A week ago a poll emerged which showed that the countryside is top of the list for what makes us proud to be British.
Tomorrow the government will unveil its conclusions on the future of the planning system in England and it seems that the presumption in favour of ‘sustainable’ development will remain. This pleases the CLA and the open letter from their President Harry Cotterell is worth a read.
It won’t mean the end of the green belt or less protection for European designated sites – but it will mean that the death from a thousand cuts for wildlife in the countryside will be accelerated by more and deeper assaults. And, remember, according to the legal advice of the RSPB it will mean weaker protection for SSSIs.
What will the NGOs say on the day and how will they react if their lobbying has been ignored, as seems likely? Will they put a brave face on it? Will they lay into the government? Will they plan to exact any retribution on the ungreenest government ever?
I mean this seriously – what will be the response? What political pain will the NGOs try to impose on the government? Because if the answer is ‘none’ or ‘not much’ then that lets the government get away with it. I look forward to seeing what the National Trust, CPRE, RSPB and others will say or do in response to tomorrow’s announcement.
You have one week to go before you can see the final results of the Nature of Harming ‘award’. Cast your vote now and ask your friends (you do have friends?) to cast their’s too, please. Nearly 1000 people have voted.
Here, at this late stage – is some rationale to go behind it:
We nature conservationists are too nice. We treat the world as though everyone is on our side but it’s quite clear that they aren’t.
We should let our nasty sides show a bit more and do more naming and shaming. Where should we start?
The easy place to start is with those who break wildlife laws – no-one will defend them publicly and so we can have a real go at that minority of gamekeepers who kill wildlife illegally. There are only 5000 gamekeepers in the UK but they are responsible for c70% of convictions for crimes against birds of prey.
Most wildlife losses in our countryside aren’t caused by people breaking the law, or even by people wanting to harm wildlife. No-one went out and shot half the country’s skylarks and yet they disappeared in the 1970s-1990s and haven’t come back, because our farming system excludes so much farmland wildlife.
Farmers as a whole are usually keen on wildlife, some are very keen and very knowledgeable, but that isn’t the impression you’d get from the utterings of the National Farmers Union whose President, Peter Kendall, made a speech last year denying that there is a biodiversity crisis and calling on government to switch public subsidies from the environment to food production – it’s almost as though he thought that the £2bn of taxpayers’ money that he and his members receive was his money rather than our money! Nothing could be surer further to reduce the flowers and animals in our countryside than more industrial food production.
And then there is the ‘greenest government ever’ – where do we start? Massive cuts to Defra’s budget handed on to the agencies that try to protect nature, a review of the habitats regulations that protect endangered species and wildlife sites, a badger cull, precious little progress on protecting marine wildlife sites, abolition of environmental watchdogs and proposals to weaken the planning regime in favour of development. When the Chancellor, George Osborne talked of the ‘burden’ of ‘endless social and environmental goals’ he moved the Government position to an anti-environment one. We nature conservationists are used to dealing with governments that are often uninterested in wildlife but never before with one whose leading figures are hostile to it.
So, make your choice – who is worst? Those who harm wildlife by breaking the law, such as a few criminal gamekeepers? Those who harm wildlife by denying the problem and seeking to remove the safety net of wildlife-friendly grants, like the NFU? Or maybe those who paint wildlife as a brake on economic development like the Chancellor George Osborne? You can choose in this online poll – the Nature of Harming ‘award’ which follows in the more distinguished wake of the Golden Raspberry and Turnip prizes.
Or maybe you think that there are other baddies out there – the supermarkets? economists? wildlife charities? or maybe we are all to blame?
The fact remains that nature conservationists rarely treat anyone as the enemy – it’s almost as if we believe that all can be talked round by reason and a smile. And yet we don’t believe that we can reduce the murder rate by praising people who don’t kill, and we don’t win wars by being even nicer to our allies. We should keep handing out carrots but remember to carry a stick too. And the stick can represent the courts, public opinion or the threat of losing votes in the next general election.
Those who are fighting for nature conservation are losing the battle – wildlife keeps declining around us – and some haven’t even realised that it’s a war out there.
I wrote a similar but much shorter and birdier version of this for my column in the April edition of Birdwatch. April Birdwatch also has tips on how to identify various gulls with white or off-white wings and a photograph which makes me very much want to see a Siberian jay.
2% of the public are officially stupid. That’s the only explanation for the result of a recent YouGov poll where 2% of people rate David Cameron’s government as the ‘greenest government ever’. Or perhaps, by chance, there were 35 Tory MPs in the random sample across the GB population.
