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Making time for nature


UKRI World Environment Day: making time for nature

During recent months, many of us have found the time to get out and enjoy the natural world around us, discovering that time in nature is good for our mental as well as our physical health. It’s appropriate then that 5 June 2020 is World Environment Day, the theme of which this year is biodiversity: ’Time for Nature’.

The natural world faces threats that are unprecedented in the human era. This World Environment Day aims to draw attention to the accelerating global biodiversity crisis that has seen wildlife declining by over 60% on average in the last 50 years and an estimated one in four of all known species at risk of extinction in the next 10 years.

UKRI is a major funder of research on biodiversity loss and its impacts, including research informing the influential 2019 IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services which highlights in stark terms the existential threat of biodiversity loss. But as well as funding research to understand the scale of the issue, its impacts and possible solutions, how else does UKRI contribute to positive action? 

As well as our funding, UKRI has a direct influence on nature and biodiversity through the development and operations of our research infrastructure, offices, buildings and facilities. Last month, we published the first UKRI Environmental Sustainability (ES) strategy, committing UKRI to be 'positive for the environment' by 2040. Although the strategy also commits UKRI to achieving 'net-zero' carbon emissions for its own operations by this date, the inclusion of a broader ‘net-positive’ ambition for the environment goal is significant.

While UKRI's direct impacts on biodiversity are limited compared to some sectors such as agriculture, we can still play our part. The new UKRI ES strategy commits the organisation to: 'protect and enhance the health of the living environment, including biodiversity'. But it won't be easy – there are challenges including knowledge gaps; data; approaches, methods, tools and metrics; and making the investment case.

UKRI, working with a range of partners, will need to overcome these challenges to meet our goal to protect and restore the environment. We will need to carry out work to better understand the current biodiversity value of the locations that we own and operate; we'll need to adopt the best measurement approaches for analysing the impact of the changes we make; and we will need to make the case for investing in biodiversity protection and improvement.

The good news is, through our own institutes, centres and scientists, as well as the wider research base that UKRI helps to support, we have the world-leading know-how and research capability to build understanding and demonstrate solutions. Over the next five years, we will identify the biodiversity value of our estate and adopt Biodiversity Action Plans to set out how we protect and enhance nature through our operations. 

Everyone can play their part. Building on examples already underway in UKRI, we can all find ways to improve the natural assets we have access to where we work – including while many of us continue to work from home. There are many of examples of amazing work our staff are already undertaking in the name of biodiversity protection: From volunteers at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge fitting nesting boxes and improving vegetation, to the formation of a ‘Wilding Group’ at the British Geological Survey in Keyworth, and staff at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology expanding wildflower areas and planting herb gardens.

And through our new strategy, we'll be looking at opportunities to make the most of volunteering opportunities for staff, either individually or work groups, to help us all continue to protect the natural environment and to make time for nature.

Please get in touch with us if you have any comments or questions about UKRI’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy or want to know more about the research on biodiversity and sustainability that UKRI funds: email: ukrisustainability@nerc.ukri.org

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