Environmental campaigning needs to re-connect with the land and people’s attachment to their local environment. This is one of the most important conclusions of the Fabian Society’s report ‘Pride of Place: land, community and a popular environmentalism’ which was launched last night.
That the work has been supported by such a wide grouping as Marks and Spencer, Groundwork, The National Federation of Women’s Institutes as well as the Woodland Trust and the RSPB is in itself revealing. The work was born out of a growing recognition that for many, environmental politics and environmental campaigning has been too technocratic and remote from the reality of their everyday lives.
Last night’s launch event in Parliament was attended by a range of opinion formers from across the spectrum and took the form of a presentation of findings by the author, Natan Doron. This was followed by a Panel discussion, chaired by Mary Riddell of the Telegraph, then a key note address from Jon Cruddas, head of the Labour policy review.
Some key areas that were debated included the neglected importance of ”the land beneath our feet’, the need to better encourage community participation and lessons that can be applied when building new towns.
The work included a number of focus groups across the country interviewing people from a range of social backgrounds and both urban and rural locations. The research uncovered that people think of the environment in terms of the place they live and the people they live there with, not carbon emissions and climate change.
The report argues that it is only by restoring faith in the power of collective action in a specific locality that we can restore the momentum environmental politics needs. This means a strong focus on enabling people to take action for their local environment. The public reaction to the botched sell off of the public forest estate gave a strong demonstration of the potential that exists in this regard.
The Woodland Trust has championed trees and woods at a community level for years – providing millions of free trees to schools and communities. Where we believe Government – both local and national – can do more is through enabling people to better engage with the natural green space that is there and to demand better provision where it is presently inadequate.
Another key conclusion is that people feel a strong sense of loss, believing that community spirit has declined over time. Addressing this means recognizing that trees and woods are often defining features of an area. Ensuring their protection is the securing of a community asset.
The task of creating more resilient wooded landscapes able to withstand the range of future challenges they face requires people to be able to feel they can effect change in their own backyard. Becoming involved in our Enough is Enough campaign or becoming an ancient woodland Threat Detector are pretty good places to start.
Given all the benefits to society it delivers and people’s attachment to it as evidenced by this work, the natural environment has been far too neglected in the political discourse of recent years. We hope this report helps to turn that around as we head towards the election and parties develop their manifestos. With a strong emphasis from all parties on the need to build more homes there needs to be a recognition that building community at the same time requires well designed natural green space in new developments with which people can easily engage. It also means better protecting and giving people more of a say in relation to existing natural green space.
I’m pleased to have been involved in such important work for the future of the sector. Protecting and enhancing nature and re-building a sense of community are intertwined. It is a connection that has been ignored for far too long.
Dr James Cooper, head of government affairs