Let's put nature's recovery into law!

The new year offers an opportunity for the first Environment Bill in over 20 years to do more for wildlife, and have clear targets to reverse nature's decline within a decade. You can ask your MP to stand up for nature.

There are times when we get so used to uncertainty and sudden, unpredictable change that it’s hard to imagine a world where this isn’t the case.  In the confusion of Covid 19, the plethora of government announcements and the barrage of laws passing through parliament in the final run-up to us leaving the EU, you could be forgiven for missing a crucial piece of legislation that has the potential to shape the future of our country for decades – the Environment Bill.

In just a few weeks all MPs will get the chance to vote on the Environment Bill in parliament.   This new law should embody our aspirations for the natural world at a time when there has never been a greater public awareness of the need to turn around the tide of loss.   The challenges it must address are very different from daily chaos that lockdown has brought to our lives.  They are slow, insidious and hard for us to notice.  The gradual disappearance of hedges, the fewer migratory birds every spring, the drip-drip disappearance of insects from our gardens and birdsong in the bushes.  In short, the thinning out of our natural heritage.

It's time to speak up for the wildlife that we love!

Emsworthy Nature Reserve

Emsworthy Nature Reserve Photo credit- Kevin McDonagh

There is much that is good in the Bill.  But it still falls well short of the World leading legislation we need.  Here are some areas where it could be strengthened.

A watchdog with teeth:  sadly, much of our remaining wildlife gets damaged or destroyed each year, either deliberately or because decisions are taken that simply ignore it.  The new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) needs to have real powers, so it can call government and others to account and stamp out unacceptable practice.  What is being proposed is nowhere near good enough.  And it’s not just the OEP that’s in the spotlight here – all parts of government, from the Treasury to regulators such as OFWAT, have got to prioritise the natural environment. 

No exemptions: most new developments will be required to comply with Biodiversity Net Gain – in other words, they’ll need to create more new wildlife habitat than they damage.  Unbelievably, major infrastructure projects like new airports, railways and motorways will be exempt from this.  Major projects should set the highest standards, not the lowest!

Sunset cup coral

Sunset cup coral, Photo credit-Linda Pitkin/2020VISION

 

Targets that mean business: the Government should set a ‘headline’ target which sets a date by which they will reverse nature’s decline.  This target, and the interim targets, should be made legally binding, so we make the progress we need to now and don’t kick difficult choices down the road.

Putting the Nature Recovery Network centre stage.  It’s great to see the Nature Recovery Network mentioned in the Bill, but it won’t become a reality unless the Local Nature Recovery Strategies that underpin them have real power to influence government, planning and spending decisions.

And finally there is the issue of funding.  The recent announcement of another £40 million for the environment is good news.  But we need much more than this.  £1 billion annually is needed to achieve the government’s aims of leaving the natural work in a better state than we found it.  This may sound like a lot, but it’s tiny compared to the amounts being allocated to new roads, defence, agriculture and most other areas of government spending.   And we should view this money as an investment that could help reduce costs in health, flooding, pollution control and a whole host of other areas.

Common Snipe

Common Snipe, Photo credit- Andy Rouse/2020VISION

The climate and ecological crises are real.  The government has responded with a series of announcements that have certainly succeeded in grabbing the headlines.  The Environment Bill is a test of genuine commitment, of true substance behind rhetoric.  It’s easy to become cynical about trying to influence government.  But evidence shows that if enough of us contact our MPs, we can bring about change.  So let’s make this one last effort to tell out MPs we want the best.  Our natural environment in Devon deserves nothing less.

Government postpones Environment Bill again

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