The public aren’t stupid – they have noticed that the Coalition Government is failing on its own commitments to Britain’s natural environment. Of those surveyed, less than a quarter (23%) think the Government is doing enough to protect our landscapes and wildlife – on land and at sea.
These results come from a survey organised by Wildlife and Countryside Link, a coalition of 39 leading environmental charities.
If David Cameron ever gives the environment a thought these days he may be saddened to learn that only 17 per cent of people agreed that this is the ‘greenest government ever’ (and quite honestly you do wonder whether that 17% are really paying attention).
The poll finds that 84% of people think that the natural environment boosts their quality of life, with 81% wanting to see the natural environment and its wildlife protected at all costs. (Survey conducted by Com Res).
Wildlife Link also published yesterday its own assessment of the government’s progress against its own stated commitments: Nature Check 2012.
Dr Elaine King, Director of Link, said: “The Government is keen to demonstrate leadership on the financial crisis. But leadership from David Cameron to combat the loss of our natural capital is clearly lacking and the public feels that his Government is not doing enough to protect it. The Government lags behind public opinion on the environment, as the attempt to sell off our forests demonstrated. It needs to catch up. A healthy environment – and the public benefits it brings – is a critical part of everyone’s quality of life, not an optional add-on.
“The Government’s continued use of rhetoric that promotes growth over the environment is a worrying sign that the fragile progress made so far may not last. We want to see the Government recognise the value of nature and ensure that all departments recognise that the natural environment underpins sustainable growth.
“Our poll shows that only a third of the British public believe that the natural environment is less important than economic growth.”
The relatively new Defra Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, was good enough to attend the launch of the document in Parliament and face questions from some of the assembled leaders of the wildlife conservation and environment movement.
Mr Paterson was impressively robust in his defence of the government’s record. His was going to be a ‘laser-like focus’ on the issues of rural jobs, the environment and diseases (I have a feeling that the third in the list might be a moveable feast depending on the events of the recent past).
He touched on the current floods and opined that building in the floodplain was ‘moronically stupid’.
Mr Paterson was robust about reforming the CAP and fighting for the good bits to stay and the bad bits to go – reassuring in one whose views are apparently that the major reform needed for the CAP is for the UK to leave it. I liked the fact that he got so animated on this subject but when he said he would look any taxpayer in the eye and defend ELS and HLS I had to speak out.
I had to hear this and so I, as a taxpayer, asked how he could defend the fact that hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ pounds went into ELS each year with precious little benefit for farmland plants, insects or birds. We had a short sharp exchange on this but Mr Paterson did look me in the eye while it happened and I just got the impression that I did put some doubt in his mind about whether what he had said about ELS was true.
If Mr Paterson, or his Defra civil servants are glancing at this blog, and the latter certainly will be (though the Secretary of State is off to Europe this very morning to meet his 26 mates in the EU (which he apparently is keen to leave)), then he should check with Plantlife, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation and the RSPB on whether ELS is working. He really ought to do that, and fixing ELS is his job, it doesn’t depend on Europe, Scotland or anyone else – it’s his Department’s job to make those hundreds of millions of pounds work for wildlife and the taxpayer.
But on a more personal note, I think Mr Paterson will be good fun to deal with. He appears to think that he knows all the answers from badgers to CAP reform and from floods to ash trees. And that makes him confident and interestingly argumentative. The NGOs need to take him on as often as possible and puncture his confidence when he has got it wrong.
It was nice to be in a room with many old friends but there were rather few MPs and Peers present. I spotted Lord Steel (who sat down and actually was reading the report), Joan Walley hosted the meeting, Angela Smith is a reliable friend of wildlife, Simon Hart (ex Chief Exec of the Countryside Alliance), Neil Parish (Somerset farmer), James Gray (keen shot), Simon Wright and Baroness Miller. There may have been more but I didn’t spot them. Labour were a bit thin on the ground (hint, hint!).
But I noticed another absentee. Although WCL’s eight million collective membership was mentioned, about 4 million of them were missing. The National Trust were not at this event – as far as I could see – and their logo is missing from this report. Tomorrow I am going to say something nice about the National Trust but today I am unimpressed by their lack of commitment to nature conservation, and lack of commitment to their colleagues in other wildlife conservation organisations. With FoE, WWF, WWT, Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife, Buglife, RSPB, ARC, CPRE and Butterfly Conservation in the room (and others), and playing a collaborative game, the lack of NT should not go unremarked.