Now that the Party (Conference) is over…

defDid you comb the speeches of the Party leaders, at their Party Conferences, for mentions of the environment?

Nick Clegg did best – he said that it was the Liberal Democrats who were keeping the Government ‘green’ and had ‘saved’ Natural England from the axe. Nick Clegg didn’t mention ‘wildlife’ or ‘nature’ but he did say ‘environment’ once and ‘green’ three times. (Transcript, You Tube)

Ed Miliband mentioned the environment seven times – but didn’t actually say much about it. And certainly not the natural environment.  He didn’t mention ‘wildlife’ or ‘nature’ or ‘green’. (Transcript, You Tube)

David Cameron mentioned ‘green’ jobs once but not the ‘environment’, ‘wildlife’ or ‘nature’. (Transcript, Video)

These are the leaders of the political parties who will ask for your vote in about 19 months time. All the speeches were good in their own ways – I thought Nick Clegg’s was the ‘best’ overall – but none treated the environment as a big issue.  I recommend them to you as required reading or watching if you are going to cast a vote for any of them at any time.

But maybe we should go ‘down’ a level to find the meat on the issues that exercise this blog. Both Owen Paterson and Mary Creagh made speeches at their respective conferences (Mary Creagh (1 biodiversity, 3 environment),  text; Owen Paterson (6 wildlife, 4 nature, 6 biodiversity, 17 environment and 5 habitats) text).

Both talked about food, regulation, marine protected areas, badger culls and fish stocks.  Have a look at what they said.

Creagh majored on food, particularly food for poor people, and Paterson majored on the rural economy.  That feels like a classic difference between two ideologies.

Paterson covered more ground – he was allowed twice as many words so he could – and his speech ranged well over the issues that should be exercising a Defra Secretary of State.  He also said something quite interesting when he said ‘Alongside growing the rural economy, I am committed to improving the environment.  The two are not mutually exclusive.’.  This is good to hear and takes a step away from George Osborne’s view that the environment is a barrier to growth (whatever that is?).

Paterson was comfortable about talking about nature and wildlife, whereas Creagh didn’t enter that area very much.  I wish we had 20 speeches to compare rather than just these two.

I have always been honest with you on this blog about the fact that I am a Labour supporter. I’ve also expressed my frustration at Labour’s inability, over quite a long period (with some highs and lows along the way) to command much respect as a party which understands the countryside.  I wish there were some evidence that that will change.

I will almost certainly vote Labour in the next General Election because the values espoused by Mary Creagh (and others) of looking after the disadvantaged in our human community, and increasing equality, are important to me.  And I live in a marginal seat, and the Labour MP, Andy Sawford, seems like a good bloke to me.  But I read Owen Paterson’s words and although I disagree with him about almost everything, I do see someone who knows about the countryside and cares about it.

The Conservative Party is making it quite easy for me though.  Defra has done badly on marine protected areas (because they have been scared of fishermen), done badly on badgers (because they have listened to farmers rather than science), done badly on neo-nicotenoids (because they have listed to the pesticides industry rather than independent voices), and are about to make a mess through off-setting (where they are listening to developers and no-one else).  And the Environment Secretary seems to think that climate change is no big deal. If the Conservative Party got a few things right on the environment then it would be much more interesting.

Now we still seem, on countryside and wildlife issues, to be faced with a choice between Labour, a party that doesn’t care much about the countryside but listens to science and generally muddles through with a few good things, and the Conservatives, who do care about these matters but have a recent track record of getting them badly wrong.  Not that hard a choice really.



51 Replies to “Now that the Party (Conference) is over…”

    1. Filbert,

      Spot on. Wonder which side of the political divide the majority of the protesters lie on – Creagh’s or Paterson’s – left or right?


      As an aside, the links posted on your site no longer seem to work – have to copy them into browser to view (since introduction of likes/dislikes buttons?)

