Henley Town Council declares a Nature Emergency

a beautiful river landscape at sunset with the words 'Nature Emergency' blazoned across it

Last June, Greener Henley urged Henley Town Council to declare a nature emergency, to sit alongside its existing climate emergency declaration. The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world and there is a pressing need to address the alarming decline of nature in our local area and all around the UK.  So we are thrilled to see this week that the Council has made this important declaration.  We applaud its leadership on this issue and we will do whatever we can to support its plans in this regard.

The decision to declare a nature emergency couldn’t come at a more critical time. Nature’s fine balance is crucial because everything we love, cherish and rely upon, from clean air, water and our health, to beautiful landscapes and the stability of our economy, hinges on the health and balance of our natural ecosystems. But across the UK and all around the world, ecosystems are under siege, species are vanishing at an unprecedented rate, and the delicate balance of nature is being disrupted.  A local example of this is the hazel dormouse. In 2004, 100 of them were counted in the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire wildlife reserves; last year only 2 could be found. 

Only 2 hazel dormice were found in the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire wildlife reserves in 2023

Although we think of Oxfordshire as a verdant county, the loss of our ancient hedges linking to woodland means nocturnal animals such as dormice, who travel long distances but never come to ground, are left stranded, and in rapid decline.  Here in Henley, every day we are witnessing firsthand the impact of habitat loss, pollution, and climate change on our local wildlife and natural landscapes – from increased flooding to decline of insect populations, from air pollution in excess of multiple World Health Organisation limits to our beloved river turning into an open sewer.

But amidst these challenges lies an opportunity – a chance for us to take decisive action to reverse the tide of nature decline. This is where the declaration of a nature emergency becomes more than just words on paper; it becomes an instigator of  change, a wake-up call for the urgent action needed to halt biodiversity loss and begin to restore nature and ecosystems.

Green spaces play an important part in this and they should not be something separate to our town. Welcoming nature back into our urban spaces is vital, as is ensuring we have access to sustainable, locally grown food. The Town Council has established two community orchards in recent years from which we can all benefit.  We are all  aware of the need to reduce food waste and provide food security, so more community growing spaces close to where people live seems the way forward. For those without outdoor space to grow their own, more community allotments, orchards or even smaller growing spaces for fresh herbs would be valuable community assets.

This is also an opportunity for every resident of Henley and surrounds to play a part in safeguarding our natural world for future generations.  From protecting and restoring our local wildlife habitats to making daily choices that protect nature, there are countless ways that all of us can contribute to a more nature-positive world.  One such opportunity is Greener Henley’s Nature Squared campaign, which aims to mobilise our community in creating a nature corridor across our town by encouraging everyone to plant 1m2 of native wildflowers for pollinators. By taking part, individual efforts multiply as together the seeds we sow become habitat stepping stones for wildlife; collectively we create something we could never achieve on our own. 

Nature Squared Campaign logo

Halting and reversing nature decline requires action on many levels – from the general public to farmers, businesses, schools and organisations, to local authorities and policy makers in government. In short, ALL of us. We are all involved in getting into this mess and we must all work hard together to get us out. Individual actions are no doubt important and can contribute to positive change, inspiring others, creating a ripple effect. However, in our high carbon society where the principle reason for nature loss is intensive farming and the continuing effects of climate change, this crisis must be dealt with at national government policy level in order to achieve the necessary seismic structural shift required.  It’s crucially important that we show policy-makers that change IS possible, that our Council and residents are ready to embrace the changes that we need to make in our everyday choices for a better way of living, ultimately bringing us to a more sustainable, healthier, happier place where we live alongside nature. This is why what we do here in Henley is so vital – that we can model a community that lives in harmony with nature, that places nature at the heart of everything that we do, that recognises that we are in fact an integral part of nature. Our council’s nature emergency declaration gives nature an essential seat at the table in all council decisions made. 

So, upon our town’s declaration of a nature emergency, let’s embrace this moment as a catalyst for change. Let’s harness this opportunity to protect and restore nature. Together, we can build a future where nature thrives and our children inherit a cleaner, greener town and a world worth cherishing.

Let’s make it happen, together.