Last Wednesday I asked five wildlife conservation organisations what they thought was the best thing that Defra had done for wildlife in 2015. After a bit of sucking of teeth they came back with these thoughts, three of which refer to Rory Stewart’s words on Thursday (would Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation and RSPB have been stumped without those words?) when he said ‘the UK like many other Member States around this table does not wish to renegotiate the [EU Birds and Habitats & Species] directive[s]‘:
RSPB and Butterfly Conservation: Rory Stewart’s announcement
The Wildlife Trusts: ‘Despite a backdrop of government cuts, in 2015 Defra came good on the much-awaited public consultation for the second round of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in English and Secretary of State waters (e.g. beyond territorial waters). Twenty three new protected areas were consulted on, thousands of people supported their designation and we anticipate the creation of these new protected sites at sea in early 2016. We also welcomed Defra’s commitment to a further round of MCZs as well as important progress in the regulation of fisheries within existing Marine Protected Areas ie the introduction of new byelaws to restrict damaging activities on fragile seabed habitats in European Marine Sites in English waters.‘
Buglife: ‘We are used to tough questions at Buglife, but this has been a head scratcher. It’s not been a great year for positive wildlife decisions from Defra, I hope I am not overlooking anything, but decisions such as bypassing the neonicotinoid ban seem to have gone against the grain of nature. I thought that I had one, the decision to stop licencing the importation of non-native bumblebee subspecies into the UK for crop pollination purposes, with all the genetic dilution and disease spreading risk they were bringing. But checking the records this decision was taken in December 2014 and by Natural England rather than Defra, so I can’t count that. Defra have funded 35 new biodiversity conservation projects through their global Darwin Initiative Fund, these are 35 very positive decisions that will provide £7 million crucial support for saving life on Earth.
But I hope that when we look back at 2015 we will see the new Countryside Stewardship scheme as being the most important Defra led development for wildlife. It has been a politically brave move to withdraw the bread and butter Entry Level Scheme that was fairly easy money for lots of farmers, but which gave very little measurable benefit to wildlife, and replace it with a much more selective and demanding scheme. In particular there has been an increased emphasis on using some of the money to fix the declines in bees and other pollinators. There has been a reasonable rate of application, and about half of the applications (over 1,200) have included pollinator packages. So let’s hope the new Countryside Stewardship scheme is a great success, that it marks the start of a shift towards a more pollinator conducive farmed landscape and that future ministers are able to transfer a more reasonable proportion of the agri-environment subsidies into targeted funding to improve the environment.‘
Plantlife: ‘Once upon a time, in a Nobel House, a wicked fairy sets out to weave a spell that will last 25 years whilst appeasing the miserly servants at the Treasury. Boos and hisses have rippled through the audience for much of the performance but then, as the curtain is about to come down on 2015, our unassuming hero (with the slightly damp shoes) saves the day by confirming he doesn’t want to… renegotiate the EU Nature Directives. The audience takes to its feet.
On the Defra staff pin board they celebrate their proudest achievements: one wag has pinned up “Surviving this madness!” Plantlife couldn’t put it better.‘
Well! Not much in terms of concrete achievement there then! Three votes for an environment minister, belatedly (and see here), saying something good about environmental legislation, along the lines of ‘we won’t, publicly at least, be seen to be weakening environmental protection’. And a vote each for a consultation that is not yet implemented and a new scheme that has got off to a bad start administratively but might deliver some wildlife eventually.