The environmental content of David Cameron’s Conference speech

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And comment here, here, here, here.

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Guest post on Friday – Peter Marren

Peter Marren will be the guest blogger here on Friday – commenting on the discussion that has sprung up here since he dropped a pebble in the wildlife NGO pond with his article in The Indpendent newspaper.

And the offer is open to the Chief Executives of any and all of the wildlife NGOs to offer a guest blog for this site, following on from Friday’s blog. Would you like to hear their views?

Do let me know if you have problems posting comments on this blog.  I only know of a couple of people who have had any problems but it may be that there are lots of you out there.

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Chancellor mentions environment shock!

George Osborne felt confident enough to say it as he saw it at the Tory party conference yesterday.

Yes, climate change is a man made disaster.

Yes, we need international agreement to stop it.

Yes, we must have investment in greener energy. And that’s why I gave the go ahead to the world’s first Green Investment Bank.

But Britain makes up less than 2% of the world’s carbon emissions to China and America’s 40%.

We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business.

So let’s at the very least resolve that we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe.

That’s what I’ve insisted on in the recent carbon budget.

Even if Mr Osborne has forgotten, do you remember the promise of the brand new Prime Minister David Cameron on 14 May 2010 in the Department of Energy and Climate Change? Then, the Tory line was:

“I don’t want to hear warm words about the environment. I want to see real action. I want this to be the greenest government ever.  In fact, we’ve made a good start. Someone pointed out when you mix blue with yellow – you get green.”

Well Mr Osborne took his boss’s words to heart – Osborne doesn’t bother with warm words about the environment at all.

Let’s not improve health and education faster than other European countries, let’s not cut crime and drug-taking faster than other European countries, let’s not do good in greater quantities than other European countries and let’s not reduce harm by more than other European countries.  No, we are the the Tories and we prioritise money above any of these things.  We will increase speed limits and concrete over the countryside in the name of economic progress but we won’t do more than a very narrow view of ‘our bit’ to save the planet, the people who live on it and the millions of other species with which we share it.  In Osborne’s Britain we win no medals at the Olympics and we show no leadership except in the scramble to grasp an economic mirage.

And just for Mr Osborne’s benefit, the UK is the 12th most polluting country in the world (in 2005) by total GHG emissions.

Where are the Lib Dems? Hello? Hello? Anybody out there? Apparently not.

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Planning for wildlife

It was good to see this story in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday.  The RSPB have a legal opinion from Nathalie Lieven QC, the environmental barrister, who has “ no doubt the draft NPPF lessens the policy protection for SSSIs”.

I wrote in comments on this blog on 9 September the following:

Although European designations are pretty strong – requiring compensatory habitat if some is destroyed – the protection for SSSIs is much weaker, as is that for most species. So I should have said that the presumption in favour of development could well affect these sites and their environs.

Planning decisions are not usually cut and dried – they involve weighing up the pros and cons across a wide range of areas of interest – landscape, biodiversity, economics etc. 

Government policy is saying ‘weigh up the economic case more strongly from now on’. So a local authority is more likely to say yes than it was before – and less likely to impose conditions. If the playing field were level before, it will be sharply tilted by this wording of policy – and to be clear that is exactly what government intends it to do. Government is prioritising removing apparent barriers to economic growth over protecting wildlife. And wildlife is getting stuffed already.

Local authorities can refuse planning permission for ‘development resulting in the loss of irreplaceable habitats….unless the need for, and benefits of, the development clearly outweigh the loss’. Previously the ‘unless’ bit wouldn’t have applied. So you can see that this is a real shift in policy which it will be difficult for local authorities to ignore.‘.

The National Trust is also laying down the law to the Government on what it needs to change in the NPPF- although the NT’s view is notably wildlife-light and people-heavy, as might be expected.

Caroline Flint’s speech at the Labour Party Conference had a go at the Coalition Government’s proposals on the NPPF (where are the Lib Dems on this?), and made a little joke about the NT being treated as a bunch of lefties but, as might have been expected, there was little mention or recognition of the impact of the NPPF on nature around us.

