Guest blog – it’s #TimeToBeHeard by Richard Benwell


Richard has worked in the Westminster parliament as a researcher in the House of Lords and as a Senior Clerk for the Energy and Climate Change Committee. He is now Head of Government Affairs at WWT after spending a couple of years as a Parliamentary Officer at the RSPB.

He wrote a previous guest blog Make Great Britain Green Again in January this year.




Don’t let nature fall silent – it’s #TimeToBeHeard

The House of Commons is sometimes called the Green Benches.

Sometimes it feels like that couldn’t be further from the truth.

There are set-piece debates on budgets and growth, but little time is dedicated to our natural resources. Every day in Parliament, nature’s needs are drowned out by louder, richer voices—calls to slash environmental red tape for the sake of economic development, or to licence new chemicals or processes to steal a march on corporate competitors.

The environmental jeopardy of pollution, development, invasive species and unsustainable development can be multiplied by poor political decision-making. Now, with so much political turmoil embroiling our Parliament, and so much open to change, the chances of nature being drowned out are greater than ever—and the consequence could be that some of our precious species fall silent forever.

But the Government has promised a 25 Year Environment Plan to turn things around and that gives us the opportunity to steer political decisions along a greener path.

There have been hiccups: the referenda, negotiations, and elections have all delayed the plan. What would have been a plan for 2045 is now looking more like a plan to take us to 2048. Yet Mr Gove has given the manifesto promise of a plan new life, setting out a good stall on farming reform, and lending new political heft to DEFRA’s claims on Cabinet time and resources.

At WWT, we’re launching a new campaign to challenge the Government to deliver the action needed to make its 25 year ambition a success.

We’re calling for a new Environment Act, with legally-binding targets for nature. We want new investment in sustainable farming and green infrastructure. We propose new institutions—an Environment Commission and an Office for Environmental Responsibility—to make the UK a world-leader in environmental governance.

Our movement is used to fighting a battle of attrition, holding on to dwindling pockets of wildness, and staving off regular threats to the laws that defend nature. We must keep up the fight.

But today, we’re campaigning for better—the law, investment and institutions that can actually turn round the state of nature. To succeed, we need to show the Government that amid all this political clamour, it would be folly to forget that we all depend on nature, and wise to remember that a thriving natural environment is the foundation for a sustainable economy and a healthier society.

Let’s not let environmental interests be drowned out in Parliament. Let’s not let nature fall silent. Please campaign with us today for a 25 Year Environment Plan to create an environment for success—nature’s way. And let’s make sure that the Green Benches live up to their name. It’s #TimeToBeHeard.


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12 Replies to “Guest blog – it’s #TimeToBeHeard by Richard Benwell”

  1. Nice one WWT, good to see that you're spending our subs on this. Thanks Richard for your blog, we could all learn a great deal, over a beer, from you as we become more politically aware and active for nature. Over to us to do our homework now, and get it in to our MP on time!

    1. Thanks, Mike, much appreciated.
      And policy and beer is an *excellent* combination that I'm always happy to return to. Please do let us know your thoughts!

  2. Shouting alongside lots and lots of other people shouting - just watch those green benches !

    How to break through the cacophony ? Its all about having a powerful narrative and making friends and influencing people - that's politics (though you wouldn't think it at the moment). Alone, as it seems to make quite an effort to stand, conservation is a thin, small voice against immediate priorities, but we're involved with things that touch people's lives far more immediately: flooding, for example, which we've at last recognised cannot be controlled by concrete alone - and natural solutions could produce habitat - and environmental benefit - on a scale way beyond any sectoral bid for conservation.

    The Natural Capital Committee, to whom the Government is listening, have proposed 250,000 hectares of new 'community forest' (for which read a wide range of habitats, not just trees) around our towns and cities. It hardly gets a mention - maybe it is just too big, and conservationists are so accustomed to only being allowed agriculturally marginal places. This Saturday's Guardian has a long article by Robert Macfarlane bemoaning yet again our disconnect from nature, yet this proposal is on the table and the pilot schemes are already there - from reclaimed coal tips next to where people live to nature reserves like Rainham Marshes to Cliffe Pools and Fairburn Ings.

    This really matters: there is a risk as we speed up house building that environmental destruction goes hand in had with generating a new generation of low quality of life places to live - sprawling identikit houses set amongst enormous fields of oilseed rape. But set in greenspace designed for people, for wildlife and for environmental resilience we could do the impossible - build 3 million more houses, improve the environment and recover our biodiversity.

    1. Rod, as an aside I wonder why the Natural Capital Committee hasn't broken through the cacophany? I'm fairly well tuned in to these things I hope but this was news for me.

      On a more substantive point one of the major barriers to achieving what we want is the extraordinary price of land in and around towns and villages - which is surely where we want to touch peoples lives. This is coupled with the reticence (and in many cases policy) of major charitable foundations (let alone government) to grant aid land purchase. There are any number of organisations out there with the vision, skills and ability to make stuff happen but without sufficient funds for land purchase we are always going to be tinkering around the edges, sadly.

    2. Thanks, Rod, completely agree.

      We've been sending lots of details evidence to DEFRA & the NCC to help them in their work and NCC's latest advice to Govt is very strong.

      This is just our first foray into bringing the public along with us in support of these policy ideas. It may add to the noise, but it's still an effective part of policy change - I hope!

      Really appreciate everyone's support.

  3. Tim - yes, a fair point - except that there are inklings that Defra are taking it more seriously than most - and as has been mentioned on this blog before Michael Gove is no fool and, in an area where he perhaps doesn't have the strong personal opinions he had on education, may be listening to advice.

    You are, of course, correct about land prices, high anyway but inflated by hope value in the urban fringe. The bottom line here is that, although central Government would dearly love to pretend otherwise, the planning system is a rationing system. The values it generates are so excessive - 50-100X uplift from agricultural values in many cases - that there is enormous headroom for different thinking - possibly without even changing the system. Many farmers are desperate to get planning & have far more land than will ever go to housing - there's the opportunity there for every hectare for building to be matched by maybe 5 hectares of land for green space - and if schemes offering that get planning easier than ones without soon everyone will be doing it.

    1. I agree with all of that, but again, as you say it's about getting you voice heard. Even harder is to get local authorities to do anything that involves vision rather than perceived self-interest. Here in Herefordshire the council squirrels away the lion's share of Section 106/CIL moneys to fund a bypass round Hereford that DoT have serially refused to fund because even DoT's deeply flawed cost-benefit analysis doesn't stack up.
      I hope that you're right about DEFRA/Gove and I think that there's a chance that you are. Perhaps the only crumb of comfort that might emerge from Brexit is a collapse in agricultural land values and/or a much stronger link between agricultural support and public goods.
      Don't mean to sound like a grumpy old man so I'm off to the pub now to drown my sorrows!

      1. Thanks for comments, Tim!

        NCC is certainly doing an excellent job, but they're so small (part time members, tiny secretariat) that we really need to add to and bolster their good advice.

        We've also got a really important job to do in voicing the arguments for change *simply cos nature's wonderful* alongside the very compelling economic rationale.

        Every email to MPs will help give this a nudge up the agenda.

  4. Tim could you expand on your "sustainable farming" point please. Are you referring to soil management, conservation agriculture etc.

    1. Hi Julian, yes, soil management, reduced use of pesticides and fertilisers, investment in habitat creation and improvement... lots of different things!

      We're hoping that Govt will maintain serious public spending (£3.4bn would be a good start...) as well as introducing the objectives, long-term contracts, targeting and certification needed to get some really substantial private investment in nature underway.

      Fingers crossed!


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