      1. Yes summink changed: Links are presenting as text not hyperlinks when posted – if you select the http-html text and right click & open link in new tab it works OK

    2. I attended the first Countryside March in London with some 100,000 plus others – Hyde Park was left cleaner when we left than it was when we arrived

      It’s just good manners isn’t it?


  1. I have to accept that I live in a wildlife / environment ‘bubble’ where most of my acquaintances share my interests and concerns just as politicians live in a ‘Westminster bubble’. There seems to be only a one way link between the two; we talk about them, they ignore us.

    The BBC seems similarly divided: Summer of Wildlife and many well produced documentary series which try to use various ways to get viewers to interact with our countryside have no connection with political and news reporting. Is it any wonder none of the party conferences mentioned environmental issues when none of the broadcast, ‘in depth’ interviews of political leaders mentioned, let alone challenged, them to express a view on any topic relevant to those of us inside our bubble.

    How do we break through Mark?

    1. She did say “Our beautiful, precious and diverse natural world, on which we are all dependent and which we all have both the right to enjoy and the responsibility to protect.” Haven’t had time to look at the three main parties to see if they said ‘natural world’…

  2. You pays your money!
    You makes your choice!

    Or in Labour’s case – it takes the money (₤1 million pounds – PAL) and it (PAL) determines Labour ‘policy’ (Peter Mandelson & Jonathan Powell)

    You naively (and incorrectly) state that “DEFRA has done badly ……. on badgers (because they have listened to farmers rather than science)” – I assume you would include most vets along with ‘farmers’?

    The ‘Krebs Trials’ were simply Labour’s way of kicking the (unpopular) problem of culling the sick badger population (in which TB was and still is endemic) into the long grass – until, that is, it had time to ask the Focus Groups what it (Labour) should do whilst awaiting an oral vaccination; the in-field Trials yielded no new “science” whatsoever but the final report served Labour’s purpose.

    Whether the conspiracy and subsequent cover-up as described in the ISG’s dodgy dossier (Final Report) represents “pseudo-science” or “junk science” I have yet to decide

    I suspect it’s this sort of suspicious left-wing Guardian / BBC policy-driven groupthink that makes some of us “unbelievers” in respect of other subjects like ‘global warming / climate change’ What do the Scots say? ‘Not proven’

    1. “left-wing Guardian / BBC policy-driven groupthink”

      Google “28 Gate” and take your pick

      1. I hadn’t heard of 28 gate Filbert.
        So did google it.
        Verrrry interesting.

      2. You couldn’t make it up – but it’s really true !

        And the Nation only pays 3.5 Billions each year for the pleasure – I’ve seen Parish Councils run better!

        Total bloody disgrace – somebody suggested that The Guardian quits its off-shore funded offices and move in with the BBC

        Oh dear!

      3. One more once – a Jazz / Musical phrase you may not be familiar with:-

        OCTOBER 7, 2013 – 3:57 PM
        Your comment is awaiting moderation.
        You couldn’t make it up – but it’s really true !

        And the Nation only pays 3.5 Billions each year for the pleasure – I’ve seen Parish Councils run better!

        Total bloody disgrace – somebody suggested that The Guardian quits its off-shore funded offices and move in with the BBC

        Oh dear!

  3. Well….Benyon’s gone (from DEFRA) now.
    Really not sure if that’s a good thing (landed gentry and his “vile weeds” aside) or not.

      1. If I were Heath I’d be quite relieved – it may be a wrench, but think of the stench that you’re leavin’ behind … 😎

        1. I think poor old Heath had had enough and (of him) so had the condems – both cons and dems allegedly….
          He constantly look beat up, poor soul.
          Always looked like he didn’t believe a word of what he was saying.
          Like he was trying to sell a motor that deep down he very well knew would grind to a steaming halt just off the forecourt.
          ‘ Course. He might have believed every word. Just looked like he didn’t….