If you have any doubt that the NGOs, for their varied and slightly uncoordinated reasons, are right to be worried about the NPPF then you only have to see a recent letter in The Times from the NFU, CLA and the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers which stressed their support for the government because rural areas need more development provided high-grade agricultural land is saved for food production.

If you share my concerns over the NPPF then you won’t get much sympathy from Francis Maude who regards our worries as, and I quote, ‘bollocks’.  The government is rattled.

The question is – will the NGOs mount some sort of protest, event or lobby at this week’s Conservative Party Conference to bring their views to the Tory Party faithful?  And will the NGOs opposing the NPPF do this together or separately – or not at all? It is an opportunity which should not be missed with all those NT, WT and RSPB members at this Party Conference, with the Tory Party’s favourite newspaper the Telegraph, campaigning against the planning proposals, and with the Prime Minister hoping that he has done enough to keep the NGOs quiet.

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Never seen that before

Last weekend I revisited one of the haunts of my youth – a place called Steart or Stert.  And I’m going with Stert as I’ve always known it as ‘Sturt’ rather than ‘Steert’.

As spotty teenagers at Bristol Grammar School we would, under the guardianship of masters  Derek Lucas and Tony Warren, make two autumn high-tide early-morning visits to this location to see the wader roost.  Being the Severn Estuary, it was not quite as spectacular as The Wash or the Ribble or The Humber but we saw lots of waders and learned to identify them and enjoyed it immensely.  And there were a few rarities too –  I saw my first buff-breasted sandpiper and my first pomarine skua on such trips.

Last weekend, I walked down the lane through the fields with their hawthorn bushes and calling chiffchaffs.  A few curlews were in the fields too.   Instead of shuggling along the ground to creep up behind the shingle bank I now had to sit in a hide – not a brilliantly positioned hide, and not with brilliantly positioned windows.  But as I sat there the memories came back of looking over a very similar scene on many distant mornings.  The large numbers of shelducks were similar and looking across the River Parrett, Burnham-on-Sea looked little changed in the distance.  The common but not very numerous waders were still dunlin, ringed plover and curlew with a large flock of distant oystercatchers, a few lapwings and some bar-tailed godwits.

A peregrine, which would have been a rarer sight 40 years ago, cruised up and down the shore occasionally having a half-hearted stoop at a passing gull but then it clearly saw something that really took its fancy and it was off.  Moving quickly with a few powerful wingbeats it hit a bar-tailed godwit and grasped it in its talons.  I’ve never seen a peregrine catch anything before, this was a first for me.

But as the peregrine’s flight took it over the estuary, the godwit was not firmly held and it fell into the water.  I couldn’t see the godwit anymore and the peregrine circled overhead.  I wondered what would happen next – would the peregrine have to give up? was there some way of retrieving its prey? But after a few moments the godwit flew from the water and tried to make its escape.  The peregrine was off in pursuit.

The two birds climbed in the air, with Steep Holm behind them, and Brean Down – how glad I am that there will be no barrage built between the two!  Given that it had been grabbed by the falcon and then spent some time in the sea, the godwit seemed in fine form – it out-climbed the peregrine several times and eventually, perhaps sensing some lack of commitment or perhaps ability in its foe, it sped off towards Hinkley Point nuclear power station unpursued.

It was a thrilling interlude for me to watch and I wondered what had been going through the peregrine’s mind and that of its intended prey?  Something, surely, must have approached a feeling of irritation or disappointment in the mind of the falcon, and something of relief and terror in that of the godwit? Or was this scene played out by two automata and my thoughts were the only ones really engaged by the battle for life above the muddy Stert sands?

Who knows? And who can tell?  Certainly not the immature Sabine’s gull which fed along the shoreline throughout my visit of recaptured memories and a first peregrine deathless kill.

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