World in Union

In my Time Nature Notebook today (4th July) I refer to the recent visit by the Director General of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to the UK,  Here is the full interview.  

Setting land aside as a place for nature is a human activity deeply founded in the principles of stewardship and was practised by ancient Egyptians, Chinese emperors and European monarchs alike. As a part of how we manage land today, nature reserves, national parks and other designated sites hare part of how modern nations protect special places and the wildlife that lives in them. 

Striking the balance between using and protecting natural resources and reserving some land as nature reserves began only in the late 19th century in the UK, some decades behind the new national parks of Africa and the Americas.   

Today, almost 209,000 protected areas cover 15.4% of the planet’s land and inland water areas, and 3.4 % of the oceans. In context, only 11% of the Earth’s surface is cultivated for crops and, even by 2030, the area of built up urban areas will be about 1% of the land surface. 

Inger Andersen is the new Director General of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world’s watchdog for the conservation of species, measured on its red data list, and protected areas.  This month, she called in to the UK, to meet conservation agencies and some of her staff in Cambridge. 

Andersen has taken up the leadership of the World Conservation Union as it limbers up to the Paris Conference of the Parties on Climate Change and the World Conservation Conference in the US next September.  Raised in Denmark, Inger Andersen has progressed quickly as a quiet-spoken diplomat with a reputation for effectiveness, working previously for the United Nations and World Bank before arriving last month to lead IUCN’s 1000 staff and 16 000 expert members of the IUCN’s main commissions and corralling its 1200 member organisations.    

I asked Andersen what made the UK stand out globally.  ‘ We feel we have a uniqueness in the relation with the UK, we feel we belong here, because of your commitment to action, because of the roots of our organisation and because 1 in 6 people care deeply about the environment and so want to get involved’.  

Andersen paid tribute to the conservation visionaries such as Sir Peter Scott (who also founded the World Wildlife Fund) and Max Nicholson who were key players in IUCN’s founding 67 years ago. 11 of the 31 founding partners in IUCN were British conservation organisations. 

Recent IUCN research confirms Andersen’s enthusiasm for the UK voluntary organisations, with several thousand sites covering a quarter of a million acres run by the voluntary conservation bodies, not previously recorded in its global database. 

The new Director General clearly likes the UK model of a strong voluntary and private sector contribution to conservation, describing the membership of UK voluntary organisations as ‘incredible’.  ‘It’s clear that for all of the protected areas across Africa, Asia and the Americas to be actually protected areas that if we put the full management costs on the public purse that would be unrealistic, so the voluntary sector, communities and business must all play a part’

Nature reserves such as Elmley (that I write about in today's Times) and the reserves run by the RSPB, National Trust and Woodland Trust are secure places when state-funded conservation is likely to be at the end of Chancellor George Osborne’s sharp pencil.

On the new UK Government’s commitment to conservation, from a career diplomat you would expect a careful answer.  Privately, Andersen’s team were disappointed at the seniority of their meeting with Defra. Biodiversity Minister Rory Stewart was, apparently too busy to meet Andersen. 

Nevertheless, Andersen talked up Defra’s commitment to international conservation, recognising the UK’s generous support to global conservation funds and the constructive voice that the UK uses in international negotiations ‘You have an important voice in Europe, on the global stage and in the international community and that voice is one that impacts on decisions’. 

Andersen’s message for the new Government is one of partnership and respect for the national differences that make up IUCN’s membership.     ‘The challenges are real, but there are some huge opportunities because we are at a defining period in the history of conservation and of this planet when what we do and don’t do matters’.   

Posted on: July 4th, 2015