For many of us, the natural environment is worth conserving and enhancing in its own right. But whether we are talking about officially recognised conservation sites, or just our back gardens, a high quality natural environment is vital for us all.
It provides us with all the necessities of life: air, water, fuel, building materials, clothes, chemicals, and food. But it also provides all those things that make life more enjoyable, whether it is bicycles, beer or even music. And when it comes to quality of life, most of us enjoy simple things like parks, gardens, rivers and trees.
The natural environment does more than this, though. It underpins our whole economy and way of life. An attractive natural environment encourages tourism in Greater Manchester, for example – because visitors like the same things as residents do: trees and parks and attractive, accessible waterways. And there is plenty of evidence that a good quality natural environment attracts investment too. It helps keep work forces happy and healthy; and services businesses, wherever they come from.
In recent years, it has become clear that, access to good quality green space, where people can exercise or just relax, can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels – and thereby the incidence of heart attacks and strokes – and support good mental health. It has been estimated that if only every household in the UK had access to a decent park or the use of a garden, it could save the NHS around 2 billion every year.
Our education too benefits from our natural environment; whether it’s for kids, who love leaving the classroom for a field trip to the local nature reserve; or for adults, who can learn skills related to the environment, thereby further supporting the local economy.
Greater Manchester’s urban form and industrial past also pose challenges. Rates of obesity, cancer and heart disease are significantly higher than the national average and life expectancy at birth is the lowest in England. Within Greater Manchester, there is a gap in life expectancy of almost six years between the poorest and most affluent areas.
36% of the population of Greater Manchester live in a neighbourhood that ranks among the 20% most deprived nationally, and one in five people (22%) live in a neighbourhood in the 10% most deprived. Access to nature, air quality, land contamination, climate resilience and biodiversity all pose challenges.
This is not simply a problem for environmentalists, it is a problem for all of us. Which is why the Greater Manchester Local Nature Partnership will, as the name implies, has built a partnership across all sectors of society and the economy, to recognise, prioritise and tackle the problems facing us.