Opinion... Recognising the value of nature

Can anything positive come from the felling of street trees in Sheffield? The sight of contractors unloading chainsaws and chopping down street trees outside residents' front doors is visceral. People feel shock and disbelief.

No understanding of council contracts and long-term cost savings can possibly justify the overtly senseless ongoing slaughter of street trees in Sheffield.

The tree removal, now well into thousands, is at best an unintended consequence of ignorant council procurement processes, lack of skills and the silos of working in the council, all leading to this perverse, unnecessary and unwanted outcome.

So is there any good that can come of this? Weirdly, I believe there may be. In visiting Sheffield and meeting some of the people who live in now denuded streets, I have never witnessed such passion and animation in the cause for nature.

When I was president of the Landscape Institute, I continuously trumpeted the importance of working with natural systems and utilising green infrastructure through sustainable approaches to change. This largely fell on deaf ears. The words "sustainable", "environmental" or "green" all have little or no truck with politicians or decision-makers. Worse, this was also the same for most ordinary people.

This blindness toward natural systems exists because we take them for granted. Nature is simply invisible to most people. I believe it is only when nature is denuded, as here, or lost, that we miss it or start to appreciate it.

Blindness toward natural systems is ubiquitous. The worldwide unified voice of our scientists stating that we need to put our planet’s fragile natural systems first in everything we do is simply not recognised as relevant or important in our lives — it is not heard. My hope is that perhaps the experiences of local residents in Sheffield signals a change and a start in the realisation of the profound importance of natural systems.

Real change only occurs through people’s will, delivered through democratic process. As a starting point, we must all see nature as an important consideration in everything we do. To do this we must recognise what it does for us all — its role in ensuring healthy places in which to grow up, play, live and work.

If anything good can come out of this mindless action, it is that the people of Sheffield are starting to see nature and its value. This is the essential first step towards a democratic voice for nature and the realising of all our sustainable futures.

Noel Farrer is a founding partner of Farrer Huxley Associates

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