The most important book you’ll read this year: What Nature Does for Britain by Tony Juniper


Being on holiday should be about getting away from the pressures of work and the daily routine, and relaxing with an easy novel or some magazines, turning off your brain and recharging ready for a return to reality. So what am I doing writing a book review in a sun-flooded apartment in Nice on France’s Cote d’Azur? A good question that is answered by the fact that this is a book that has been engaging me since I bought it at the airport on the way out. I’d known for some time that What Nature Does for Britain by Tony Juniper was about to be published as I’d received an invitation to the book launch in Cambridge in February. It was an invitation precipitated by the small contribution I’d made to the research for the book, when I was happy to provide some facts and figures on pollinator importance and decline in Britain. Unfortunately I missed the launch due to a prior engagement, and a poorly stocked WH Smith at Luton Airport was my first opportunity to buy a copy.

Tony Juniper is well known for his environmental writing and broadcasting so I had an idea that the book would be readable and interesting. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was just how good the book actually is, and that it’s the most important book you could read this year. Let me rephrase that: it’s the most important book that our politicians, business leaders, bankers and economists could read this year. In fact individuals with any leverage to influence government policies and business strategies should be made to sit down and read this book. But for anyone with an interest in the future of this country (and indeed of the planet) this really is a book worth reading. And, if you are British, preferably read it before the General Election in May.

Over the course of nine chapters, Juniper looks at how nature (broadly defined and including geology and physical processes, as well as biodiversity) underpins our society through its positive contributions to food production, water resources, flood mitigation, energy security, and our physical and mental health. At the end of each chapter Juniper sets out a series of manifestos that he challenges the government of the next five years to adopt and develop. Whichever party/ies form the government come the May election, its MPs need to rise to this challenge. And whichever parties are in opposition, it’s important that they read them too because they should understand where and how the government can get it right and get it wrong.

One of the refreshing things for me was how holistic and connected are the scenarios Juniper develops as he tours Britain to find case studies of where people and organisations are getting it right, working WITH nature, not against it. It’s easy for those of us working in particular fields, as academics or practitioners, to become over-focused on one’s own specialism: for me that would be obsessing about biodiversity, for others it could be energy generation or the economics of farming or infrastructure investment or wastes management. What this book does brilliantly is to bring together all of these elements, and more, and weave them into a single, seamless narrative. For example, large offshore wind farms generate renewable energy AND contribute to reducing CO2 emissions AND create marine nature reserves for sea life AND thereby boost regional fish stocks AND create jobs on the local mainland AND provide investment opportunities for banks and pension schemes AND develop new, exportable technologies. Yes, there may be downsides and Juniper doesn’t shy away from discussing these, for example bird collisions with turbines. But it ought to be possible to minimise these negatives, such as with appropriate design and siting strategies.

Although I was aware of many of the broad arguments presented in this book, it’s been a revelation to see the details set out so clearly and the linkages made so effectively, and with rigour: my word there’s an impressive amount of research on show here. I mentioned that I was consulted, but Juniper and his researcher Lucy McRobert have talked wide and deep with academics, conservationists, business leaders, civil servants, and other experts. The acknowledgements section runs to more than five pages and I counted over 100 names of individuals who were thanked for their contributions. Presumably everyone who was quoted was given the chance to comment on what was being written, as I was.   The sources for the information presented are provided on Juniper’s website ( This is a thorough book, all the more impressive because it had to be researched and written quickly in order to be published, and read, prior to the election.

Juniper’s vision of a future Britain is one in which we can have it all: economic security, functioning ecosystems, endless energy, jobs aplenty, and solutions to our most pressing environmental problems, including future effects of climate change. Clearly he’s an optimist. And that’s refreshing in a country where pessimism and cynicism seems to be the plat du jour (sorry, been eating in too many over-priced French restaurants).  If he isn’t right then the worst that will have happened will be that we have engaged in a series of experiments with our social, natural and economic capital that are no worse, and could be a lot better, than some of the experiments that have been foisted upon us by a series of government and private business strategies. But my gut feeling (supported by the evidence) is that he’s right and that this book provides us with a road map towards a virtuous ecological circle with society at its centre.

