There’s a new government in the UK and an almost completely new team in Defra, but they’ve already made their mark by making statements which, taken at face value, look like an attack on the legal protections that apply to sites, habitats and species and also the greener policies that are being developed for farming in England. If you live outside of England thank your lucky stars that you don’t have to deal with this lot, and thank your fellow voters that similar things aren’t happening in your neck of the woods.
What is happening now all goes back to Brexit. I blame David Cameron.
Post-Brexit there has always been the likelihood that some of the most ardent Brexiteers would rather mindlessly start hacking away at any legislation that had the ‘EU’ label on it, things such as the Habitats and Species Directive (actually invented by a former British civil servant and MEP called Stanley Johnson – yes, Boris’s father). With its massive majority this government was able to give itself Henry VIII powers to amend legislation without full legislative scrutiny and it looks like we may see those used in future. This is really bad news for wildlife, and we are likely to see environmental protection reduced in the name of economic growth. A lot of things are being reduced at the moment, such as the value of the pound, confidence in the UK economy and so why should the environment get away untouched? Watch this space.
But also, at the same time, it seems as though the only environmental bright spot in Brexit, the chance to come up with a better way to encourage wildlife in the farmed environment, is also being swept away – dramatically and without warning.
The background to this is that the Common Agricultural Policy has not done a good job for wildlife over many decades, but then, the clue is in the name, it started as a post-WWII policy on food security with lashings of money for farmers and has slowly evolved to have green edges, but so slowly that the impact of intensive agriculture on wildlife has outstripped any net ameliorating impact of agri-environment schemes. the declines in wildlife on UK farmland have been greater than elsewhere in Europe – maybe we were better Europeans or was it simply that our farmland has been farmed to within an inch of its remaining wildlife and that hasn’t happened to quite the same extent elsewhere in the EU? Surely, we could do much better with our brain power out of the EU? Well, the scheme in England that has been shelved, perhaps temporarily, perhaps not, has been groping towards that position. It has to be said that Defra looks as though it has been struggling with the development and roll out of a new scheme – not so easy standing on your own feet is it?
So, the big danger, the always predictable danger (and yes, I am exercising quite considerable restraint in not saying ‘I told you so’) is that we get the cuts to protection of sites, species and habitats and get no bright new environmentally friendly management scheme to soften the blow. I didn’t vote for Brexit and have never voted Conservative – how about you?
Maybe it won’t be that bad, there really might be quite a lot of thrashing around before any of this gets sorted out. For a very sensible view on things listen to Farming Today and Dieter Helm talking about this issue this morning at the end of the programme (click here). See also this Defra blog (click here) claiming to be misunderstood – do you believe them?
There’s a masochistic part of me that wonders whether the more the new government destroy the UK economy the more likely it is that a new government in just over a couple of years might be able to make a new start to environmental protection. Wishful thinking?[registration_form]