Co-op Group joins conservation charities on Nature Neighbourhoods initiative

The retail society is contributing £300k to the scheme, and is mobilising its member pioneers to help efforts to improve urban habitats

The Co-op Group has joined a UK-wide initiative to help local, mostly urban communities stand up for nature in their neighbourhoods and tackle the climate crisis at local level.

Through the Nature Neighbourhoods project, 18 community organisations will receive support from nature charities WWF, RSPB and the National Trust, who have formed the Save Our Wild Isles partnership, and the Group.

The initiative was announced on 10 October – World Mental Health Day –  to acnkowledge the benefits of green spaces and nature to people’s mental wellbeing.

A Yougov poll found that three quarters of people in the UK are worried about the state of nature, but when it comes to protecting it, figures from the Natural History Museum rank the country in the bottom 10% worldwide, with one in six species at risk of extinction in Great Britain.

In March, the People’s Plan for Nature set out recommendations to reverse the UK’s shocking declines in nature, including calls for greater investment in ways to help communities take action to protect and renew nature at a neighbourhood level. The Nature Neighbourhoods project is a response to this.

Each Nature Neighbourhood plan will bring local communities and decision makers together to focus on local priorities for tackling the nature and climate crises. There will be a particular focus on working with urban communities, as there are often substantial barriers to accessing nature in urban environments, along with higher social and economic inequalities.

Nature Neighbourhoods has been funded by a £750,000 grant from the National Lottery Community Fund and £300,000 from the Co-op Group. There will also be on-the-ground support from the Group’s members and Member Pioneers, to help 18 local partners mobilise their communities and lead positive change. Provision will include training, financial aid and collaboration with local authorities.

Guy Stuart, director of technical, agriculture and sustainability at the Group, said: “Our members tell us how concerned they are around the effects of the climate crisis on people and the planet. Nature restoration and the halting of biodiversity-loss forms a central part on our approach to climate action, so our partnership with Nature Neighbourhoods is a landmark moment.

Related: Co-op Group works with RSPB on plan to restore UK peatland

“With a presence in every postal area in the country, we’re perfectly positioned to support directly into communities, through Co-op members and colleagues and our member pioneers. Through the power of co-operation, we can drive lasting change and help vulnerable communities restore nature, making them a better place to work, play, live and learn.”

“Urban nature doesn’t tend to be the focus of wildlife documentaries,” said Rory Crawford, project manager for Nature Neighbourhoods. “But most of us live in urban areas, and they present the biggest opportunity for people to access and take action for nature on a day-to-day basis.

“Efforts to improve access and tackle the biodiversity and climate crises have not tended to focus on neighbourhoods experiencing high levels of deprivation, but the local community organisations involved in this project are at the forefront of addressing this, through community gardens, improving parks, connecting young people to nature, community inclusion, creating new green spaces and supporting safe, active travel.”

The three charities will work closely with local organisations such as community centres, social enterprises, and volunteer food growing collectives, helping them bring together local residents, businesses and decision makers.

Representing the Save Our Wild Isles partnership, Jack Lundie, director of campaigns and engagement at WWF, Alice Hardiman, director of campaigns and mobilisation at the RSPB, and Mark Funnell, communications and campaigns director at the National Trust, said: “The People’s Plan for Nature gives charities like ours a clear mandate. Citizens representing the whole of the UK told us they want more action in their communities to protect and restore nature, and we know that nature can offer hope during difficult times.

“Through Nature Neighbourhoods, we’re going to boost support for this kind of local action. The community organisations and leaders we’re partnering with are uniquely placed to bring local voices together. They’ll use this platform to make decisions on how to address the nature and climate crisis at a local level, developing people-powered plans for change. We’re very grateful to the National Lottery Community Fund and to Co-op for supporting this shared mission, and we are so excited to be working with a brilliant range of organisations to make a difference for nature in communities across the UK.”

Related: Southern Co-op backs project to grow a wilder Isle of Wight

Mel Eaglesfield, deputy director at the National Lottery Community Fund, said: “We’re delighted to fund the Nature Neighbourhoods project, which will support communities across the UK by working with trusted and knowledgeable voluntary and community partners to help improve people’s access to nature.

“Thanks to National Lottery players, this innovative partnership is putting communities at the forefront of environmental action and empowering people to deliver meaningful, local change that matters to them.”