  4. It’s odd that in this country we seem to place the importance of what the political leader of each party says or doesn’t say, sure we need a strong leader on the “worldwide” stage, but we’re not voting for a president, the first thing I consider before casting a vote is what the current MP or future MP for my area is going to do, has said or even has done. The conferences are nothing but ego massaging, after all if Nick Clegg and his cohorts can do a u-turn on a signed pledge what are words worth? Come to think of it how many pledges written in either parties manifesto’s have been seen through to their conclusion?
    I’ll give you an example Mark (and I’ve said this before) what is Andy Sawfords views on the countryside and environement, how does he feel medical radioactive waste (for the moment, wait for Sizewell to be decommisioned) being dumped at Kings Cliffe, how does he feel about the A14 being expanded between at Kettering (ok it’s not his ward), we hear a lot from the Conservatives in this area but not much from the Labour man, “he seems a good bloke”, really? He seems to me more like a bloke who accepts he’s only in his seat until the next general election and is only in the current seat due to angry tories who mostly protest voted for UKIP

    1. Some really interesting points Douglas, and you are absolutely correct in that we should be considering everything before we cast our vote. It is difficult though because one can never be sure if and individual’s promise will stay good if their party is elected. A good example of this is shown in the Conservative’s attitude to local agriculture and the various points raised by Mark and further commented on under the blog. Take the Conservatives pledge to support the countryside (or rather rural industries, if you want to be more accurate) – this was a seductive stance to people living in the scattered populations (relatively) of the southwest, particularly with so many issues seemingly outstanding such as TB, or to East Anglia with the lowland pheasant estates constant complaints about predators (apparently they meant buzzards).* Presumably the Lib Dems supported this because they did not oppose the measures taken and in the case of the buzzard culls, failed to alert anyone about a matter that they surely knew about (I voted Lib Dem last time round so they did not really speak for me did they?). Now let us compare that to the shale gas extraction attitude that referred to the countryside around me as ‘a northern wasteland’. Really? Anyone traveling by train to Southport and the lovely RSPB reserve of Marshside could easily imagine they are crossing the similar landscape of East Anglia with much the same agriculture going on. The rolling hills in the east of Lancashire (and west Yorkshire) have their own beauty that makes the eye ache for the contrast when away for any length of time…and then there is Bowland, the Lakeland Fells and alluvial plains of Cheshire cut against the escarpments of the Old Man of Chester (carved by the Mersey and part of the northern end of the Snowdonia range. Northern wasteland? There are a lot of people here living under Welsh slate roofs (Bolton is the largest town in the UK, for example with over 250,000 residents and many of the satellite towns round Manchester have over or near to 100,000) that look bleak under a grey sky in the middle of winter. So was the Conservative message aimed at the people round here who under proportional representation would have had a comparatively louder voice? I confess that I tactically voted for the Conservatives in the council elections because I know one of my ward representatives and I know he is working for the area. Unfortunately, I have no faith in either of the coalition partners following their demonstration of ignorance over my area.

      * I have not mentioned upland raptor persecution if only because no one seems to have got to grips with it whether it is Conservatives, Lib Dem, New Labour or the SNP.

      1. 100% agree Ian, my short trips up north in the truck always has me looking out my cab window “oh-ing” and “ah-ing”, to be fair what a leader says probably only contributes about 10% of how I make my mind up, what made me vote Tory (and trust me I hated doing so) was the simple fact the previous Labour MP took the votes for granted, did bugger all in the last two years of their “reign”, the Liberals who were quite active locally during their council election had vanished prior to the election and never visited the estate, the Tory’s foot soldiers actually did knock the door, it also helped the MP I voted for was from Northampton, which I believe is important.
        It hasn’t been a perfect few years, there has been several things both the MP and the Tory council have done locally that has left me writing emails demanding answers, all of which have been answered, maybe not to my satisfaction but unlike the last Labour MP they did get an answer. Will I vote Tory again, not sure

        1. Interesting! My local MP is Conservative and he handed an important matter I wanted him to deal with to his secretary. Unfortunately, the secretary has just acted as a conduit and I have not received any of the intermediary help I wanted and needed. By contrast, one of my ward councillors is Conservative and sits on the local Planning Committee. He has been most helpful in clarifying points and opposing some dreadful Labour-inspired gerrymandering. This means I have been swayed to the Conservatives for local council elections but I am less convinced about central government. It seems odd to be supporting different poles for local and central government but I can only go with what I have found.

