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As the PM prepared to attend the G7 leaders’ summit in August, he reaffirmed his commitment to biodiversity. One of the policy tools Johnson has for encouraging greater biodiversity in the UK is Nature Recovery Networks (NRNs). 

Currently, protected habitats and ecosystems across the UK exist in isolation from one another. NRNs identify where these habitats and ecosystems are located, then link them via ‘eco-corridors’. The aim is that just like the road network, all ecosystems will be linked together through a NRN. 

For example, waterways could be fenced off from livestock to allow fauna to reestablish itself along the riverbank. These waterways would then form eco-corridors as part of the NRN. Motorway wildlife crossings are another example of how an NRN can operate; they remove motorways as a barrier between ecosystems. 

Climate change and its associated effects – rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and more extreme weather events – can result in changes to habitats and ecosystems that no longer make them habitable for wildlife. Adaptation to climate change is a critical part of maintaining biodiversity. By allowing wildlife to relocate, NRNs are one way to facilitate this. From crab crossing bridges over roads in Australia, to one of the Netherlands’ 600 motorway animal crossing tunnels, examples of infrastructure that make up NRNs can be seen worldwide. 

‘Greenifying’ urban areas, allowing amenity grassland to return to meadows, restoring fauna, and afforestation also have roles to play within an NRN. One of the notable benefits these strategies bring is carbon sequestration – the process by which carbon dioxide is captured and stored by plants, removing from it the atmosphere. In light of the government’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, any initiative that would contribute to this is worthy of consideration. 

Reduced flooding is another benefit that comes with NRNs. As the landscape becomes more diverse through NRNs’ protected ecosystems and rewilding, trees and peat bogs which make up wetlands will become more prevalent. Together, they stabilise the ground and hold more water than, say, closely grazed grassland would. Reduced risk of flooding comes as a consequence of this. Given that one in six UK properties are at significant risk of flooding, and the annual cost to the country sits at £4.4 billion, NRNs would aid in addressing one of the UK’s more costly environmental challenges.

Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire are already using Nature Recovery Networks as part of their development planning. However, to truly benefit from NRNs, they should become part of a nation-wide strategy.  

The idea of establishing Nature Recovery Networks at a national level is not a new one. Indeed, the Government has expressed that it intends to develop a Nature Recovery Network as part of its 25-year environment plan. They have stated that 500,000 hectares will be set aside for this. However, there has been no mention of how much funding an NRN would receive, yet alone a timeframe for its delivery. 

Greater biodiversity, climate adaptation, carbon reduction, and less flooding are just some of the benefits that would come from nation-wide NRNs. The government has so far paid only lip-service to the idea of establishing NRNs across the UK. Given the clear benefits of NRNs, the PM should bolster support for this initiative and ensure that they are established sooner rather than later.

Patrick Hall is a Researcher at Bright Blue. Image licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.