Covid recovery could 'tip the balance' for nature

By Victoria Gill
Science correspondent, BBC News

Gold finchImage source, Victoria Gill

Environmental scientists have called for the conservation of nature to be at the centre of the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

With countries still ensnared by the crisis, scientists have urged governments to make plans that "safeguard biodiversity and human health" as they rebuild.

The researchers published an open letter in the journal Science.

"How we emerge from lockdowns," they say, "will drive a new world economy."

This is likely to have lasting effects on global biodiversity, the Australian authors argue.

The right long-term plans, from governments and international organisations, could "tip the balance" in favour of nature.

Accidental conservation

Image caption,
The area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is now an ecological reserve

There are some striking examples of upheavals that have had unintended benefits for nature.

The catastrophic nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Ukraine, and the resulting exclusion zone around the plant, created an unplanned wilderness that has since been designated an ecological reserve.

Media caption,

The BBC's Victoria Gill looks at the wildlife species enjoying lockdown

"The Colombia Conflict, for example, created unofficial protected areas," explained Dr Ryan Pearson from Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. "This slowed environmental degradation because people were fearful of entering remote areas occupied by rebels."

The more recent "post-conflict" increase in deforestation there shows the need for longer-term strategies that can maintain the positive side effects of crises.

The lockdown effect

Image source, Victoria Gill
Image caption,
A drop in air pollution during lockdown has left skies clearer in some towns and cities

"There have been many reports of wild animals increasing in numbers and turning up in places they haven't been seen i a long time," Dr Pearson told BBC News. " This carries implications that certain species may be benefiting from the absence of human influence during lockdowns or possibly because of reduced pollution, especially in waterways.

"We can't be sure how long such effects will last unless long-term strategies are implemented to encourage them."

There is, the scientists say, a concern that the rush to re-stabilise and grow economies may come "at the expense of the environment".

This group of environmental scientists are adding their voices to a call for a greener focus as the world rebuilds.

Dr Pearson added: "We hope our letter will encourage positive strategies to support biodiversity into legislation, and the behaviour of people in their choices - in their consumption, investment, and travel."

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