I’ve been writing about the battle to save Catfield Fen since spring 2012 (and I’ve added those blog posts to the curated archive – click here). Although most of the previous 10 posts were in 2012-2014, and the apparent victory by the land owners, Tim and Geli Harris, to save a wildlife gem from water abstraction seemed to have been won in 2016, the case rumbles on. This is so often true in site protection matters; however good the site, however overwhelming the victory for the environment, pressures from development, intensive farming, and in this case water abstraction for agriculture, simply don’t go away. The good guys have to win every time to save our wildlife, the forces of environmental destruction only have to win once for wildlife to be lost for ever.
Throughout this long battle fought by the owners of an SSSI to protect it from water loss one of the allies for the environment has been the former MP Norman Lamb – but he’s gone now. His successor, Conservative new boy Duncan Baker MP, is energetically throwing his weight behind environmental destruction in supporting the farmers who want access to water that should be maintaining this ‘protected’ wetland.
Mr Baker is quoted as saying;
I am 100pc committed that the actions we take have to reflect the need to look after our precious environment.Eastern Daily Press 31 January 2020
What do you think the next word is?;
Did you guess right? Mr Baker goes on;
But the EU legislation does not take account of the threat to the business, so I don’t think it is balanced legislation. It only takes account of the environmental factors. We absolutely have to make a commitment to preserving water and the environment, but at what cost to our food producers? At the moment the legislation is at all costs to our food producers and I don’t think that’s a very sensible approach.
We need to make sure that any decisions taken are absolutely correct, and we need to listen to all sides. The environment is hugely important to me, buy (sic) we still need a sustainable economy.Eastern Daily Press 31 January 2020
This type of nonsense will be spouted by Conservative, mostly, MPs with increasing frequency and, you mark my words, the EU environmental protection, imperfect though it is, will be slashed and burned pretty rapidly in what we will come to look back on as the post-Brexit environmental disaster.
Mr Baker doesn’t know his backside from his elbow, it seems, when it comes to the role of legislation and yet he is now part of the legislature – a part that shows every sign of having been captured by the vested interest of agri-business and being prepared to lash out at EU environmental protection whenever the opportunity arises, as here. He is also standing for the Environmental Audit Committee presumably as the ‘I don’t understand the environment and am not going to stand up for its protection under current legislation‘ candidate.
The forces pressing for environmental destruction, although they never put it quite like that, used to say that the environment was getting in the way of progress, by which they pretended to mean some general societal benefit rather than their own bank balances, but now they are quite upfront about this being a battle between a public good (the wildlife of a protected site) and their own bank balances. It’s so typical of today that the local CDonservtive MP sides immediately and so strongly with the forces of agricultural damage.
At least Mr and Mrs Harris have worked for years to get the Environment Agency and Natural England into a much better position than they were back in 2012 and that is very much to the Harris’s credit and somewhat to the agencies’ credit too (although I am loathe to praise public servants merely for eventually doing their jobs after years of neglect).
A longer perspective is often valuable, but often rather depressing too. A report by Natural England entitled ‘Extinctions and declines of plant and invertebrate species within the Ant Valley‘ tells the tale of two waves of extinctions of species largely caused by water abstraction, in the 1910s and 1970s with the ‘uplands’ of the site (you have to smile don’t you, this is the Norfolk Broads) being lost and the wildlife hanging on in a damaged, water-starved valley bottom. But this could be restored over time by controlling water abstraction. That is the job of the agencies, notably the Environment Agency and Natural England, and you would think the Broads Authority too, and one might even hope that the local MP might play a part.