  5. Think in most cases you made quite a good political speech.problems as I see it are Labour always without fail ruin the economy and that is not good as wildlife etc suffers with shortage of money because of that sooner or later.We have to have a strong economy as well as wildlife.
    Politicians words mean very little as they do not carry out promises very often so it is better to ignore their promises.
    Labour were probably worse on Badgers than Conservatives as if the limited culling of Badgers preferably gassing a sett that was on farm with BTB reactors we would never have got in the mess we are now in,meaning Badgers,farmers,cattle and the public all much better off and probably billions of £s saved in the process.Idiots does not seem adequate.

  6. Of course apart from waging war on my generation the conservatives had to talk about ‘the recovery’. All of this of course left very little room for the environment. And of course I know that for the conservatives helping big business and exploiting the small ones takes priority but it just isn’t good enough.
    And of course I know I am in a small minority (only of course if you listen to Osborne) who believe that nature is just as important as the economy and in my opinion more so.

  7. Owen Paterson:”That’s why, under this Government, we are removing £13 of compliance costs for every pound added. That’s why, since 2011, there have been 8,000 fewer dairy inspections a year.”- why did we need the badger cull again?

  8. Why on Earth are you not voting Green Mark?

    Labour? Just another party of big business

    And you didn’t even mention the Green Party.

    I find that so disappointing.

    1. “Why on Earth are you not voting Green Mark?”

      Maybe our host has been to Brighton

    2. I agree with Steve. The only Party who have Nature at the core of their policies are the Green Party. I watched their leader’s speach and that of Caroline Lucas and it felt as if their words were coming out of my mouth, and with a sincere passion. Yesterday, on Radio 4’s ‘Shared Planet’ there was a quote from a scientist which went something like this, ‘I once thought that overpopulation, habitat loss and global warming were destroying the planet, but I have realised that it really is selfishness, greed and apathy’. Thus it is a moral/spiritual change we need, a change of mindset. Unless we revere nature, give it a spritual value as a sustainer at the core of our existence and being, it shall remain as a utility, an asset to be used, abused and expoited as just another inanimate resource. It can be offset, pushed to the side while asset-stripping continues, with excuses……

  9. Roger is right, it is all one way. There could, and should be more crossover from wildlife films/tv to politics.Cameron’s green gov is a complete joke but the other two parties ineptitude make it look almost forgivable. The overwhelming evidence about wildlife loss and global warming is a ‘ bad news story’ and just too much effort and expense to do anything about. So the three branded parties do nothing, just like their predecessors. The Tories only have time to worry about UKIP

  10. I assume Jack Milton is young. In which case I can only apologise, jack, for my (and mark’s generation) – some of us are trying, but you’d probably say very trying ! Probably our only defence is that most of the people making the real mess are now actually younger than us.

    So where do the day’s events leave dynamic Defra ? 1 SoS and 3 junior Ministers + a demotion (Heath’s Minister of State is downgrade to Parly Sec) is quite something – surely it must be the winner so far in the Con/Dem conspiracy ? And are we really going to end 5 years with a department defined largely by killing badgers ? Whichever side you are on, surely that would be pretty absurd if it wasn’t so sad ?

      1. From Martin Harper’s blog today:

        “While we did not always see eye to eye over contentious issues such as cormorant licensing or buzzard control, he demonstrated a genuine passion for wildlife and the countryside. On land, part of his legacy will be Nature Improvement Areas – a new approach to restoring wildlife at a landscape-scale that should provide the greenprint for underpinning nature’s recovery. At sea, he will be disappointed that he was unable to finish the job in securing protection of marine wildlife through establishing a network of Marine Conservation Zones.

