What land provides is becoming increasingly important. The climate emergency makes new demands on land, including the possibilities of using it to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Responding to the biodiversity crisis requires allocating more space for nature. Yet globally pressures on land to produce food and timber are increasing and despite the evidence that time spent in green spaces is essential to our well-being, our connection to nature is weaker than ever.
This report proposes a Green New Deal for Nature to tackle these problems synergistically. The UK government should agree to design a UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan, to allocate 25% of the UK’s land primarily for wildlife and carbon sequestration, within a decade. Key to this Plan is to re-establish woodlands to link existing important remaining habitats together, and connect them to people.
Implementing the UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan would be funded by a combination of altered agricultural subsidies as payments for carbon uptake; carbon taxes from industries that cannot reach net zero emissions within the next three decades, and proposed new legislation including to allow local communities to buy land and manage it for the long term.
Given just 20% of the UK is cropland or very densely urbanised, the opportunities to make space for nature are abundant. More than half of the UK’s land is used for grazing animals. Restoring and rewilding land designated ‘low-grade’ and used for grazing should provide most of the land, as this grazing is typically dependent on public subsidies. Expanding some of the UK’s 120,000 hectares of hedgerows to become linear forests will allow urban and suburban areas to connect with larger areas of restoration and rewilding across the UK to be connected. This connection will help wildlife move as the climate changes, helping it adapt to rapid climate change.
Legislation to allow a right to roam in these newly restored habitats make the Restoration Plan one that can involve everyone. Coupling this with legislation to help healthy diets become the norm, including banning the advertising of meat and dairy products that would swiftly drive the marketing of highly desirable plant-based alternative, and mandating all schools and hospitals to provide healthy and sustainable meals as standard, will substantially reduce the land-area needed to feed the UK, making space for nature in the UK and beyond.
A UK Restoration and Rewilding Plan will contribute to the UK reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions, restore our precious biodiversity and help us adapt to climate change. And by connecting people and nature it will improve our physical and mental health. This Green New Deal for Nature could turn the UK from one of the world’s most nature-depleted counties into green and vibrant land.
This report is part of Common Wealth’s Green New Deal report series on Land.