This year they had a much easier job and I agree with the thrust of their assessments, which were as follows (in the order in which they responded):
- WWF-UK: ‘Probably our favourite thing about Defra this year is the increased engagement and interest in our agenda at ministerial level – particularly from Michael Gove, who delivered his first major speech as Environment Secretary at WWF’s Living Planet Centre in Woking. And Gove has begun to back up the words with some actions – including a consultation (soon to close) on significantly toughening the UK’s ivory trade ban ahead of next year’s London Conference on the illegal wildlife trade. But, in the spirit of looking forward to a new year as well as backwards into the current one, there is a lot more to do, and we want to see real priority from Defra and the whole Government on global leadership on the environment in 2018. That means a 25 year environment plan committed to tackling our environmental footprint in other countries, a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London with an ambitious agenda for sustainability, and work on trade deals that will uphold and strengthen high environmental standards, not undermine them.‘
- Buglife: ‘Defra’s greatest achievement of 2017 has been to bloom. After years of ministerial drought on environmental progress we might have feared that the green blood had run dry in Defra, that the die had been cast and Defra was set in its ways. In the last six months the heavens have opened, the direction of flow has changed and there is a belief that “leaving the environment in a better state than we inherited it” is more than just an empty slogan.Of course this is still new, will –
- standing against neonicotinoids;
- establishing a new body to hold decision makers to account on the environment;
- setting out clear environmental principles and delivering these through ambitions environmental objectives;
- restoring wildflower meadows;
- stepping up biosecurity in the potted plant trade;
- and bearing down on plastic use and pollution –
stand the test of time and ministerial changes? Who can say?
Clearly, as the response to the sentience debate showed, a couple of slightly clumsy steps and the Conservative Party takes a lashing on green and ethical issues. Will this fragility hold the changed ethos in place or discourage future Conservative ministers from setting out an ethical stance in the first place? And what of the Labour Party, environment does not seem to be a key plank of the Corbyn agenda, how will they respond to the renewed blue/green agenda if they come to power?
But these are questions for the future, at the moment it is eye-opening to watch the Defra civil service machine flex and shift towards the new agenda. Civil servants who previously pulled you to one side for a hurried conversation now stand tall and talk loud, it is their time in the light and they are blooming.’
- RSPB: ‘The profile and media coverage of the environment has benefited greatly from the appointment of Michael Gove as Secretary of State to Defra earlier this year. He has proved himself to be an engaged minister, keen to listen but not afraid to challenge back. In recent weeks there have been some really positive announcements coming out from government. The decision to back the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides is not only good news for bees and other wild pollinators, but also for evidence-based policy. Along with decisions on microbeads and proposed policies on dealing with ocean plastics we are seeing leadership on some of the most pressing problems that nature faces. The coming months will be crucial for our wildlife as new bills on agriculture and fisheries come before parliament, as well as the launch of the 25 year plan for the environment. It is essential that warm words are translated into effective action, only then will we be able to judge the impact of Michael Gove’s time at DEFRA. The challenge for Defra has always been holding out for the environment against competing interests within Government and beyond. That will undoubtedly be the case in the coming year over issues like trade policy and deregulation, and this will really test Mr Gove’s mettle.’
- Wildlife Trusts: ‘Our favourite thing that Defra did in 2017?’ Endorsing the release of beavers in the Forest of Dean – following a number of similar Wildlife Trust projects. There are other contenders: a new fund for peatland restoration and some positive words about future support for environmental land management. As nature’s engineers though, beavers help improve the wildlife and diversity of wetland habitats, slow the flow of floodwater water and improve water quality, so they had to be our top pick.’.
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