The next Mayor of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) will take the helm at an unprecedented time. This exceptional time presents a unique opportunity for the next Mayor – to boldly lead a green recovery towards a resilient and nature-rich West of England where everyone can thrive.
With the mayoral elections for the West of England fast approaching, a group of environmental organisations are calling on the candidates to get serious about prioritising nature’s recovery, or risk not being taken seriously at all.
The seven groups have published a hard-hitting manifesto, A nature-rich West of England: Policies for the next Mayor, outlining key asks ahead of the West of England Combined Authority Mayoral elections on 6th May.
The nature groups behind the publication of the manifesto is made up of Avon Wildlife Trust, Bristol Avon Rivers Trust, Bristol Friends of the Earth, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) Avon and Bristol, Forest of Avon Trust, National Trust, RSPB and Woodland Trust.
As we emerge from the pandemic, Ross Kennerley, Regional Director for the South West at the Woodland Trust says the 2021 elections are coming at a really significant time. “We need leadership in the West of England to ensure we emerge as a stronger region – and that means working with nature to support healthier communities that are more resilient to climate change.”
Unfortunately, nature in the West of England is in trouble. A staggering 41% of species in the UK have declined since 1970, according to the UK State of Nature Report 2019.
But other councils in the area have provided reasons for hope. The Chief Executive of Avon Wildlife Trust Ian Barrett says “Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset and North Somerset have all declared nature emergencies and started to take action. We need the West of England Mayor to do the same and ensure that key decisions take account of the fundamental importance of nature to all of our lives.”
Nature works hard for us. Services it provides include supporting food production, storing carbon, and providing renewable resources.
Water is a case in point. Simon Hunter, Chief Executive Officer of Bristol Avon Rivers Trust, says, “Our freshwater environments supply water for all our needs as well as preventing erosion and providing natural protection from flooding. However, in 2017 it was recorded that only 14% of rivers in England are considered healthy and our rivers are under increasing pressure – from climate change, diffuse pollution and human modification”.
The answer is to use nature to solve these problems. Nick Bruce-White, Operations Director, Southern England at the RSPB explains, “We need to work with natural solutions to the many challenges we face – from the climate emergency to health inequalities and the need for new, green jobs.”
Mike Birkin of Bristol Friends of the Earth adds, “Already 7,000 young people in the West of England are without a job and that figure could get much worse. At the same time there is a yawning gap in the skills needed to restore nature and tackle climate breakdown.”
Another key demand is that there should be quality green space for all.
Sophie Spencer, Director of CPRE Avon and Bristol says, “The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how crucial local green spaces and countryside are for our physical and mental wellbeing. We need to make sure these important resources are protected and accessible to all.”
The groups say this manifesto proves the power of collaborative working. It is time, according to Jon Clark, Executive Director at the Forest of Avon Trust, for regional politicians to “align regional policy with our local experience and knowledge and give us all the tools to get more done and more quickly, for the benefit of our communities and wildlife.”
A West of England Metro Mayor hustings event will take place online on 19 April 2021, 18:00 – 19:30, to ask candidates about their commitments to ensure the region’s response to the climate and ecological emergencies is both fast and fair. Why not sign up to join!