What Nature Does for Britain by Tony Juniper

If you want to make the case for Botany's importance anywhere in the world, then this is the book for you.


If you want to make the case for Botany’s importance anywhere in the world, then this is the book for you.

I got this as a Kindle book when it was on offer, lost the Kindle, bought more books and forgot to read this one. I opened it up again after reading Jeff Ollerton’s review of the book in which he called it the most important book of the year. It’s an argument that Nature has economic value and is a source of wealth, not a drain on it. It was written for the UK elections in 2015, so it’s no surprise the examples are based in the UK, but it should be possible to find similar data for other parts of the world. The value is in how he puts the data together to support his argument. It’s an excellent model to rip-off be inspired by.

The biggest potential difficulty with an argument for environmental economics is that so much of it is intertwined and interconnected. With so much dependant on so much else, where do you start? For Juniper the start is with the soil. He starts by explaining the importance of soils and why they’re not an inevitable consequence of not tarmacking the countryside. Talking about soils neatly moves to farming, pollinators and the importance of wildlife to farms and this then moves on to fishing, which is industrial scale hunting of aquatic wildlife.

It works because it can show the interconnection of different aspects of the natural world, but it also provides an accessible narrative to follow, so the information isn’t overwhelming. It makes a big difference when he moves on to less obvious arguments like the preservation of watersheds to help combat flooding or helping with water quality. Carbon and energy follows, but then he leads on to the social benefits of nature, backing up his ‘people like nature’ argument with solid data that shows the economic benefits.

The book closes with an optimistic claim that we can restore much of the damage we have done in a generation. It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. You might think this is all stuff you’re familiar with, but the it’s combining the different elements makes it much more than the sum of its parts.

It’s also extremely well focused on the problems. Juniper talks about the value of organic farming. Generally advocates for organic farming put me off organic farming. I want a better argument than “Monsanto! Fear them! FEAR THEM!” and Tony Juniper has it. He shows how organic farming can work on farms that would not do so well with conventional methods and how a soil-first approach can work to prevent the land being degraded. Connecting back to Nigel’s recent post, if we can improve nitrogen-fixing in crops then the damage from fertilizers could fall dramatically.

Green politics is an area where it’s very easy to be tribal. While the message might be that damage to Nature is unsustainable, Juniper’s message itself is very inclusive. You’re part of the solution, and things can be better for you. I think it adds up to a very seductive argument for the value for Nature. If you’re interested in reading more it’s available from the usual bookshops, but also might be in a library near you.

On a slightly connected note, he is talking about Nature on a broader scale, including why India needs vultures.