How nature can benefit your mental health
By Debbie Frances,
Our UK coasts and waters are busier than ever. Whether it is fisheries or renewable energy, extractive industries or transport, there are temporal and spatial challenges in the marine environment. Marine planning has become an important way of managing sectoral interests, but it can be hard to engage the public in a process that can feel remote and in ecosystems that are mostly out of sight. It is crucial that communities and individuals play an active role in marine planning as so much of our national wellbeing and prosperity relies on managing our seas in the best interests of nature and the nation.
"In less than two years, we have facilitated the distribution of almost £3 million in grants to marine and coastal restoration in Scotland." - Sarah Brown, Fellow
In 2018 I was lucky enough to be granted a Churchill Fellowship to investigate community and stakeholder engagement in marine planning and invasive species management. I travelled across the USA, from coast to coast, visiting a wide range of academic experts and practitioners working with communities and business sectors. I was universally welcomed as I travelled from the heart of wealthy San Francisco to native American communities in the north-east, through the twin cities in the Great Lakes and on to socially deprived communities in the north-west, where innovative, self-regulated fisheries management is taking place, before heading down to Maine to study climate change educational processes in action with elected officials.
I went to learn about how these professionals undertake engagement with those most affected by marine issues, such as fishers and other industry representatives, environmental interests, community representatives and recreational enthusiasts. I also wanted to understand what engagement tools they were using: were they similar to what we use in the UK such as websites, town-hall style meetings and consultation events, or did they have other techniques that worked better? I wanted to examine what terminology they used and whether it was different for different audiences. And did they have different approaches as they moved through the various stages of marine planning?
What I learnt was subtle at times, communication being a lot about judgement and experience and adaptation rather than a blueprint to follow. That did make it difficult to distil into a report, but I did my best, outlining some of the key ideas and how I felt they could be integrated into the UK – travel to learn, return to inspire, as the Fellowship slogan goes. The three key findings for me were:
Back home I started to put my learning into action, raising awareness with colleagues in the Scottish Government and elsewhere doing presentations and short talks. The conversation at the end of the talks was always useful but often ended with a ‘Yes but we don’t have the budget for that sort of work.’ With natural capital accounting (a relatively new approach to measuring the value of nature) being used more widely, various estimates for the cost of nature recovery have now been identified, and a pivotal report, The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review, has also been published - so the size of the funding gap has never been more clearly set out.
My Fellowship put me in an excellent position to do something to help. With my new knowledge of funding mechanisms, I was able to secure a place within a new Scottish government-led programme called the Scottish Marine Environmental Enhancement Fund. This is a first of its kind programme, raising funds from the private sector to reinvest in the restoration of Scottish marine and coastal ecosystems. The model itself is fairly simple: money in from private sector investment and money back out as grants – the same model I had seen work in America during my Fellowship.
There are some important differences. We don’t – yet – have the same tax breaks available for donations in the UK as they do in America. We also don’t have quite the same social licence for this kind of fundraising. However, implementing my lessons learned about the approach to business interests has been valuable. An unexpected challenge has been the need to work with some stakeholders to help them gain a better understanding of the need for business to be fiscally as well as emotionally motivated to invest, by providing them with a reasoned and well-founded business case for support.
It has also been difficult for some stakeholders to accept the source of funds which may come from a diverse range of actors including the oil and gas sector, which may go against their stance on climate. The establishment of our Ethical Contributions Policy and of an independent due diligence and sign-off procedure have been essential to help overcome this issue.
All that said, so far so good. In less than two years, we have facilitated the distribution of almost £3 million in grants to marine and coastal restoration in Scotland, and donations from business are steadily coming in to refill our grant pot. Political support and policy stability are important factors, and there is a long way to go: the Green Finance Institute estimates that £15-20 billion is needed to restore Scotland’s biodiversity. But there is no doubt in my mind that I would not have been here, making this impact, without all that I learnt during my Fellowship.
You can find out more about the Scottish Marine Environmental Enhancement Fund at www.smeef.scot.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.
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