        Yet, it is likely that his Defra ministerial career will be best remembered for the role he played in reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. When David Cameron toured the West Country for a series of public meetings before he became Prime Minister, a fishing representative requested that, should he get into power, he appoint a fisheries Minister with a reasonable degree of longevity. Who knows whether or not David Cameron remembered this conversation, but in Richard Benyon I think they found their man. Understanding the legal and technical complexities of the fishing industry is a tough and alien brief, but he rose to the challenge and for many involved in fisheries he has been one of the best Ministers in recent times. He took a strong position on CFP reform, pressed hard for the landmark deal that sets a target to halt overfishing and ban discards and has also been a strong advocate of the new EU seabird bycatch plan of action.”

        I guess some of the other EU fisheries ministers and certain EU mandarins will not miss him…….

    1. its probably just because I’m too young to go and shout at MP’s or get angry at chemical giants myself (which I already do, I’m looking at you BASF). But really I’m just a frustrated wanna be conservationist.

      its just annoying to know that you can’t make a difference.

  11. What is in a word like ‘conservationist’. Conserve which is often fighting against nature as nature is always evolving [if we let it!] And is the last bit like Marxist meaning joining a party that believes in species but does not know enough about them to change them! I try and keep to the simple words and even they can be confusing!

    1. John Miles- I only use it for the sake of argument but I actually have big problems with the word nature. Nature implies that everything on earth (apart from humans of course 😉 works as a unified whole which isn’t true. they are all working towards the same aims but they are not working together at least not always knowingly. It also conjures up images of of bunnies and ‘cute’ animals. It is also a word used by antropocentrics who wish to distance themselves from animals. Until we can come to terms with and admit that we are part of ‘nature’ I don’t think the term can exist.

      But I do actually agree with you in some ways in relation to conservation. We need look no further than to the RSPb for reserves that have been kept in time capsules of ongoing use of bad management techniques. Also we need to decide when an animal is endangered because of us and when it just can’t compete naturally. We can’t protect every animal because as you say we need to let evolution happen.

      1. It is a bit of a misleading argument to state that we cannot protect everything Jack and whilst I understand that this is often voiced as a caution against playing God, it has implications within conservation that are quite profound. For example:

        The barn owl is at the northern limit of its range in the British Isles and it has done well traditionally because of old-style barns allowing it to adapt (not evolve) to cold conditions. There is nothing about the barn owl’s hunting behaviour that prevents it surviving and the species can do better than other small mammal hunters in snow (assuming the snow does not then freeze). However, the barn owl has less dense feathers than tawny, long-eared and short-eared owls so they are not able to roost in the open during cold weather. Unfortunately, smaller farms have not need their barns so much recently and many have been converted for human occupation without any provision for the owls (this can be done but rarely is). This is a simple building and social trend but without human intervention the barn owl cannot survive in sufficient numbers here in the British Isles and over any longer period. This is an inadvertent example of cooperative survival but what happens when we introduce (accidentally or otherwise) a species and then decide it is detrimental to the biodiversity of our region? Arguably, the barn owl, the house sparrow and tree sparrow have all followed human movement into these islands and the common starling only started breeding here 250 years ago although it was (as it still is) a more common winter visitor. I am not going to labour (no pun intended) the point over species like the ruddy duck and grey squirrel (and to a point, little owl) because the debate is too familiar but just to say the cut-offs are not as easy to define as it first seems. Should we let the barn owl go extinct in Britain because it is not adapted to be here? Is it a natural colonist?

        1. See this where I feel some NGO’s need to e pro-active with planning at local level. I know big developments are great media/pr chance, but it has to be easier to deal with planners at local level then at national level.
          For example on the comment Ian you made, why couldn’t say the rspb or wildlife trust etc ask for barn conversions to come with a condition that a developer has to fund 3 nest boxes within the area of the conversion to be sited/installed by the wildlife trust/rspb etc.

