Friday, 23 March 2012

Can we improve on nature?

Google "improve on nature" and you find some weird entries and quite a few arguments: that's the nature of the world wide web. So maybe the new "Nature Improvement Areas" recently announced by the government could have been called something different, though less snappy: people giving nature more of a chance? Getting our act together on nature? These new designations are certainly more about addressing human behaviour than they are about changing animals or plants, though the outcomes will, one hopes, be of benefit to the natural world. The criteria for success in an application for an NIA have been heavily weighted towards "partnerships", "shared visions" and "joined up local action". These aspirations chime very closely with findings, not just from Relu, but from research across the Living With Environmental Change initiative. Increasingly, we are having to think of our land as a resource that brings multiple benefits upon which we all depend, including food, water, carbon storage, ecology and leisure facilities - all those essentials that the latest jargon dubs "ecosystem services". But land is only going to produce all that we need if our management of it is efficient, is carried out at an appropriate scale and incorporates the latest research. That's why Relu is working with Nature Improvement Areas from this very early stage. We have been very fortunate that the South Downs NIA has been particularly helpful and enthusiastic about involving us, from when they were drafting their application, and we are now in touch with all the successful partnerships. The next development for Relu will be drawing out relevant science and producing a policy and practice note in our regular series that can be of practical help. We are consulting with the NIAs about what they want to see included in this at the moment. More links with researchers will, we hope, follow. Maybe we can't improve on nature per se, but we can improve the communications and knowledge exchange between people. Then, perhaps, nature will have a better chance of flourishing.

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