In his acceptance speech when receiving the RSPB Medal, Professor Sir John Lawton FRS described the coalition government’s proposed ‘dismantling of the planning system‘ as ‘truly terrifying‘ and the ‘backpedalling‘ on climate change in George Osborne’s conference speech as being ‘deeply worrying‘.
Sir John, who is an RSPB Vice President, Chair of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and a past trustee of WWF UK spoke of the importance of birds in his life as he spoke to the 500+ RSPB members in the QEII Centre in London on Saturday. He was a member of the Young Ornithologists’ Club as a child and helped run the RSPB Members’ Group in York.
Sir John volunteered in his youth at the Loch Garten Operation Osprey site where he said that volunteers were allowed a bath a week at the Boat of Garten Hotel. He had the audience laughing when he said the volunteers would appear at the hotel, say ‘ospreys’ and the staff would hold their noses and point in the direction of the bathroom.
Sir John was the last Chair of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution which was abolished by the coalition government in the bonfire of the quangos. The RCEP has a distinguished line of important environmental reports to its credit including reports on lead pollution, energy and environmental planning.
Sir John was asked by the last Labour government to report on the adequacy of the protected area network for wildlife protection and produced a much-heralded report which was accepted by the current government. Indeed the Natural Environment White Paper published by Defra this year set up funding for Nature Improvement Areas and Sir John revealed that there had been 78 Applications for funding for these areas which demonstrates the enthusiasm for them and also how much they are needed. It is likely that funding will allow about half a dozen such projects to go forward.
It is perhaps the contrast between Defra’s intent to fund some habitat recovery work despite its own depleted budgets and the actions of the Department of Communities and Local Government, twinned with the Chancellor’s ‘not too fast’ approach to addressing global warming, that led Sir John to say that there are ‘obvious conflicts of views within government‘.
Sir John is a very worthy recipient of the RSPB Medal and his speech illustrated his love of birds and the whole of nature, his affection for the RSPB which he said had been an important influence through his life and his feisty outspoken nature for which he is both greatly admired and respected.