Nature Directives – use them!

The nastiness of George Osborne came out when he mentioned ‘endless social and environmental goals‘ in his Autumn Statement yesterday.  George is keener on economic goals – although not so good at reaching them, so perhaps we can see why he doesn’t want any other goals to miss.

As predicted in this blog yesterday (just a lucky stab in the dark mind of the Chancellor) Osborne mentioned gold-plating; “We will make sure that gold-plating of EU rules on things like habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.”   Things like habitats?  What are you on about, George?

The crassness of the Chancellor’s words stung wildlife NGOs into something a bit more animated than puzzlement and sadness – there was a touch of real anger.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director said ‘The chancellor’s attack on vital environmental regulation is below the belt and shows how short sighted his policy for growth is.

 “These regulations have been in place for 17 years and they have not been a brake on development. Many large scale projects have gone ahead in that time and this legislation has ensured that they have not trashed some of the most important wildlife sites in Europe.

 “The Davidson report carried out in 2006 looked at the claim that the Government had goldplated European legislation, and found there was no case to answer.

 “Clearly the chancellor believes that he can bring about a quick fix of the economy by allowing unrestrained growth to trample over our precious natural environment. 

 “His failure to rule out a new airport in the Thames Estuary signals a u-turn in the Government’s policy not to support such a development. This would be an act of environmental vandalism and would further undermine the Government’s commitment to a low carbon future.

 “The Treasury’s plan is a simple one – let’s build our way out of recession. This marks the biggest backward step in environmental and planning policy for a generation and would simply serve as a short term economic sticking plaster on a problem which requires a long term plan for effective, sustainable growth.”

Stephanie Hilborne of the Wildlife Trusts said:

‘It seems that the Chancellor is not content with the massive shake-up of the planning system that is already under way, and which initially failed to recognise Local Wildlife Sites.  Now sites and species of European importance face an uncertain future in England.  When will the Government recognise that our natural resources are finite?

Does this Government want to go down in history as the Government that kick-started nature’s recovery or as the Government that tore down the long fought for protection for England’s richest wildlife sites?”  

“The Wildlife Trusts are well known for taking a pragmatic and constructive stance in its dealings with developers and local authorities on the ground and with the national Government.  Now we are beginning to lose our patience with the Government.  The wrong outcome from this review risks driving a wedge between developers and conservationists at time when we ought to be cooperating more than ever.”

Melissa Moore, Senior Policy Officer for the Marine Conservation Society said:

‘The Habitats Directive is fairly written to enable Major Infrastructure Projects that are needed and for which there is no alternatives, but not to enable Governments to concrete over important habitats such as maerl, spawning and nursery grounds in estuaries unnecessarily. Riding rough shod over conservation legislation like this will cost the UK more in fines from Europe than it will generate for business.

Our seas as well as our economy need recovery. Putting money into port development, when world container shipping is in decline, is nonsense. The money would be better spent helping small businesses, not environmental destruction.’

But the CLA gave the Chancellor a big thumbs up.  New President, Harry Cotterell said the CLA was delighted that the Government intends to review the way in which the Habitats Directive is implemented:  “The Government is starting to melt the goldplating on this directive. We support conservation, but it is important that humans are considered as important as bats, newts and dormice.”.

The NFU  President Peter Kendall agreed with the overall thrust of the speech; businesses and industry must be freed from the stifling grasp of red tape and regulation if they are to achieve their potential.  This doesn’t, I guess, necessarily mean environmental red tape and regulation – but it might!

It’s simply not true that the Birds and Habitats Directives stifle any economic development – but they do constrain it – which seems to me to be perfectly fair since we are dealing with the very best wildlife sites of the continent.  Dorset heathlands, The Wash, the New Forest and the seabird cliffs of the Yorkshire coast all seem to me to be the types of places that we ought to protect for their beauty and their natural wonder – just like we should protect Stonehenge or Durham Cathedral.  We could bulldoze any of these things to build a new Tesco or a car park or an ugly shed of a distribution centre, but isn’t it better that we make that destruction rather difficult? Because without the protection someone will want to make money out of those sites – and I fear George Osborne is desperate enough to be in favour of destruction rather than protection.  We will be the generation who can say to their children  ‘We left you less natural beauty but more car parks, concrete and ugliness.  Sorry!

If anything, the wildlife NGOs have been too reticent to use the powers of the Directives to give governments a hard time.  And with the Chancellor showing his colours, black, so clearly, perhaps it is time to flex some muscles.  There are potential legal complaints and cases to be taken against the UK government (but let’s concentrate on England here) over lack of designation of sites (particularly at sea) and failure to protect nature generally.  Take the Special Protection Areas of the English uplands designated for their raptor interest that don’t have those raptors any more?  And how about the lack of designations at sea?  And what about the massive declines in farmland birds which are greater than those in most other EU countries? Plenty of scope for using the Directives here now that the coalition government (what is the point of the Liberal Democrats?) has shown its true colours – black not green.

Nature Directives – use them!


28 Replies to “Nature Directives – use them!”

  1. Hear, hear Mark, I am afraid it is not good when our financial politicians get things so drastically wrong, as in this case. They automatically hit out at any thing they perceive as standing in their way, especially the natural world. The skill comes, in urging and developing projects for growth, which help to preserve what is left of our natural world or at least have neutral environmental effects on it. (It was good to hear Dr.Caroline Lucas making a similar comment). It all seems to indicate panic and a rather brutish approach with very little forethought and perspecacity. I am afraid that Mr Cameron’s promise of being “the greenest government ever” has, after yesterday, been completly “torpedoed” by Mr Osborn and his colleagues. It is yet another broken political promise from a very senior politician and we are not yet 18 months into the life of this government. It really isn’t good enough. It all goes to show the words of most politicians, with a few exceptions, are not worth a bean.

  2. George and Dave has around 250,000 members, the NGOs have many many more members. This is now the time of the wildlife NGO, there are no other organisations that will stand up for wildlife from this vicious attack. Natural England and the other agencies are now mere gaffer taped poodles and Defra seems to have forgotten the environment part of their role.

    Now, represents a coming of age for NGOs, find your voice, be brave and remember hundreds of thousands more people support you.

  3. I am not a cowboy but I think you are right. Not only could NGOs come out with ‘all guns blazing’ but it might actually boost membership as finally many will be seen to ‘get off the fence’ and do what they are supposed to do which is protect wildlife and their habitats. As sadly wind farms are this government’s only industry left George is trying to make way for a big push across the country and around our seas. The shooting industry will see this as another indication that they are the only ‘leisure’ business making money especially in the uplands and push on to destroy everything in their way. So who will stop them!

  4. I share your anger Mark, this is a classic example of dinosaur thinking and a prime example of a policy maker who has little comprehension of the negative externalities of the policies that they espouse.

    I would be astonished if the Lib Dems, particularly those in the south-west, will continue to support a coalition Govt that rides rough shod over such fundamentally important (albeit not perfect) environmental legislation.

    I see World Development Movement have taken to using satire and ridicule in order to promote their justifiable concern regarding the immoral impacts of food speculation:
    Perhaps some of the bigger NGO’s could consider funding a similar approach to take on Gideon Osbornes flawed developments plans ?, there are several ways to skin a cat!

  5. “What is the point of the Liberal Democrats?”

    Full disclosure: I voted for them, and I really don’t know any more! Might have to write them a letter and see what they come up with….all Clegg did yesterday was sit looking vacant, nodding from time to time.

    I’m not sure Osborne realises the political, as well as environmental mess that he is heading towards. Yesterday may have been the tipping point that suggested to me the best thing for nature might be to get this government out sooner rather than later, unless those ministers who do give a damn about wildlife take back the reins. Not just the Lib Dems, but where is the PM? You’d think as an Oxfordshire type he’d have seen some pretty lovely countryside and have a hunch what might be about to happen to it. He too just sits by and watches blankly.

    Your comparison of Dorset heaths to Durham Cathedral is right on the money, and bears repeating – Osborne and co. would never dream of bulldozing cathedrals, but both are as much parts of our national heritage. Thanks for your other commentary yesterday. It was a fairly depressing day.

  6. Spot on Mark and others, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t want to get political, but we’ve got exactly what it says on the Tory goverment tin!

  7. Quote : “Take the Special Protection Areas of the English uplands designated for their raptor interest that don’t have those raptors any more?”

    This was mentioned at the NERF conference, I wondered at the time if we could get details of which all the SPA’s and what species they had SPA status for, would this be possible to get as a Freedom of information from DEFRA?

    I would be very interested to see this

  8. The phrase ‘Knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing’ could have been written for this short-sighted Chancellor. I gave this government the benefit of the doubt (not that they would have noticed of course) but no more. Damn, it’s so disappointing…

  9. Please get a conservationist or similar to do a guest blog and tell us how to get out of this economic mess without damaging wildlife,environment etc as they all seem to moan without any constructive ideas,certainly the other party would be worse as we are now paying for all the mismanagement of their time in office so getting rid of present government would be even worse and that seems to be the only rather lees than helpful thing anyone dreams.Quite honestly it would be nice if at least conservation minded people realised and said that George Osborne has been handed a real dud hand and we could easily go down the same route to bankrupcy that Greece and Italy seem on.The interest we pay each day on our borrowing is frightening and if that interest rate increases we will be in really serious trouble.

  10. This is indeed pretty black, but my take on it is that our (nature conservationists’) case will not be helped by yah-boo anti-Tory statements by avowed political opponents. Politicians are well used to that and almost immune to that approach.

    Mr Osborne and his party (and indeed the Liberal Democrats) stood for election eighteen months ago on the main policy that we should not – unlike the previous governments – be borrowing money and leaving it for our children and grandchildren to pay the price. I think we need to point out to him that he should apply exactly the same principle to our natural capital as to financial capital. Unlike with money, much of our present borrowing (from the natural world) cannot be paid back in the future.

    We should not be taking more out of our environment than it can stand. I think Mrs Brundtland said a similar thing more than 25 years ago.

  11. Dennis, are you really saying that the ‘economic mess’ can only be solved by destroying wildlife? I used to read your comments with interest but that is a breathtakingly revealing statement if that is what you meant. Okay, how about we put construction money into repairing roads and housing stock rather than new builds (employing thousands of people), into alternative energy so training people to build, sell, repair, distribute solar panels or mini wind-turbines to power individual houses. How about we make working from home a more viable option – funding massive internet upgrades as Osborne suggested, and cutting down on commutes thus removing the ‘necessity’ to shave 15 mins off a London-Birmingham journey. Make it easier to grow and market locally-produced food thus taking pressure off hard=pressed farmers, many of whom don’t want to destroy biodiversity just to feed a population where 1 in 3 is obese. There are surely many schemes and greener alternatives to destroying the natural wonder that still remains?

  12. Lashing out at the environment is the classic kneejerk reaction. I’ve just completed an article for Forestry Journal pointing out that English forestry has probably lost more money from its failure to thin its plantations properly than from all the environmental constraints put together – and that most of the sectors problems have been caused by the 5 fold decline in real timber values since 1976.

    Its not much different in the wider economy: the main thing to emerge from the planning furor is that the real problem is that housebuilders aren’t building because noone is buying because banks aren’t lending – and the housebuilders actually have reserves of land with planning permission.

  13. Britain faces a bleak economic future and past performance is no guide to what awaits. Our economy, energy supplies and environment are all post peak and Osborne will do anything to try and look as if he is doing something to keep his finger in the dyke. The future will be different for 99% of us, there will be far fewer resources, life will be harder. One thing that will alleviate the pain is having a half decent environment to live in so we must defend it, and we will have to do that by example. The RSPB has done a good job with Hope Farm but we need something more radical. We need to show that more people can make a living out of farmland,woodland, heathland, the uplands, reedbeds, saltmarshes and our other habitats. We cannot leave our reserves and living landscapes in a time warp. I suggest conservation organisations come up with a program like the “green deal” that will show how our unemployed under 25s can make a sustainable living out of our environment. Not a 20th century living but a realistic living for the future that will generate happy, low carbon communities.

