Wild places and nature must be restored, not just conserved, the new head of the Wildlife Trusts has said as he takes up the role.
Craig Bennett is taking over as the new chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, a movement of 46 charities across the UK, amid “desperate times” as the country is locked down by the coronavirus pandemic.
He said people were turning to nature more than ever as the world faced health, climate and ecological emergencies.
And he said: “When the pandemic has passed, there is a battle to resume – to restore nature and to empower people to take action for the natural world.
“At The Wildlife Trusts, we have a pivotal role to play and have a clear understanding of the urgency.
“We have long recognised that conserving nature – protecting the wild places and nature that remain – is not enough; we must all do more to restore the abundance of nature, restore ecosystem processes, and reverse the UK’s status as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.”
By 2030 the Trusts want to see a third of land and sea given over to nature, he said, adding “in short, we want our nature back”.
Dr Bennett said restoring nature, which is in freefall, across whole landscapes is urgently needed – for its intrinsic value and because of the important jobs nature and wildlife do for people, such as stopping climate change.
He said: “Drain a peat bog and you release thousands of tonnes of carbon; restore it and wildlife thrives once again while you re-establish a massive carbon store and protect communities from flooding.”
Dr Bennett, who was previously chief executive of Friends Of The Earth, said the Trusts would need support to work for nature and recover from the effects of the coronavirus once it is over.
The Trusts say volunteering, which last year saw more than 38,000 volunteers give 1.7 million hours working for nature, has had to stop, with a huge impact on work such as restoring habitats and monitoring wildlife.
The charities care for more than 250,000 acres across 2,300 nature reserves and advise on a further half a million acres, as well as looking after 11,000 miles of river, but much of the work has been put on hold.
And trusts have had to close 123 visitor and education centres, and stop events and education activities across the UK, with the loss of revenue having an impact on funding conservation work, they warned.
Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent.