9 things you can do to protect the natural world

Nature is vital to our existence.

It provides the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat as well as other essential resources we need to survive. Being out in nature also has important benefits for our mental health and well-being. Nature protects us. But what can be done to protect nature?

We know that large-scale action is needed to address the threats facing the natural world, including soil degradation, pollution, deforestation, and species extinction. But it’s easy to underestimate the value of our own individual voice and actions. Your voice can go a long way in raising the profile of these issues. Your actions can have an important impact on the health and quality of natural spaces in your local area.

In order to identify some of the achievable things we can all do as individuals, we reached out to world-leading scientists and experts here at Imperial and beyond. We asked them what all of us can do to protect the natural world, and here are the nine key things they told us.

Text: 1. Be a voice for nature. Image: icon of a tree.

Ask your local councillors to ensure that everyone has access to nature, even in the most urban of areas. Ask them to give more space to wildlife, reduce verge cutting to nurture more natural green spaces, or introduce community gardening.

Tell your MP about the importance of protecting nature.

Explain why a healthy environment is essential for a healthy society. Call for more action on climate change, which is damaging natural environments around the world.

If you live in the UK, find out who your MP is, and the best way to contact them. 

Talk to your employer, school, or university about being more friendly to nature. Could they do more to encourage recycling and waste reduction? Could they make outdoor spaces greener? Can people get together to grow fruit and vegetables?

Do you see companies that could do more to protect the environment? – e.g. selling products in non-recyclable packaging. Find their contact details and tell them why they need to do things better.

Speak to friends, family, colleagues and classmates about the threats facing the natural world, talk positively about the changes you have made, the challenges you encountered and how you overcame them.

Illustration of letters falling down over the UK Parliament
Illustration of letters falling down over the UK Parliament
Illustration of letters falling down over the UK Parliament
Illustration of letters falling down over the UK Parliament
Illustration of letters falling down over the UK Parliament
Illustration of letters falling down over the UK Parliament
Illustration of letters falling down over the UK Parliament
Illustration of letters falling down over the UK Parliament
Illustration of letters falling down over the UK Parliament
Text: 2. Make your home a haven for native plants and wildlife. Image: Plant pot containing plants with a bee flying around
Animated image of bees flying over windowsill plant box.

Be a green gardener by using peat-free compost and natural fertilisers and pesticides. Plant native species and be kind to all the insects and birds that feed on flower nectar and pollinate the fruits. If you can, support local wildlife around your home by setting up bee hotels, bird boxes, ponds and green roofs.

No access to a garden?

Green your home with indoor plants or window boxes on your balcony. You can also get involved in community gardening, such as Energy Garden, which runs 30 projects in London Overground trackside space, or check Social Farms & Gardens for projects in your local area.

Scientists often ask people to look out for important or rare species at specific times of the year. Check out the Biological Records Centre, the British Trust for Ornithology and the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme to support conservation and research.

Text: 3. Respect and protect local habitats beyond your home. Image: Woodland with trees, scrubs and birds

Protect local ecosystems (and your mental health) by visiting green spaces and getting your hands dirty!

Get involved with local grassroots organisations and conservation groups. Organisations like Fields In Trust and the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces have advice and resources on how you can get involved in areas local to you.

Check out The Conservation Volunteers (TCV). This community volunteering charity brings people together to work on nature-based projects and improve the health and wellbeing of people nearby.

Join in a local litter clean-up (such as those organised by GoodGym members across the UK) and include picking up litter into your daily activities. Every piece of rubbish removed from the local environment means there is one less hazard for wildlife and one less piece of pollution in local ecosystems. You could also start or join a tree planting project near you. Tree Town is a great resource to get you started.

When enjoying outdoor spaces, such as a local park, take care not to disturb the plants and animals that live there. Keep to main walking paths - as the saying goes, 'take only photos, leave only tracks'.

Image of woodland with man planting a tree, a man planting plants and a woman with a bird box.
Text: Eat a sustainable diet. Image: Large pot full of vegetables with a chopping board in front where food is being prepared.
Illustration of various fish, meat, milk, and cheese
Illustration of fresh fruit and vegetables, including a watermelon, asparagus, and carrots.
Illustration of various fish, meat, milk, and cheese
Illustration of fresh fruit and vegetables, including a watermelon, asparagus, and carrots.

Eat less meat, dairy products and fish.

Farming animals is a major cause of deforestation worldwide and the source of about 15% of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, while overfishing is behind the decline of many ocean species. Eating less of these animal products and choosing alternatives, such as plant milks or meat-replacements such as soya or tofu are some of the most effective ways to reduce your impact on the wider natural world.

Choose more locally-grown foods when in season.

If you can’t grow your own or get involved with community gardening, your neighbourhood market can be a great source of local produce.

Where possible, look for foods with labels such as the Marine Stewardship Council, Soil Association Organic, and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Sustainability certifications are one way to ensure that your foods were produced or sourced in a nature-friendly way.

All our food has some impact on the environment, so help reduce food waste by only buying what you need, and using up left-over pieces or portions creatively in the kitchen! Check out Love Food Hate Waste for some inspiration.

