Risk to peaceful protest could have profound implications for environment and climate

Protest over development on ancient woodland, Smithy Wood, credit Chris Senior

The simple act of peaceful protest is under threat.

As the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is being debated by Parliament - less than a week since it was published – we are seeing alarming new powers for the police to decide where, when and how people are allowed to protest for the things they believe in.

The Bill will place harsher penalties on anyone who breaches conditions imposed on protest and it will become much easier to successfully prosecute. And why is this a worry? Because it will severely hamper our democratic freedom to assemble and draw attention to issues and points of view that we feel are being overlooked or ignored by Parliament in relation to wildlife, the natural world and people’s connections to it.

We support the police in their efforts to ensure the safety of all those involved in peaceful protests. But we cannot afford to see an over-zealous Act of Parliament becoming a tool to silence the role protest plays within our democratic society.

'The Time is Now' March,

'The Time is Now' March, Penny Dixie

As Wildlife Trusts, we've marched to protect our seas through the Marine and Coastal Act; taken part in mass gatherings outside Parliament to demand ‘The Time is Now’ for action on the climate emergency; and we've protested to prevent the destruction of thousands of precious sites for wildlife over the years. Always peaceful, but no less clear and focused in our mission to create a better natural world for our wildlife and for people.

And this has made a difference. Special places like Askham Bog in Yorkshire have been saved and Acts of Parliament for our seas have been secured. Small urban havens have been rescued from large corporate bodies – such as Smithy Wood in Sheffield or in Wales, where the risk of unacceptable levels of environmental damage historically halted the M4 road expansion. 

It’s imperative we stop this Bill to avoid the shackles it will place on us all.

The role of protest in achieving these things is one of the reasons why the measures introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill are deeply concerning. They will curtail the right to peaceful protest – on all issues – and for citizens to have their voices heard by those in power. It will stifle the voices of those who achieve genuine good for wildlife and it also looks to put at risk people accessing the outdoors by introducing measures that will simply put up more barriers to getting out into nature.

Marine lobby

Marine lobby

We have to protect people’s right to stand up for what they believe in, to join with others to make their voices heard and to improve the laws for nature and people. We need to urgently achieve an abundance of wildlife on and around the doorsteps of every citizen if we are to tackle the climate and nature emergencies and achieving this will involve gathering together and raising issues that are not receiving the attention from Government that they deserve.

We cannot lose this basic right in a badly thought through and overly rushed Bill. This is yet another assault on the democratic process; whilst at the same time the Government is considering weakening the Judicial Review process and pursuing a deregulation agenda. It’s imperative we stop this Bill to avoid the shackles it will place on us all.

Protest over development on ancient woodland, Smithy Wood, Sheffield Wildlife Trust

Protest over development on ancient woodland, Smithy Wood, Sheffield Wildlife Trust

The Wildlife Trusts - Mass Lobby

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