  14. Thanks Mark ! Great piece will certainly use and propagate. Having got over the shock of yesterdays speech we are preparing for another long fight… perhaps a little better prepared and informed this time.

    George from Fokmn
    Conservation and Communities United

    1. George – Hi there and welcome! Your community in North Kent has benefitted from the Nature Directives just as the wildlife communities of your locality have. You really shouldn’t have to go through this again and I hope the government and Boris realise how daft these ideas really are. Best wishes

  15. Hi Charlie Moores,no nowhere did I suggest we destroy wildlife but conservationists or at least all the ones I read have no solutions to our big problems and just moan and moan.We actually have most of the answers in our own hands as my guess is we all spend well over a thousand pounds on fancy gadgets and contracts for them a year so we are all capable of putting a £100 each into a pot each year for wildlife and the environment.Now I know that would not solve everything but we would have a very good lever to put to government whereas at the moment we might as well not have a voice for the effect it will have.I benefit from wildlife greatly but cuts everywhere including wildlife and environment are inevitable.All I want is for some conservationist to come up with saving our economy without damage to the environment and wildlife,that is not too much too ask considering all that they have to say on the matter.

    1. Dennis – how does reviewing natural environment legislation help solve our big problems? The government has not made a case for this, it has just, in the shape of the Chancellor, lashed out at it. It is the government that has brought the environment into this subject and shown how hollow are the very good words of the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman when it comes to the big boys of Cameron, Osborne and Maude.

  16. I must say that Cowboy reflects what many of us have been thinking for months. The quotes from Stelphanie Hilborne and Martin Harper are just what those of us who support various NGO’s want to hear. We do not only want to hear it on this blog but we want to see it as headlines in our news media and we want to hear politicians arguing its good sense.

    If our NGO’s cannot lead the battle to protect our biodiversity then who can?

    The average politician has no grasp whatsoever of what further damage to our countryside would bring. There are many in the current administration who feel that as landowners they should be allowed to do what they want without interference by the people who pay them subsidies. This they see as their chance to fight back.

    As has been said already the NGO’s are ar better supported than any political party so come on guys let us increase the pressure, increase the volume and bring even more people to the crusade to protect our wildlife. Let us remind the polticians in no uncertain terms how many voters the NGO’s represent.

    Come on Martin and Stephanie and everybody else now is the chance for the NGO’s to prove their worth and challenge every morsel of this Chancellor and his Government for their pathetic lip service to our environment.

  17. A further thought. I watch BBC Question Time regularly and the panel often has heads of people based NGO’s but to my knowledge never have we had anybody from the environmental NOG family. This is how far away we are from getting heard.

    Our 2012 challenge should be to get our NGO’s heard at that level. Only then can we get a proper discussion going.

  18. A further thought. I watch BBC Question Time regularly and the panel often has heads of people based NGO’s but to my knowledge never have we had anybody from the environmental NGO family. This is how far away we are from getting heard.

    Our 2012 challenge should be to get our NGO’s heard at that level. Only then can we get a proper discussion going.

  19. I attended Radio 4s ‘Any Questions’ the other week, in Worcester. Had my carefully drafted environmental question lined up – wasn’t picked. They clearly only wanted to debate health and economy. Was I the only one (I work for an NGO but approached this as an individual), or were many of us ignored? We’ve got to start bombarding such discussion forums – and if need be finding seats on them either for ourselves, or for articulate politicians who haven’t fallen foul and can still see the wood for the trees. Are the BBC ignoring the issue?

  20. “Articulate politicians who haven’t fallen foul”. I admit, having written that, that I’m still wracking my brains trying to think of one.

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