News that the Grasslands Trust has gone into liquidation marks a sad day. Grassland in Britain is threatened and diminishing, and the loss of such an important champion for this habitat should worry us all. Around 97 per cent of lowland meadows have been lost on the last 75 years, and one in five of our wild grasses and flowers and threatened with extinction.
As the economy continues to struggle, funding for the natural environment tightens. Many of those conservation organisations that survive will find their ability to raise the money for essential protection and restoration of the natural world weakened.
As if this weren’t enough, the promised “greenest government ever” seems intent on economic recovery with little regard for impact on nature. The pro development National Planning Policy Framework, with its open ended capacity to override the natural environment where development gains ‘outweigh the losses’ reinforces this concern.
Looking more widely for some comfort only brings further disappointment. The Rio+20 summit was viewed by most environmental commentators as, at best, feeble and lacking in detail. Since the original Rio summit, global emissions of CO2 have risen by 48%, and 300m hectares of forest have been cleared. The latest summit seems to signal business as usual.
The National Centre for Social Research 2011 report on social attitudes should also ring alarm bells. Across the five measures used to judge how people perceived threats to the environment, including climate change and pollution of rivers and streams, there was a significant drop in the proportion of people who thought they posed a danger. There was also an increase in the number of people who felt that “we worry too much about the environment and not enough about prices and jobs today” and that “people worry too much about human progress harming the environment”.
Of particular concern for funding, there was a drop in the number of people who said they had made a financial contribution to an environmental group or would be willing to pay higher prices to protect the environment. The report concludes that there is a combination of growing pressures from the recession and a rising sense of “environment fatigue”.
Maybe some responsibility lies in the way conservation of the natural environment has been portrayed. Conservation can be seen as opposed to the economic activity which, for many people, has made their lives better.
There’s no lack of evidence of the importance of the natural world. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, and the Lawton Review provide plenty of evidence of its importance, not just for its own sake, but as foundational to a healthy economy and healthy society.
Nature conservation often fails to tell people why the natural environment matters, not just globally or nationally, but to them individually and to their families and to the economy.
Unless we get the message across that the natural environment matters, the Grasslands Trust may be a harbinger not just of the fate of other conservation organisations, but of the natural world we all strive to protect.
In the meantime all of us involved in conservation should try and close the gap created by the loss of the Grassland Trust and do our bit to promote the vital role of grassland to the ecology, and ultimately the economy, of the UK.
Mike Townsend, Communications and Evidence Adviser