Words by Abi Scaife
Mother Nature has been taking a beating lately - it’s no secret. Luckily, there is a huge number of incredible people who are coming to bat for her, including those in the legal sector - which is where Lawyers for Nature comes in.
Rather than a law firm, Lawyers for Nature is a collection of lawyers with a common desire; to represent the needs of the planet.
“We set out from the word ‘go’ to buck all the trends and just be a law firm that works for and on behalf of the planet, Mother Earth, nature,” explains Brontie. Brontie Ansell is the Head of Research at Lawyers for Nature and helped to set it up, alongside Paul Powlesland. “We obviously get instructed by humans, but they're people [whose] entire raison d'etre is to protect [the] planet, to mitigate climate change. It's basically been our entire mission - to represent the natural world since day one. So that's what we did.”
The origins of Lawyers for Nature lie in Head of Legal Paul Powlesland’s work advising and assisting campaigners who fought to protect street trees in Sheffield. Paul’s work helped to save 17.5 thousand street trees in Sheffield, one of his biggest cases on behalf of the planet.
Today, Lawyers for Nature is a group of barristers, solicitors, academics and law students from incredibly diverse backgrounds who all have one thing in common - a desire to protect the planet, using our legal system. They are a CIC, and much of their work is pro-bono as they work to make legal assistance easily available for those who put the planet first.
Though you might feel the term ‘environmental law’ applies here (anyone else love a procedural show?), as it turns out, a lot of environmental law seems help people hurt the planet, rather than protect it.
“[None of us] would call ourselves environmental lawyers,” explains Brontie who, along with her colleagues at Lawyers for Nature, calls herself a ‘Nature Lawyer’. “Because the law that we have, particularly in this country, that's called Environmental Law is largely a permissive structure that allows polluters to either get away with things entirely or to get away with it with a small fine or a slap on the wrist.
"Even if it started out being made with the best of intentions, it's largely used by the companies that we need to stop. It's a very permissive structure.”
So if it’s not environmental law, what is Lawyers for Nature about?
Brontie was the legal brain behind the incredible milestone reached by Faith In Nature, a natural beauty brand that recently became the first business to officially appoint Nature to its Board of Directors - something that beautifully encompasses the mission of Lawyers for Nature.
“Nature on the Board is harnessing the power of the space that corporations occupy, to try and get corporations to recognise the rights of nature, and to start behaving as if nature has rights,” explains Brontie. “As opposed to using nature as an extractive resource, which is ridiculous and we can't keep doing that. It's about sort of changing mindsets at board level and thinking, ‘Well, if you need to take parts of nature, how do you regenerate nature? How do you regenerate biodiversity? How do you respect nature as a peer, as a citizen with litigation rights?’
“It's about introducing risk to the board and to the company in terms of nature as a stakeholder. It's a very theoretical thing … and what I'm trying to do with my work is make it a reality for the corporate space because the corporate space has a lot of power - even sometimes more so than governments.”
Lawyers for Nature and the work that they do is about thinking outside the box, coming up with ways to protect nature and those who fight to protect it. Their entire focus represents a very real, and very necessary shift in thinking, asking the all-important question - why do humans come first?
“It's about changing this mindset of humans first,” explains Brontie, giving the example of her work helping to give nature a stake in the game - literally. “Nature on the Board is about - what would it look like to be different? What would it look like to award constitutional rights to nature? What about if we just did it and started behaving as if nature has a seat on the board?”
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
Every Can Counts. This is a not-for-profit recycling programme, encouraging people to recycle more often, to protect our planet. Support them here.
Trees For Cities. They are working to plant more trees within large metropolitan areas, for the betterment of people and planet. Support them here.
Climate Reframe. Climate Reframe is committed to supporting the climate and environment movement in its transformation towards greater justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI). Find out more.