The sad thing is that the people who really ought to be reading this book, and who would gain most from its vision, are those politicians, business leaders and economists who are least likely to open its pages because either they’ve “heard it all before”, and disagree, or because the momentum of their vested interests and entrenched views leaves no opportunity to redirect the course on which they are travelling.

Although the focus is on the United Kingdom, the proposals that Juniper sets out could apply to any country and the book be renamed “What Nature Does For _____” [insert country of choice].  In truth the issues presented, and their broad solutions, are global. So, this is the most important book you could read this year, wherever you live.  Buy a copy, read it (on holiday, in bed, while commuting, or wherever) and pass it on to the person you know who is least likely to buy it for themselves. Or send it to your local MP.  That’s what I will be doing in the days following the election.

9 thoughts on “The most important book you’ll read this year: What Nature Does for Britain by Tony Juniper

  1. Clem

    The election you’ll have next month sounds (across the pond at least) like it could be quite interesting. Now that you’ve crossed the Channel for a little R&R (reading and reflecting??) have you picked up any sense of how the French are paying attention to what you Brits may have in the offing?

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      Hi Clem – I didn’t have an opportunity to talk politics with any of the French we met, though I imagine that they are more concerned about their own political issues such as the rise of far right parties.

  2. Anna

    It’s time we stopped thinking that politicians and business leaders will exact change on our behalf like they are supposed to. Sadly, we have to rely on the populace to start embracing the changes and a) they’re too busy trying to be gorgeous/famous/rich b) they are afraid of the unknown element associated with adopting new thinking and c) nobody could blame them because that’s what they are constantly being force-fed.

    So we have to start quietly and patiently smashing down these barriers they have one day at a time, discuss literature such as this book without being afraid to discuss politics (we’ve all been ‘taught’ to view political discussion as something that is bad) and vote with our feet – buy local food from local suppliers; recycle; walk more, etc etc….

    I shall buy this book.

    By the way Jeff, have you seen the book “the world we made” by jonathon porritt?????

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      Thanks Anna. Interestingly several of the case studies Juniper discusses are small scale, roots-up projects. But many others are not – they are driven by organisations that have some kind of vision, although often they see that they can make more more working with nature than against it. Haven’t seen Porritt’s book, no: would you recommend it?

      1. Anna

        Yes I would recommend Porritts book!

        I am sceptical of larger organisation’s motives for change. I know that Porritt works with Unilever to work more sustainably…..they are trying to figure out how to make ice cream without milk, for example (because cows are little methane factories, bless them)….but I need to know more about what they propose as an alternative to milk …..some GMO?? Thought of it makes me shudder. What’s your view on GMO food Jeff??? I don’t know enough about it but can’t help thinking that fish genes shouldn’t be in tomatoes etc…..

        Interestingly, ref your other commenter Clem, France have just voted to completely ban GM food, as have Russia….!

      2. jeffollerton Post author

        GMOs is such a huge topic! As far as I can tell there are “good” GMOs (e.g. those resistant to drought and pests (meaning less use of pesticide) and “bad” ones, e.g. herbicide resistant, meaning increased use of herbicides in fields. Each should be assessed on their merits and impacts I think.

  3. Clem

    To Anna:
    I am not certain what Unilever’s intentions are, but I’d like to guess they may be thinking of making an ice cream product with soy milk. I am aware they make soymilk, and though not certain of their soy sources would imagine there are sufficient sources of non-GM soy to do this. Markets and time will tell.
    As for the methane generation by cattle – its actually the microfloral commensals in the ruminant gut (though without them the cow is not a grass digester). There may be help on this front some day as well.

  4. Pingback: The environmental argument for the UK remaining in the European Union | Jeff Ollerton's Biodiversity Blog

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