What is the best thing about Devon? For one of the most beautiful counties in England, that’s a pretty hard question to answer. Perhaps it’s our 500 mile long coast with its beaches, headlands and cliffs. Maybe Dartmoor, with its wild tors, bogs and oak forests. Or one of our nine river systems, which plunge dramatically from the remote uplands to our many stunning estuaries.
There’s no question that Devon is a special place for wildlife. But it could be a lot better. Less than a third of our best wildlife sites are in favourable condition, less than one fifth of our rivers are in a good ecological state, and farmland birds continue to be lost across the county. At sea the situation is no different. The plastic plague is now well known, but the less visible and even more insidious problems of warming, acidification and over exploitation have wreaked just as much damage.
Anyone looking at this would say that we have not done a good enough job of looking after what we’ve got, let alone succeeding in improving it.
It’s time to turn things around. The good news is that we have a once in a generation opportunity to do this. Earlier this year the government published a 25 year plan for the environment. It was full of great ambition, such banning single use plastics, increasing our woodland cover to 12% and creating half a million hectares of wildlife rich space. What we didn’t know at the time is how the government planned to make all this happen.
Well, now we do. Over the summer our Prime Minister promised to create a new Environment Act. Public consultation on the first draft of this is launched today – Wednesday 19 December 2018. We’re expecting another consultation on the full document in the coming spring, but this first draft focuses on the all-important questions of environmental principles and governance – how will laws apply post Brexit, and who will be responsible for making sure they are applied effectively. This may not make you leap in the air with wild excitement, but you only have to look at the state of our wildlife to see just how important it is to get these fundamentals right.