A new relationship that “respects rather than exploits the wonders of nature” must be created in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Sir David Attenborough has urged.
The veteran naturalist and broadcaster warned that science shows the destruction of nature and people’s encroachment into wild habitats is making the emergence of new viruses more likely.
Sir David, who is a vice-president of Fauna & Flora International (FFI), made the comments as the charity launched a crisis fund in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to protect global conservation efforts.
He said: “As the world responds to this pandemic, we must be led by the science, and the science is telling us that the destruction of nature, and encroachment of humans and industry into natural habitats, is making the emergence of new and dangerous viruses ever more likely.
“The finger of blame cannot be pointed at the natural world for this crisis, but in our relationship with it, and we must urgently act to create a new relationship that respects rather than exploits the wonders of nature.”
FFI said evidence linked the expansion of human activity into natural areas, more intensive agriculture and exploitation of wild species to increasing rates of spill-over of infectious diseases from wild animals to humans.
The fund has been seeded with an initial one million US dollars (£800 million) from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, and will distribute money to local conservation groups FFI currently partners with, including in Vietnam, Honduras, Belize, Kenya and Mozambique.
They include conservation projects and communities which have been hit by a collapse in tourism revenues, falling incomes and even problems with food supplies as a result of the pandemic.
FFI plans to launch an appeal for a further one million US dollars to help with longer-term support to conservation partners.
Chief executive Mark Rose said: “When the pandemic hit, we knew there was a real danger that it could create a conservation crisis and that we needed to respond.
“This fund is the first of its kind in response to the pandemic and will help ensure that this crisis doesn’t undermine the decades of hard work that have gone into safeguarding endangered wildlife and habitats around the world.”
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