by Julia Green
The population in the UK is now at a historical high of 65.6 million people. According to the Office for national Statistics the UK population has increased by almost 10 million since the 1970s and is projected to reach 73 million in 20 years’ time and continue increasing after that.
England is now the most densely populated country in Europe, apart from the tiny island of Malta, at 395 people per square kilometre – double that of Germany and quadruple that of France. England’s density is among the highest in the world for major countries, ranked third in density after Bangladesh and South Korea, and predicted to rise to 464 people per square kilometre by 2031.
This huge increase has been fuelled by decades of high immigration, where up to four hundred thousand people net have been coming into this country each year to live, mainly from the EU. As an EU member, we have had to open our borders and allow anyone from the EU into the country, putting pressure on our infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals. It has resulted in having to build around 275,000 new homes every year and constructing and widening roads to cope with increased traffic.
It has also put huge pressure on our countryside, including the loss of prime agricultural land used to build new homes. Chancellor Philip Hammond, with Prime Minister Theresa May’s approval, is planning to promote renewed building on the greenbelt in his next budget.
Much of the countryside is owned by local authorities and since the 1930s has been protected from development as it was considered important to create a ring of greenbelt land around urban areas. But under the latest National Planning Policy framework (NPPF) Councils around the country are being encouraged by the government to review existing boundaries of such land in their areas and re-designate them to meet housing demand. Around 250,000 new homes are expected to be built each year for the foreseeable future, which is equivalent to an area the size of Liverpool.
The countryside sustains wildlife by providing important natural corridors which are crucial for wildlife populations to thrive. If these corridors are broken it leads to isolated pockets of habitat, which over time cause wildlife to die out from reduced genetic diversity. According to the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species almost two thirds of animal species have declined in the last 50 years due to loss of habitat and intensive farming practises.
Greenbelt land is important for people too. Studies have shown that walking in the countryside helps to reduce stress and provides a healthy environment for people to take physical exercise, keeping the mind and body healthy.
If the benefits that greenbelt land provides is taken away, it will have a detrimental effect on all living creatures in this country, including ourselves.
We have a population crisis rather than a housing crisis. If the government continues to encourage housing development in the countryside, what is now a ‘green and pleasant land’ will become a concrete sprawl. We are custodians of our planet to look after and protect for future generations. If the countryside is allowed to be destroyed at the current rate, there will soon be nothing left for wildlife and ourselves to enjoy.