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Pondering the next 25 years for nature as I turn 25

I turn 25 this year, providing timely impetus to consider how the UK’s environment may change over the next quarter-century and how we can ensure that change is for the better.

February 2017

25. Great number. Great number. Really, terrific number. For, following a manifesto pledge to leave the environment in a better state in a generation than it is in now, the UK government has committed to producing a 25-Year Plan for the Natural Environment which will set out how they intend for this to happen.

But what do they mean by ‘better’? And what changes to the UK’s environment do I want to see by the time I turn 50? Well, we could start by taking back control and making Britain green again, but such rhetoric is cheap. If the government is to be held to account for its commendable pledge to leave the environment in a better state in a generation than it is in now, then it's important to define some clear, measurable and, most importantly, relevant metrics with which to define success (or not). The extent of native woodland cover, urban air quality and level of compliance with international environmental agreements would be good places to start.

Which says nothing, of course, of whether I expect these things to change for the better. I may wish for the extent of native woodland cover to increase over the next 25 years, much as I may wish for economic forecasts that I don’t really understand to seemingly confirm my prejudices. Alas, it doesn’t mean that they will.

This question of expectations was brought into sharp focus when I attended the Wildlife and Countryside Link annual debate, which asked its panellists to discuss, quite simply, will the environment be in a better state in 25 years than it is in now? The audience were posed this very question prior to the debate, and I found myself one of perhaps six people out of the hundred or so attendees to vote that the environment would be in a better state.

Why did I vote this way? Why was my optimism the exception rather than the rule among an audience whom, I assume, was largely composed of those working towards the very end I had voted for? A cynic would presumably say that I have answered my own question. Indeed, perhaps I have.

But as for my own optimism, I can offer a range of explanations. I have spent much of the last five years surrounded by young people as passionate and hopeful about the environment and its future as myself. I spent a year, for example, working alongside young volunteers from around the world, collecting data about how eco-tourism impacts upon marine species such as dolphins and seals. So I can wholeheartedly testify to youth engagement. Perhaps in the context of a 25-year question, this exposure (or lack of it, depending upon your perspective) was decisive. Ultimately, if the 25-Year Plan is to achieve its admirable objective then its success will surely, to a significant extent, be predicated upon the engagement of young people.

At the end of the Link debate, the same question, as to whether the environment will be in a better state in 25 years than it is now, was posed to the audience again. Perhaps swayed by the initial vote of my fellow audience members, in addition to the generally pessimistic panel, I changed my mind and voted that the environment would not be in a better state in 25 years. Yet, upon reflection, I think I find myself somewhere inbetween my initial and final votes. In the middle, if you like, which, if you watch the news, is a rather vacant niche these days. There are clearly substantial barriers towards the environmental improvements I would argue are necessary for a more sustainable and a more equitable UK. But if the optimism, knowledge and willingness to engage that I have witnessed among young people with regards to the environment and its future can be harnessed, then there is every reason that, in 25 years’ time, the UK’s natural environment can be in a better state than it is now. Who knows, maybe we will make Britain green again…

Thomas Pye - Volunteer at Wildlife and Countryside Link

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The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.