It’s more than 18 months since the current ministers walked confidently into Defra’s headquarters at Nobel House after the May 2010 General Election (with one change of Lord in the interim). I’m glad that we have not seen too much chopping and changing of ministers under the Cameron (Clegg) coalition government, as that rarely leads to informed and confident government.
By now we have had time to come to some sort of view about the performance of the Defra Ministerial team, and I’m afraid it is not a good report card in my view. If you were to put yourself in the position of wildlife then this is what you might say:
Forestry – stalled. Despite some good things and some bad things in the government proposals we are now in a position where there is nothing visible happening, and the status quo is not a great place to remain on this subject.
Agriculture – no movement on tweaking or restructuring agri-environment schemes so that they deliver good value and more wildlife for huge public investment
Marine – hopeless lack of progress on international and national site designation
Wildlife – shifting focus to ecosystem services and away from endangered species with no comprehensive framework for government nature conservation priorities
Enforcement of wildlife protection – no need for vicarious liability for land owners to match that in Scotland (says landowning Minister Richard Benyon) and dogged, albeit slow, progress towards a futile badger cull
Listening to stakeholders – independent voices (SDC, RCEP) abolished, agencies (NE in particular) silenced and wildlife NGOs largely ignored. Moorland Association, NFU and others have the ear of Defra.
Clout within government – budgets hatchetted by Osborne in CSR, no ability to restrain CLG over NPPFand influence at, perhaps, an all time low.
Plants and animals (and all those taxa which are unsure of themselves), vertebrates and invertebrates, marine and terrestrial, upland and lowland, in the soil or in the air, pretty and ugly, useful and noxious, big and small – all, if given a voice, would say that they have gained little or nothing from the current government over the last 18 months. They, biodiversity, are a top Defra priority and yet the prospects for wildlife get worse rather than better. If nature were given a voice then it would be crying out in fear and in anger, and in disappointment and dismay.
Only if nature were given a vote, might politicians think a lot more about nature’s richness and a little less about our own.