Nature recovery – making it happen

8 July 2024


Nature recovery – making it happen

By Kavya Neeba, CSaP Policy Engagement Network Coordinator

The Centre for Science and Policy’s (CSaP) Annual Conference brought together experts and stakeholders for a thought-provoking panel discussion on nature recovery, held at the Royal Society. Chaired by Dame Fiona Reynolds, Deputy Chair of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and Chair of Governors at the Royal Agricultural University, the panel shed light on the fragmented landscape of nature recovery in the UK, focussing on the key challenges and opportunities in implementing effective interventions.
The panel featured distinguished speakers including Matthew Gould, CEO of the Zoological Society of London; Jo Lucas, Capability Improvement Director at Co-Cre8 Ltd; and Dr Silviu Petrovan, Senior Researcher at the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge.

The chair opened the discussion by drawing attention to the ongoing nature deterioration and the urgent need to accelerate nature recovery efforts in the UK. She pointed out that while much attention is given to policy formulation, there is a significant shortfall in effective policy delivery. In this context, the key aim of the panel discussion was to identify the main challenges impeding the successful delivery of nature recovery initiatives in the UK.

Creating a path for nature recovery

In his opening remarks, Dr Silviu Petrovan reflected on the importance of participatory approaches and citizen science in nature recovery. He called for a balanced approach that integrates top-down visions with bottom-up initiatives, leveraging the best available research to design effective interventions.

"We need a grand vision for nature recovery, but it must be grounded in the best science and evidence."

Jo Lucas highlighted the fragmented nature of organisations involved in nature recovery, using the mycelium network as an analogy to describe the interconnectedness necessary for success. She stressed the risks of a purely top-down approach, which can disrupt essential connections and information flow between key stakeholders. She emphasised the importance of ecosystem mapping to identify key influencers within an ecosystem, noting that just 3% of people can influence up to 85% of the system. She also noted the difficulty of shifting entrenched systems and underscored the need to create spaces for new governance systems and conversations to emerge.

Addressing root causes

Matthew Gould addressed the complexities and trade-offs inherent in nature recovery efforts. He noted that while there is general agreement on the need for nature recovery, there is often a lack of consensus on the methods.

"We have too many conservation efforts that deal with symptoms rather than root causes."

He emphasised the need to integrate economic considerations into nature recovery efforts, arguing that treating nature as a 'free good' overlooks the economic impact on natural capital. He also highlighted the importance of acknowledging the interconnectedness of nature and other sectors, such as business, to avoid compartmentalised thinking.

A better relationship with nature?

The audience posed insightful questions, including the appropriate scale for balancing top-down and bottom-up approaches. Dr Petrovan responded by advocating for a larger, long-term vision that focusses on increasing the numbers of widespread species. Another question addressed the disconnection between humans and nature, prompting a discussion on fostering a better relationship with nature.

Audience questions led the panel to reflect on the necessity of difficult conversations and the better integration of diverse approaches to nature recovery. Gould pointed out that unresolved trade-offs often hinder progress, and there is a need for clear, sensible discussions to address these issues. Lucas added that storytelling is crucial for influencing change, stating, "Data alone does not shift people. It is what we do with data that matters”. The discussion also touched on the need for institutional changes to break the status quo in environmental conservation. Gould warned against ignoring the interconnectedness of nature and other sectors, such as businesses. Dr Petrovan added the importance of cost-effectiveness in conservation efforts and the need for greater transparency and accountability. He cited the example of smoking cessation efforts, where cost measures had a significant impact.

Dame Fiona Reynolds concluded the panel discussion with an insightful reflection on the challenges and opportunities in nature recovery. She advocated for urgency and the need for a shift in approach:

"Despite strong laws and principles driving our efforts, we're falling short. One key reason is our disconnection from nature, living within an economically driven ecosystem that's tied to a status quo failing to deliver meaningful progress."

She emphasised the need to establish a comprehensive network for nature recovery, enabling the sharing of effective practices and experiences globally, locally, and regionally. She highlighted the importance of fostering new systems and collaborations, citing the significant progress made by new-generation landowners and farmer networks, particularly in rewilding efforts. She closed the session with a call for decisive action and to integrate nature into economic frameworks.

Image by Su Ford, CSaP Centre Coordinator

Kavya Neeba

Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge