce their flood risk.
However, it is crucial that NBS are designed and delivered in a way that offers as many benefits to nature and people as possible. Creating new woodland for carbon storage can be brilliant, but it won’t help to tackle the ecological emergency and create a nature-rich place for people to enjoy if it consists of only one species of tree and does not take the needs of local communities into account.
Businesses should also be careful to ensure that nature-based solutions are not used to distract from the need to take actions to cut emissions, stop habitat destruction and prevent pollution. NBS must be part of a journey to a more sustainable and nature-rich world, but do not remove the need for that journey to be made.
Fortunately, Bristol and the wider West of England region is at the forefront of efforts to enable and attract ethical investment into the natural environment.
Investing in nature, responsibly
Avon Wildlife Trust, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and EnTrade have jointly developed the Bristol Avon Catchment Market, an innovative approach to funding environmental projects through the creation of a marketplace. For ethical businesses in the region, this offers a way of investing in local, high-impact and verified projects that are delivered at a competitive price and can provide a range of services such as increased biodiversity, carbon reduction and natural flood management. For further information, you can contact the Catchment Market team at www.bristolavoncatchmentmarket.uk/contact.
There is also work ongoing in the region (and beyond) to enable investment into river habitats, coastal habitats, and Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems, potentially offering businesses further opportunities to invest in nature. The West of England Nature Partnership is bringing together organisations developing standards and platforms for investment in NBS in the region, and you can sign up to the WENP mailing list to receive regular updates on this and all of our work.
Stuart Gardner manages the West of England Nature Partnership (WENP), a cross-sector Local Nature Partnership with a vision for a thriving and well-connected natural environment in the West of England that underpins a healthy and resilient society and economy. For more information on WENP’s work, visit www.wenp.org.uk.
The Partnership’s Climate Action Programme supports organisations of all sizes and sectors to reduce their carbon emissions through free events, resources, and peer-to-peer learning opportunities. Find out more and get involved.