Last week the government published the latest statistics on wild bird populations in the UK, which show that the UK is in trouble. The statistics may have slipped under the radar for many given the election’s dominance of the news cycle, but they are a must read for anyone who cares about our natural world.
The latest report shows the relentless decline of many farmland bird populations across the UK. Many of our most loved birds are in trouble including the lapwing, turtle dove, starling, skylark and corn bunting.
Perhaps the most startling thing about this report is that, in many cases, the cause of the decline is known and can be attributed to changes in farming practices and management, increased use of pesticides and historic hedgerow removal.
Major choices have to be made
In 1962, Rachel Carson catapulted concerns about pesticide use in the US into the public eye in her book Silent Spring. Following this there was an intense debate that eventually led to a ban on the pesticide DDT for agricultural uses and also helped to inspire the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
For many years, regulation and the use of pesticides in the UK has been largely decided at the European level. However, after Brexit there are major choices to be made about our future use of pesticides.
With the advent of new environmental legislation through the Agriculture and Environment Bills, we have an opportunity to fundamentally change the way that we manage and care for our land. With the right support, farming can not only provide the healthy food that society needs but also deliver more for nature and help tackle climate change at the same time. Although there are many examples of where this is being done already, it is not business as usual for all farmers.
Here are some priorities for the government to reset the way we manage our land:
- Public money for public goods must remain the guiding force of future agriculture policy. The Greener UK coalition is calling on all parties to support a new Agriculture Bill that puts this principle at its centre. It would see farmers rewarded for providing public benefits such as clean water, clean air and thriving habitats for wildlife. Long term, substantial funding for farmers should be part of the new contract between the government and land managers.
- The Environment Bill must lead to ambitious targets to halt the decline in nature and bring about positive improvements. Environmental Land Management Schemes and Local Nature Recovery Strategies will be essential to deliver these improvements as well as targets on restoring and creating new habitats, protecting key species and reducing pesticide use.
- Environmental principles such as the precautionary principle must be enshrined in law. The government claims that the Environment Bill does just that, but it is wrong. The bill relegates these important legal principles to a policy statement. Instead, there must be an express requirement on public authorities to apply the principles in their policy and decision making. That is the current position and that is what is needed to at least maintain existing protections. Anything less is a regression from current standards.
- The government’s proposed Local Nature Recovery Strategies must be fully integrated with the new payment system for land managers. The decline of nature means there is no time for dysfunctionality and they must get off to a flying and solid start. Their design and management must involve nature groups, land managers, expert advisers and practitioners.
- Ministers’ ruminations on high environmental standards must be turned into legal commitments. Future governments will be guided by Acts of Parliament, but warm words are often conveniently set aside when other political considerations come along. A transparent and accountable approach to trade, with people and parliament given a full say in negotiations, will be essential to maintain high standards.
The Environment Bill, published at the end of October, has given us a glimpse of what environmental regulation could look like after Brexit. Positioned as a “huge star” of the government’s legislation programme, the bill got off to a promising start. But it, like all other bills in train, will fall due to a general election being called. Its fate now lies in the hands of a new government.
A comprehensive study of the state of the UK’s natural environment shows no let up in the decline of our natural world. Experts from more than 70 wildlife organisations have joined with government agencies to present the clearest picture to date of the health of our species across land and sea. It’s pretty grim.
No part of our precious ecosystem is untouched. Many of our most loved species are threatened, including hedgehogs, wild cats, hares, bats, butterflies and birds.
This blog was first posted on Business Green.
The government’s environment legislative programme is in disarray. Earlier this month, bills that were halfway through their passage, including on agriculture, fisheries and trade, were lost as parliament was prorogued. The Environment Bill meanwhile is yet to appear in full. Read more
This blog was first posted on Business Green.
Amidst a flurry of ‘end of term’ announcements, and on what could be his last day in office, Environment Secretary Michael Gove yesterday set out the government’s ambitions for the full Environment Bill. Read more
In what could be his last days as environment secretary, Michael Gove has delivered an agenda setting speech in which he lamented the catastrophic loss of biodiversity across the globe and at home, highlighting that the UK is now one of the most nature-depleted nations in the world. He drew attention to the many other environmental threats we face, including the scourge of plastic pollution, toxic air and threats to water quality. Michael Gove’s self-confessed conversion from ‘shy green’ to ‘full-throated environmentalist’ is now complete. Read more
Last week, Green Conservatism came of age. The Conservative Environment Network launched a manifesto, supported by 41 MPs including senior backbenchers and members of newer intakes. This is significant because, at this time, it seems that parliament agrees on very little. But it is also significant as it is bursting with solutions to the environmental crisis and is a positive statement of intent on what can and must be done to preserve and restore our planet for future generations. Read more
I am inspired and brimming with hope. Yesterday I was part of the biggest ever environmental lobby of parliament. I felt a small cog in a big wheel of change as around 12,000 people travelled from across the UK to parliament to urge their MPs to take action on the environment and climate emergency. Surfers, farmers, countryside rangers, school children, students, firefighters and medics all joined forces to deliver this message to their MP: we care passionately about the environment and we want you to listen and do something now.
I spent some of the day walking the mile-long lobby queue to find out why so many people had given up their time. Here are some of the things I learned. Read more
In her Mansion House speech in March 2017 the prime minister said “As we leave the EU we will uphold environmental standards and go further to protect our shared natural heritage”. But her speech yesterday appears to ignore the government’s commitments to improve and not just maintain standards.
On the face of it the commitment that “there will be no change in the level of environmental protection when we leave the EU” should be reassuring as the government has repeatedly said that standards will not be weakened by Brexit. But no change infers no improvement which, when facing an environmental crisis, seems very wide of the mark. Read more
This week I gave evidence to the Liaison Committee, which comprises the chairs of all of parliament’s select committees. It is looking into the effectiveness and influence of the select committee system.
Select committees perform a vital role in holding government to account, scrutinising legislation and providing a forum to explore policy issues in a cross-party setting.
They mainly operate by holding inquiries into specific issues, inviting written submissions and hearing oral evidence from witnesses who are expert or experienced in the issues before the inquiry. Read more