You may also be able to ‘rescue’ tasty treats from local shops and restaurants that would otherwise be thrown away, check out Too Good To Go or Olio to see if there is anything in your local area.

Text: . Remember the three R's. Image: Illustration of a recycling bin.

Avoiding waste by cutting the amount of items that get produced and thrown away can make a big difference for nature. Follow the three Rs:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Textured green background with icons of arrow moving in a circle.
Illustration of a shopping bag, recycling bins and box of clothes with animated arrows moving around them. The words 'Reduce, re-use, recycle' sit at the bottom of the animation.

Reduce waste and save money by minimising the amount of items you use. Ensure items are used for as long as possible by maintaining and repairing them. If you need something, see if it could be borrowed rather than purchased. Or, why not get some friends and family together to create a sharing network for rarely used items, such as hammers, drills or sewing machines? This is also a great way to connect with others.

Did you know that you can reduce the amount of plastic pollution released by your washing machine?

Using microfibre filters and washing bags can stop ocean-bound microplastics from by clothing fibres.

Reuse items where you can, such as plastic bags, cups, and straws. Donate old items to charity shops so they can be reused by others.

Recycle as much as possible where you live and work. Check your local council website if you're not sure what can be recycled and if you find products that cannot be recycled in your area, ask your council if things can be improved.

Text: 6. Buy less and shop sustainably. Image: A jumper hanging up on a clothes hanger. The jumper has a shopping tag on the arm.
Illustration of a hand picking up a household item with eco-labelling on it. The products on either side of it don't have this labelling.

Keep nature in mind when you are shopping because all products have an impact on the environment in some way. Think about where products are made, consider second-hand options and, where you can, opt for higher quality items that are made to last.

If possible, buy household products that use natural, non-toxic and biodegradable ingredients to minimise their environmental impact. Look out for accreditation marks such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Global Organic Textile Standard to ensure that items are produced with people and planet in mind.

Additionally, reducing the amount of plastic we use can made a big difference for nature. Choosing products made of plastic alternatives (such as paper, wood and stainless steel) is one great way to do this. You can also avoid products with excess plastic packing - some companies now offer refillable packaging, for example. so you don’t have to buy a new plastic bottle each time.

Another way to give back to nature is to invest your money responsibly. Ask your bank or pension fund if you can opt out of funds that are destructive to nature, and to invest in environmentally friendly portfolios.

Text: 7. Save water. Image: illustration of a dripping tap.

Humans are a major drain on the world’s fresh water supply – from the water required for agriculture to that for brushing your teeth.

Textured blue background with illustrations of water droplets.
Several animated images of the way we use water in our day to day lives. From showering, to washing machines, to water from a tap and a water storage tank.

The good news is that there are a lot of simple things you can do to preserve it.

Take shorter showers, turn off the tap when you can, fix leaking taps and toilets and ensure you run dishwashers and clothes washing machines with a full load to get the best use out of the water they consume.

Other simple changes at home can save water, from using a water butt to store rain for watering your plants to making your own water-saving toilet by putting a brick or 'toilet hippo' in the cistern or buying a low-flush or dual-flush mechanism that does the same job but with less water.

To avoid contaminating freshwater, do not dispose of hazardous waste, such as medications, down toilets or sinks.

Text: 8. Be a nature-friendly tourist. Image: Scrubs with a train moving in the distance behind it.
Illustration of a large concrete hotel with water fountain, a jet ski on water, and cars and taxis.
Illustration of a train, a eco-house (accommodation) and a kayak on water.
Illustration of a large concrete hotel with water fountain, a jet ski on water, and cars and taxis.
Illustration of a train, a eco-house (accommodation) and a kayak on water.

Tourism affects local ecosystems as people come into more direct contact with wildlife.

Choose to travel locally and use sustainable transport, such as public transportation or a bicycle, where possible. Look for activities that minimise the impact on nature and wildlife - instead of a motorboat or jet ski, use a kayak or canoe.

Consider a nature holiday in the UK to find out more about our native wildlife. Several sites cater for visitors, including tours and camping facilities, all designed with nature in mind.

The European Commission's Ecolabel programme grades tourist accommodation based on its the construction, use of water and energy and waste management, helping you to decide the best places to visit to reduce the environmental impact of your holiday.

Text: 9: Learn more about protecting nature - knowledge is power. Image: Illustration of binoculars with plants in the background.
Illustration of people talking to each other, a computer, a phone taking photos and binoculars in the background.

The more you know about the natural world, and the threats it faces, the more you can help.

Take initiative to learn more about habitats and ecosystems, and what you can do to protect them.

Take up a nature-friendly hobby such as bird watching, go for a walk, get a magnifying glass and bug box or visit a nature-themed museum or outdoor centre. Seek out online resources, such as the Grantham Institute’s online events. Share your ideas with friends, family and colleagues so you can learn from each other and work together to protect nature.

Grantham Institute logo

Download the illustrated leaflet for this feature.

Graphics and animations created by Fat Panda.

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Textured green background with icons of trees.