Given that David Cameron’s coalition government is only in charge of wrecking the English environment (broadly speaking) it would be interesting to know quite why the Scots and Welsh were asked the question but the results don’t suggest that it made much difference.
In contrast to the 2% who believe that DC is living up to his promises on the environment, 7% believe this is one of the least green governments ever (and I think that they are right).
Men are a bit more gullible than women about how well the government is doing, and the youngest age group (16-24 year olds) are more gullible than their elders, but social class (whatever that is) and geography don’t make much difference.
You have just over a week to cast your vote in the Nature of Harming ‘award’ poll where DC’s coalition government is doing very ‘well’ and the total number of votes cast is fast approaching 1000.
Media House International acts for Walshaw Moor Estate
Ancient history – in the old days, can you remember them?, one of NE’s predecessor organisations, English Nature, was active in protecting blanket bogs from destruction. Andy Clements, EN’s Director of Protected Areas once said: ‘Dumping and construction of tracks in this manner, without English Nature’s consent, has caused significant damage to this important site. We will try to maintain positive partnerships with owners and occupiers, but we will prosecute when necessary.‘.
How the Telegraph saw things – apparently the whole of upland Britain would be covered in scrub, lack any birds and be populated by unemployed gamekeepers if Natural England’s querying of the frequency of burning of blanket bog had been pursued to a successful conclusion. This would have led to the collapse of the upland economy and life as we know it. It seems that burning has been going on for a long time and makes money for some people and therefore should continue – time to repeal laws against slavery, drugs and pimping then?
As stated earlier this week on this blog, this case is about two main issues, it seems to me, at the moment. First, is the frequency of burning, particularly of blanket bog, consistent with environmental legislation covering SSSIs, SPAs and SACs? I can see that this might be difficult to decide and requires studies and evidence. A test case to clear the air would most probably be valuable. Maybe that was NE’s idea at the start.
Second, to what level was there any Ministerial intervention in this case? And if there was any, to what extent might that be seen as political interference in a quasi-judicial process? I don’t know the answer to these questions but am very interested to find out. As you may have guessed, this is an issue on which this blog is going to pay a great deal of attention and actively pursue the truth. Watch this space.
The importance of UK blanket bog peat soils:
Richard Benyon, 22 July 2010: Peat soils provide a wide range of ‘ecosystem services’ or functions for society, including carbon storage. UK peat soils are estimated to store around 5.5 billion tonnes of carbon, equivalent to 31 times the UK’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions if it were all lost to the atmosphere.
Peat soils also support valuable wildlife and biodiversity and a range of peatland habitats in both upland areas (for example, blanket bogs and moorland) and lowlands (for example, raised bogs and fens). The importance of peatland habitats is recognised by the designation of 68% of English upland blanket bogs as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and 85% of lowland raised bogs.
- 10 million tons of carbon dioxide are emitted from the UK’s damaged peatlands each year
- Of the world’s 175 peatland nations, the UK is among the highest emitters of CO2 from damaged peat, largely through drainage, burning, agriculture and forestry
- Peatlands support many important species and unique ecosystems. Much of the UKs peatland is identified as internationally important under EU wildlife legislation
- Peatlands play a key role in water resource management, storing a significant proportion of global freshwater resources and maintaining water quality
- There are global calls for urgent action to restore damaged peatlands to stop carbon loss and benefit from the ecosystem services of a healthy peatland
Report from Commission of Inquiry on UK peatlands (Published October 2011):
‘It is of great concern that the Inquiry found that much of the UK’s peatlands have been damaged, with severe consequences for biodiversity and valuable ecosystem services. A significant amount of carbon is leaking into the atmosphere from drained and deteriorating peatlands. This is particularly alarming as a loss of only 5% of the carbon stored in peat would equate to the UK’s total annual green house gas emissions. On the other hand, healthy peatlands and those that have been restored and enhanced can make a positive contribution to tackling climate change.’.
Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General, International Union for the Conservation of Nature: “Peatland conservation is a prime example of a nature-based solution to climate change but we urgently need to switch from aspiration to action to secure the benefits that peatlands provide.”
Achim Steiner UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director UN Environment Programme (UNEP): “Restoration of peatlands is a low hanging fruit, and among the most cost-effective options for mitigating climate change.”
In other words, the UK is important for blanket bogs on an international scale and blanket bogs are important for the UK as they store carbon (if treated well), maintain important wildlife populations (if treated well), regulate water flows off upland areas and therefore regulate flood risks (if treated well), provide clean water supplies (if treated well) and look rather pretty too. Under these circumstances one would expect government agencies (or delivery bodies) and government Ministers to be doing all that is possible to make sure that blanket peats are protected for the wider public good.