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UK public wants nature at the heart of policymaking, new research shows

11 August 2021
Reading Time: 4 mins


UKBCSD member WSP - one of the UK’s largest environmental consultancies - has supported a unique and comprehensive analysis published by Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism.

Entitled Nature positive?, the research analyses public attitudes towards the value of the UK’s natural environment, how we access and engage with it, and the responsibility of different stakeholders for its protection and enhancement.

Biodiversity in the UK and around the world is declining at an alarming rate and should be viewed as an equally important and interconnected issue alongside the climate crisis.

The report finds that, while support is high for current leading UK Government policies to protect the natural environment both domestically and overseas, the UK public believes Government and government agencies are currently not doing enough.

There is public support for new housing and infrastructure developments so long as they improve the natural environment, indicating support for the ‘biodiversity net gain principle’ included within the Environment Bill, which requires developers to ensure the natural environment be left in a better state than before.

The report also shows clear recognition of the benefits of nature from a mental and physical wellbeing perspective, and a desire for local benefits from the natural environment. However, though urban green spaces and parks are the most visited natural environment by the UK public, they are perceived as relatively low value and quality.

Ashley Dunseath, Director, Head of Masterplanning, Advisory & Economics at WSP andUKBCSD Board Director, said “The impact of the pandemic has reinforced how important greenspace is, at a very human level, resulting in a far greater awareness of nature and all it offers not least in our bid to go beyond net zero.  Those of us working across the built environment sectors, have a responsibility to our communities and our planet, to ensure we design with nature in mind.”


Key findings

  • PRIORITIES: Fewer than one in eight of the UK public (11%) claim that climate change or the natural environment are their single biggest concern.
  • Despite being a small personal concern, a third (33%) of people believe climate change should be the most important foreign policy priority for the UK Government. Nature conservation is significantly less important at less than one in five (17%).
  • Plastic pollution was seen as the greatest threat to the UK’s natural environment (41%) followed by climate change (37%). Only 14% of the public perceived it to be a decline in plant and animal numbers.


  • POLICY: The public strongly supports the leading domestic Government policies to protect and enhance the natural environment. Protecting 30% of the UK’s land from environmental harm by 2030 is the most widely supported policy (75%), followed by a requirement for developers to enhance the natural environment when building new houses (74%).
  • Over half (59%) of the UK public prefers bans on products which are harmful to the natural environment, in comparison to 41% who prefer financial incentives from government for individuals to make more sustainable choices.


  • RESPONSIBILTY: Only a third (32%) of the public believes that local authorities are doing enough to protect and enhance the natural environment in the UK, and this falls to 28% for the UK Government.
  • Three in five (62%) believe charities and voluntary groups doing enough to protect and enhance the natural environment. Over two in five (44%) believe businesses are not doing enough to protect and enhance the natural environment.
  • Majorities of the public believe government agencies (59%), national (58%) and local governments (52%) should have very high levels of responsibility for the protection and enhancement of the natural environment.
  • ACCESS: Over one-in-ten (12%) would be willing to pay a fee of £5 or more to access the natural environment if the amount paid went towards its protection and enhancement. Nearly three-in-ten (29%) said they would be willing to pay a fee of up to £5, but over half (51%) of the public said they would not be willing to pay.
  • BENEFITS: A majority of people value the mental wellbeing (60%) and improved physical wellbeing (54%) benefits of natural environments.
  • If given £1,000 to spend on improving the natural environment, a majority of people (53%) would spend it on their own property or their local neighbourhood.


  • DEVELOPMENT: Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the public support a requirement for developers to enhance the natural environment when building new houses.
  • 72% of the public would be more likely to support new infrastructure development if the organisations constructing them are obliged to materially improve the local natural environment.


  • URBAN: Urban green spaces and parks are the most visited natural environment by the UK public, with 17% visiting daily and 32% visiting weekly.
  • However, only one-in-ten (11%) said urban green spaces and parks were the most valuable natural environment in the UK, and they have a relatively low perceived quality, with a third (33%) labelling them as “Fair” and nearly one-in-ten (9%) as “Poor”.
  • Over a third (36%) placed a high value on close proximity of public parks as a factor when considering where they would like to live.
  • On the perceived benefits of incorporating nature into urban environments, increased biodiversity (23%) and reduced urban flooding (24%) ranked low.

Find a link to the report here.