Today, 41 organisations, under the banner of Wildlife and Countryside Link, publish their assessment of Government’s progress over the last 12 months, on its own stated commitments (a report called Nature Check). In four areas Government gets the green light indicating good progress, in nine areas a red light for failure, and in 12 areas it is rated as amber.
In other words, the Coalition Government is performing badly on its own promises – and it didn’t promise that much!
Speaking on behalf of the 41 organisations, Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Director, Dr Elaine King, said:
“David Cameron promised the greenest Government ever. Using the Government’s own promises as a yardstick, today’s findings show he’s failed to stick to his plan.
“Our survey shows that the majority of people want politicians to do more to protect nature and the countryside. The message from the public is clear – they want healthy seas and landscapes providing rich habitats for thriving wildlife. But sadly, most species in this country are in decline.
“We’re told an economy in crisis is a higher priority than nature in crisis. Yet the Government is missing a huge opportunity – a healthy environment helps the economy and enhances people’s health and wellbeing.
“Our wetlands alone provide a home for millions of migrating birds and other wildlife, but they also give us £350 million worth of flood protection a year through storing rainwater that would otherwise run off our roads and fields into our towns. Without wetlands, the cost of resulting flood damage would need to be met by businesses and Government and passed on to the public through higher prices and higher taxes.”
The true test of government (and everyone else’s) action for nature is whether we are protecting nature and, at least, maintaining the extents of habitats and population levels of species – the State of Nature report says that we are not.
Here are some extracts from Nature Check.
‘We will oppose the resumption
of commercial whaling.’
Opposition to commercial whaling overseas and
leadership at the International Whaling Commission
has been consistent, but more domestic protection
of cetaceans is needed.
‘We will negotiate reform of the EU Common
Fisheries Policy to support sustainable fish
stocks, a prosperous fishing industry and
a healthy marine environment.’
A strong position on Common Fisheries Policy reform
and early attention to the interaction between fisheries
and seabird bycatch in UK waters – in response to
the EU Seabird Plan of Action – has had a significant
impact in this area.
‘We will implement the Ash Dieback Control
Strategy and consider the findings from the
Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert
The response to ash dieback was timely and
included effective engagement with stakeholders;
some recommendations of the Tree Health and
Plant Biosecurity Task Force have been swiftly
‘We will reform the water industry to enhance
competition and improve conservation.’
Retail competition is promoted in the Water Bill,
but wildlife and habitats are in danger from upstream
competition, water trading provisions, the omission
of a timetable for abstraction reform and changes
to Ofwat’s duties.
‘Influence reform in Europe to support [a]
strong, sustainable agricultural … [industry].’
A robust position has been taken on Common
Agricultural Policy reform, including the Environment
Secretary’s stated wish to undertake maximum
modulation, though this is weakened by the position
on the EU budget and neonicotinoids.
‘We will implement EU regulations to prevent
the trade in illegal logging.’
Good implementation of the EU timber regulations
has been somewhat undermined by a lack of
transparency around UK procurement.
‘We will tackle the smuggling and illegal trade
of wildlife through our new Border Police Force.’
Committed long-term funding for the National Wildlife
Crime Unit is lacking, along with the necessary drive
and resources to tackle wildlife crime nationwide.
‘We are committed to introducing the right of
coastal access under the Marine and Coastal
Access Act 2009.’
Despite progress on the coastal path, thinking
around its funding and the timeframe for completion
has been too short-term.
‘Protect and enhance our urban and natural
environment to improve public health and
Improvements to rights of way legislation need to be
backed up with access infrastructure and support for
Local Nature Partnerships to engage with the health
and wellbeing agenda.
‘Improve water quality.’
The Catchment Based Approach is promising,
but there are concerns over its ability to deliver
environmental outcomes in the long-term; outside
of this Approach, action must be taken to address
all sources of pollution.
‘We will take action to tackle the illegal trafficking
of protected or endangered wildlife species.’
The establishment of the illegal wildlife trade Task
Force, amongst other work, should have a positive
impact in this area.
‘We will plant a million trees by 2015 and put
English forestry on a more sustainable footing,
building on the report by the Independent Panel
Support for the Independent Panel on Forestry’s
report and the Forestry and Woodland Policy
Statement is positive, but uncertainty remains
around the new public forest estate management
organisation and Forest Services.
‘We will create a presumption in favour of
sustainable development in the planning system.’
Local Plans have taken longer than expected to
put in place and, in their absence, the interpretation
of the National Planning Policy Framework has not
always correctly balanced economic, environmental
and social needs.
‘Continue our radical reform of the planning
system to give neighbourhoods much greater
ability to shape the places in which they live.’
Neighbourhood Plans are being made across the
country, but have received variable support from
local authorities; transparency around the weight
given to the Plans is also a concern.
‘[We] will seek to introduce primary legislation
at the earliest opportunity to … ban travelling
circuses from using performing wild animals.’
The introduction of a draft Bill is very welcome,
though the licensing regime that was introduced
is inadequate and inappropriate.
‘We will implement the Biodiversity Strategy
and build natural capital through Local Nature
Synergies between delivery mechanisms and
programmes for specific species are being pursued,
but the Biodiversity Strategy is underfunded and
behind schedule, and partners – including Local
Nature Partnerships – are insufficiently supported
to deliver against it.
‘We will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special
Scientific Interest and other environmental
protections, and create a new designation –
similar to SSSIs – to protect green areas of
particular importance to local communities.’
Protection for these designations under new planning
policy is uncertain, with increasing indications that
such protections are not a priority.
‘We will promote high standards of farm
Little progress has been made overall, particularly
in relation to the continued support for intensive
‘Implement recommendations from the
Macdonald Task Force’s review of farming
regulations to reduce burdens and increase
Support for an unrelentingly deregulatory approach
to farming is damaging – in particular around removal
of key EU legislation – and will harm environmental
protection and animal welfare.
‘Deliver a new framework for achieving the
dual objectives of increasing food production
and enhancing the environment.’
This area has suffered from a lack of leadership
and a failure to build on the outcomes of the green
food project in a cross-sector manner, or to tackle
greenhouse gases from agriculture.
‘We will take forward the findings of the Pitt
Review to improve our flood defences, and
prevent unnecessary building in areas of
high flood risk.’
The Government has consistently failed to align flood
defence work with other policy areas, and potentially
dangerous misconceptions over the role of desilting
and dredging threaten to damage river ecosystems.
‘We will implement a carefully managed and
science-led policy of badger control as part
of a balanced package of measures to control
bovine TB and to support the cattle industry.’
The policy being implemented is neither balanced nor
science-led, especially with regard to the relative lack
of resources being directed to sustainable disease
control measures, such as badger vaccination.
‘We will designate Marine Conservation Zones
in 2013 and reduce the regulatory burden of
marine licensing while maintaining a high level
of protection of the marine environment.’
The proposed network will not be ecologically
coherent, although other areas – including improving
protection for European Marine Sites from damaging
fishing activities – have seen progress.
I’ll be going to the launch of this report later today – I’ll let you know whether Lord de Mauley says that the NGOs have been too generous to Defra – he couldn’t possibly say they have been harsh.
This government has made weak commitments to the natural environment and is weakly implementing them.
It shows the importance of getting stronger commitments from the political parties for the next government. Now is the time to do that, which is why, as I travel around the country, I ask people to be politically more active and write to their politicians on behalf of the environment.