I’ll probably never read as much as I am doing at the moment about one subject – a masters dissertation is a pretty rare opportunity to read a lot on a very specific topic. My topic – land use in the Lake District is, thankfully, a wide reaching one and I have been reading about payment for ecosystems services, historic land use, the history of national parks, the state of biodiversity in the UK and much more.
Having spent today at a conference hosted by the Blueprint for water coalition I’d spent a lot of the day thinking about the economic drivers required to bring water catchment management into the main stream of water companies operational business. Also on more human issues a really interesting question got me thinking about the difficulties and complexities of payment for ecosystems services – if the activities of farmers impacts water quality, one speaker suggested, then a polluter pays approach would suggest they should pay to ensure the water is clean. Instead we are looking at payments for ecosystem services, in order to get farmers to pollute the water less… on the other hand, surely farmers could equally argue the irony of water companies, who sell to the public, something which falls freely and cleanly from the sky is another example of the strange and complex economic relationships we have with natural resources.
It was on the train home, reading something which I first thought was pretty unconnected to this whole debate though, that really got me thinking. I read a report discussing the role of the outdoors and nature in providing health benefits. However, one fact stood out: in the year 2002-3 a survey showed that 40% of the adult population NEVER visited the countryside at all, during the entire year. Having spent lots of time, following the project wildthing program, thinking about the lack of engagement kids have with nature, it was striking how much broader that problem is. More worrying still was the report stating that the main reason was not lack of access, but simply lack of time, and more worryingly still, lack of interest. 40% of adults, just don’t want to go to the countryside.
In the context of water management I reflected on the often discussed concern that kids don’t understand their relationship to nature and I had to begin to wonder how many of those 40% of adults would really understand where the water coming out of their tap comes from, let alone the complex land use issues affecting that water and that, perhap, addressing this is a major element if payments for ecosystem services and acceptance of public subsidies to provide these services is to reach the main stream.