          1. It is a difficult argument because the NGOs are forcing situations onto developers Douglas. I happen to know from personal experience that some developers don’t give two hoots (pun intended) for conservation and wildlife. The barn owl is a good example in this respect because its decline is incidental to the trend for barn conversions. Ideally, the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts could indeed get behind a proactive campaign to include provision or off-setting for barn owls but ho could this be applied if the developer simply refuses? Horrific as the thought may be, it is not in the remit of developers to consider the environment except for showing compliance towards certain legal requirements (SSSIs [albeit that they are often systematically destroyed by direct action or inappropriate land management] and great crested newts for example). In other words, it would require further environmental laws to allow NGOs to be proactive about this kind of thing and pertinent to this blog who is likely to allow the introduction of further laws of this kind?

        2. The problem with the barn owl is that its again another example of an ‘iconic’ species. If I were to raise an argument rallying to support them I would probably be met with doing the best we can, which is true. But if I raised the point of the importance to protect the coral necklace plant or the three-lobed water crowfoot people would think I was having a laugh. Even more so if I were to say that it was just as important as the barn owl.

          1. Keith, it’s going to take me some time to read through all those pdf’s on the link you provided, however the fact there are only 6 pilot scheme’s and the terms “complementary”..”choose to use” and “would like to use” rather than “mandatory” doesn’t fill me with much hope

          2. In rational terms you are right that Three-lobed Water Crowfoot is as worthy of protection as the Barn Owl but emotionally some species will always pull at our conscience more than others. Those responsible for nature conservation planning need to be aware of this and to ensure that they are not just swayed by the heart and biased in favour of the bright-eyed and fluffy tailed. To be fair this does happen, at least to some extent – there are plenty of SSSIs, for example, that have been designated because of the presence of some obscure plant or invertebrate that 99.9% of us have never heard of let alone seen.
            There is some merit in focusing on iconic species though. Charismatic species are good at grabbing public attention and therefore help raise funds and sympathy for all conservation work. Equally conservation work carried out nominally in favour of a flagship species should benefit a host of other species that share its habitat. Thus, focusing on Great Crested Newts or Natterjack Toads, say, may well also be beneficial for aquatic plants that share their respective habitats (if not necessarily enough for the two species you mention).
            Finally, it is worth mentioning that there are some ‘keystone’ species whose loss from an ecosystem has a disproportionately large effect when they are lost. The beneficial effects of the return of Wolves to Yellowstone and of Sea Otters to parts of the California coast are examples of this.

  12. “Also we need to decide when an animal is endangered because of us and when it just can’t compete naturally.”

    Do you have some candidates in mind for animals that can’t compete naturally? A tricky judgement to make I reckon.

    You are right, of course, that we can’t save everything and we have to prioritise about where we expend our efforts but I’d suggest that trying to distinguish between species that are declining because of us and those that are declining because of their own failings is not the best way to set such priorities. Much better to just assess where we are most likely to be successful and where and how we can get the most bang for our buck.

    1. Were it not for the fact that we have lets say technological advantages over other species then I would say that us and natural were the same because we are after all are animals ourselves. But we have too much opportunity to exploit other species. That not to say that we cannot be exploited, there is no consent given when a burdock attaches one of its seeds to our clothes. I think we need to move away from the belief from Christianity of Dominion and stewardship. And I know that Atheists can still believe both of these. Stewardship seems to most believed by those within conservation, that as basf the chemical giant crudely puts:” Sometimes nature needs a partner to bring out the best in it. And with what I think must be knowing irony is a picture showing legion of combine harvesters sucking up crops is next placed next to these words.

      to close I would request that people who have opposing opinions be free to reply rather than just clicking dislike.

      1. Whether we choose it or not dominion and/or stewardship is de facto the position we occupy with regards to the rest of nature (accepting your point that we are just another species ourselves). We can’t just leave nature be (without exterminating ourselves which doesn’t seem very likely to happen and is certainly not something I’d wish for) so we have to choose how we exercise that dominion/stewardship. Historically we have tended to assume that nature is simply there for us to exploit as we will and to not care too much about the effect we have on other species, the challenge is to change that attitude.

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