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A Greener UK - and how we can get there

Posted: Thursday 8th December 2016 by TheWildlifeTrustsBlogger

The Wildlife Trusts Chief Executive Stephanie Hilborne on creating a Greener UK, after the EU.

We are a nation of wildlife lovers. 9 million people watched Planet Earth 2 on Sunday night and I was one of them. I felt just as I did when I watched Life on Earth as a child. I simply sat in awe at the sheer complexity and beauty of wildlife and the natural world.

I can completely relate to people who don’t want to connect these wonderful emotions with the less positive feelings that most people have for politicians. And I don’t advocate doing so on a Sunday night. (Although there are a good number of amazing people in politics but that’s for another blog).

But on a Monday morning we must confront the brutal facts. The truth is that politics dictates many of the decisions made that affect wildlife and always has done.

That’s why ever since our inception in 1912 The Wildlife Trusts have sought to influence the government of the day. Our founder Charles Rothschild entreated the Government to stop draining wildlife habitat in the East Anglian fens. During and after WWII our society was heavily involved in shaping post-war legislation for wildlife site protection. In the 1960s and 1970s we fought for bans on toxic chemicals that were killing birds and otters and more.

The truth is that politics dictates many of the decisions made that affect wildlife and always has done

In the 1980s, 90s and noughties we managed to secure strong new domestic wildlife laws, not least the 2009 Marine Act, but most of the time it was the European Union (which UK environmentalists were influencing too) driving the improvements.

So it came about that the vote to leave the European Union in 2016 has far-reaching implications for our wildlife legislation. In fact 40% of all EU regulations affecting the UK relate to Defra’s responsibilities. Another way to view it is that four fifths of legislation overseen by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs comes from the EU. This includes our strongest protection for wildlife sites and regulations on pollution of our seas and rivers. So despite being one of the smallest Government departments, Defra now has one of the biggest tasks on its hands.

In facing this challenge Defra has (at least) three things in its favour:

 

1. There is public support for environmental protection. In a recent YouGov poll 80% of people said they think the UK should have the same or stronger environmental protection after it leaves the EU.

2. Love of wildlife is a uniting emotion. People from all backgrounds, whether they voted to leave or remain, love wildlife.

3. The UK has one of the most effective and sophisticated environmental charity sectors in the world.

It may not always be very visible but charities collaborate a great deal when it comes to speaking to government. The Wildlife Trusts work very closely with many other non-governmental organisations – both environmental and social - locally and nationally. And it has never been more important for the sector to be united.

Today fourteen major environmental organisations including WWF, The National Trust, RSPB, Friends of the Earth and The Wildlife Trusts have united under the banner of a Greener UK coalition. The aim is to work together to ensure that the UK makes this ‘once in a generation’ moment a good one for nature. You can read more about the coalition here.

The Wildlife Trusts’ unique contribution to the joint effort is the extent of our experience of how regulations and financial incentives play out on the ground and what is needed to improve matters. The Trusts across the UK tend to have the ear of their elected politicians. So with our team working at a UK level able to meet with Ministers in Westminster and Whitehall we really can make a difference. And Trusts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland play the same role in the devolved Governments. In this way and with the support of our 800,000 members and 43,000 volunteers we have secured real, tangible and positive change in the past and we are determined to do so again.

Since the Referendum, we have been working flat out with the other NGOs to map the opportunities and challenges ahead. Critical areas include future policy on food and farming, fisheries and the protection of our seas, and on prevention of pollution and the protection of important wildlife sites and species. You can read The Wildlife Trusts' key asks at the bottom of this blog.


However, the single most critical task is to rally the wildlife enthusiasts of the nation to call for a far-reaching natural environment Act , that sets ambitious aims for nature’s recovery.

Every way you look at it, despite the strong protection we have for some sites and some species, nature is still struggling, and the only way for the UK to reverse the fortunes of its wildlife now is to be forward-looking and ambitious. Now is the moment to put nature and wildlife back on the map, with a legislative framework to support this so we do not falter.

The Wildlife Trusts' asks:

A new ambitious natural environment Act

  1. World leading legislation to map out and secure ecological networks on land and at sea
  2. Full commitment to bringing all generations closer to nature
  3. Strong and well enforced protection for vital habitats and species and the linkages between rich wildlife sites
  4. A culture shift in the corporate world that puts investment in rebuilding the nation’s natural assets as high up in their priorities as the health and safety of their employees

Countryside

  1. Invest public funds into the ecological networks on land to bring back wildlife; store carbon and water; and ensure soils can support future generations of farmers
  2. Ensure we have the right advice available to farmers to encourage participation in government schemes for meadow creation, peatland restoration and more
  3. Create a strong and clear regulatory framework for those farming and managing land with wise, firm and well-informed regulators

Fisheries

  1. Manage our fisheries sustainably - we should not be exceeding "maximum sustainable yield" in any fishery
  2. Ensure there is a full discard ban
  3. Stop fishing down the food chain  

 

Stephanie Hilborne OBE is Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts

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