Last week the biodiversity (and many other things) Minister, Richard Benyon, was quoted on the matter of the recovering bittern population.
The Minister said “To see a species that was once extinct in the UK rise to a population of over one hundred is a real achievement. This is largely down to the work of the RSPB and Natural England, and shows what can be achieved if we work together. This partnership work is vital as we work to meet the commitments set out in the Natural Environment White Paper and the England Biodiversity Strategy.”.
I like Mr Benyon personally, and believe that he wants the best for the natural environment. As an ex-soldier, I’m sure he will have noticed that the coalition government (where are the Liberal Democrats these days by the way?) made the first cuts in armed service personnel last week – around 2000 jobs of an eventual 20,000 job losses out of a total complement of over 200,000 servicement (140k Army, 40k RAF and 35k Royal Navy). Concerns have been expressed over whether this level of cut will prejudice the UK’s ability to respond to threats (although we do have the fourth largest Defence Budget of any country on Earth apparently).
I understand that Natural England have made most of the initial cuts in their troops at the instruction of Mr Benyon and his fellow Ministers. The cuts applying to the troops fighting the loss of biodiversity in the countryside are around 30% – which is what the Treasury applied to Defra as a whole in the Comprehensive Spending Review of nearly a year ago. NE have lost around 400 of an eventual 800 staff from their c2,500 total staff.
We are all in this together but it always seems as though our wildlife – the plants, insects, fish, birds and mamals that enrich our lives and share our planet – get the thick end of cuts and the thin end of help.
Natural England will be a weaker partner in conservation work if it does not have the resources to bring to the table and that will affect the ability of NGOs like the RSPB, Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation, Buglife and a host of others who collaborate with NE, and as a result do real conservation work, to deliver such success stories as that represented by the bittern. So it was wise of the Minister to praise the collaborative working between the RSPB and Natural England (and others actually) – not just because it is a success story that deserves praise but also because there may be fewer such stories in the future.
This is Small Government in practice. Perhaps such cuts are inevitable because of past folly. But it was the folly of the bankers not of the bank vole or other wildlife.