This blog is where you can read about the places we work to protect and the people on the front line. The scope of this blog covers planning, the policies and legal framework that exists to protect the best places for wildlife and of, of course, the individual cases that are the daily work of staff across the UK. We help BirdLife International partners overseas – and you will be able to read contributions from Europe and further afield.
Of course – probably of the best way to save a site is to a acquire it as a nature reserve – this blog will sometimes feature our reserves and the role they play in future of our wildlife, but the full story of the RSPBs network of nature reserves is told elsewhere: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves
This blog features the contributions of many individuals – I will have the pleasure of holding the ring and acting as the narrator to this compelling story. So a little about me; I’m Andre Farrar and my first active involvement with the RSPB was in the late 1970s as a volunteer with our Leeds Local Group http://www.rspb.org.uk/groups/leeds.
I was one of many who wrote to their MPs as part of the campaign to get the best outcome for what became the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). It wasn’t perfect but it was a good start. Thirty years on, I’m still in the thick of it campaigning for our protected areas and special places for wildlife. Are we winning? Read on and find out, and see how you can help.
I was reminded the other day that in 1941, in the darkest hours of World War II and with Churchill’s backing, planning for post-war nature conservation was underway. Our countryside and wild places, our wildlife in towns and rural parishes and its role in our lives is part of what defines us.
The last ten days have seen an unprecedented series of major initiatives and announcements that will shape nature conservation for years to come. First the outcome of the Red Tape Challenge review of environmental regulation, then the Budget set up by the Chancellor’s intemperate words six months earlier in his autumn statement in which he characterised the environment and its protection as ‘a ridiculous cost on business’. Then, hot on its heels, publication of a review in to the European Nature Directives (specifically the Birds and Habitats Directives) and how they are implemented in England – ‘gold plating’ was the charge. And finally the publication of England’s National Planning Policy Framework.
The Treasury, DEFRA, The Department of Communities and Local Government and the Cabinet Office lining up to shape the relationship between economic growth and the future of our environment.
Our treasured countryside. Hard-wired into our nation's consciousness, our campaigning has shifted thinking. Photo, view from the North Downs Andre Farrar.
Dozens of organisations have risen to the challenge in recent months backed by the active involvement of hundreds of thousands of people, just like you, who have left the coalition Government in no doubt at all that our countryside and the natural world remains hard-wired into the nation’s consciousness. This shift in thinking at the heart of the coalition Government is a welcome recognition that the environment is critical to our wellbeing, economy and future prospects for a country worth living in.
In recent months the campaigning and debating, arguing and positioning have at times felt like the future for England’s nature was bleak (and this is mainly about England, I’ve asked some colleagues from other parts of the UK to contribute their perspectives in future posts).
So where are we now?
In one word – relieved.
Relieved primarily that the coalition Government has listen to us and to you.
So from the top
The Red Tape Challenge – 16,000 stepped up for nature (thank you!) and emailed Business Secretary, Vince Cable. Result – sensible simplification but on the whole necessary and hard-one environmental regulation comes through in tact. Here’s more detail if you’d like it.
The Budget – had the Chancellor continued his intemperate assault on the environment, Budget day threatened to be labelled Black Wednesday. Over 19,000 stepped up for nature (thank you again) and joined the chorus to wake up George and ensure he sees the natural environment and investment in the green economy as inseparable from a prosperous economy. Result – less of the anti-environment language, but still a budget that will launch a wave of proposals for roads and runways that will risk us being set on an unsustainable path. A grey day for the environment.
The ‘Habs Regs’ – part of the repercussions of the Chancellor’s autumn statement was to kick off a review into how the European Birds and Habitats Directives are implemented in England. Accusations of gold plating and over-zealous application where in the air. We submitted extensive evidence to the review. Result – largely a clean bill of health. The Directives are supported by Government and are not guilty of the charge of unnecessarily holding up economic development. More here.
And finally the National Planning Policy Framework NPPF. This fundamental part of the English planning system will complement the move to local involvement in the Government’s Localism Act. Get it wrong and the dogs of unconstrained economic growth are off the leash. Result – a massive improvement on earlier drafts and a huge vindication of our campaigning alongside, in particular, the National Trust, CPRE and the Daily Telegraph. I know the lengths our planning specialists have gone to in order to make a constructive contribution to the consultation – we’re proud of the difference they’ve made. The implications of the NPPF will take some time fully to analyse, but first impressions are very favourable.
So where does that leave us?
No one should be under any illusion; we are facing an unprecedented upsurge in infrastructure proposals and development that will test our resolve to ensure that the best projects prosper and the bad and unsustainable are rejected. But we have saved the means to make our case.
Will it be enough?
Only if the public mobilisation that has opened the ears of government continues. The focus now moves from Westminster to the town hall, the village hall and communities directly affected. Local Authorities, hard pressed by falling budgets often shorn of specialist ecologists, are likely to find the requirements of the NPPF to update their plans a real challenge. Communities are expected to have a greater role – perhaps your community? Skills, time, organisation will be patchy. If we are to avoid a post code lottery for planning and the environment then these deficits must be addressed.
We will all have a part to play – are you ready to step up for nature?
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I have now read the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) line-by-line, comparing it with last year’s draft.
I am impressed, and still happy, as Martin Harper reported in his blog yesterday.
Why am I so happy? Martin mentioned our top three red lines. The Government has listened to us on all three points, and the result is a much more balanced document that we believe will help to deliver the Government’s own objectives in the Natural Environment White Paper.
Here are some extracts that make me really pleased: all things that planners or the planning system have to do, which have been added in the published version:
And here are some good things which were in the draft thanks to our influence, and are still there in the published version:
I could go on, but I’d like to end with thanks to a terrific team. Lots of people were involved, but I’d particularly like to thank Brendan for his determined technical advocacy, Alice for leading our campaigning, Annabel’s policy input while dealing with the Localism Bill, Laura for her parliamentary advocacy, Julia for keeping us sane, Penny our legal advisor and Nathalie Lieven QC for her advice on SSSIs.
In the latest guest post, Jon Fuller sets out the view from Essex where mad-cap estuary airport schemes are not new. Jon is an environmental campaigner from Southend and sets the latest plans for the Thames in a wider context.
When London Mayor Boris Johnson first suggested an estuary airport, I dismissed the idea as fantasy. I remembered the Maplin Sands episode over 40 years ago and concluded I could safely ignore the Boris Island threat.
Coming from the background of an environmental campaigner I was more worried by the failure to constrain aviation generally and the damage the various greenhouse gases were doing to climate. So I focussed my attention upon campaigning against aviation expansion at Heathrow and Stansted and helped to form a resident’s action group against expansion at London Southend Airport, where I live.
South Esses marshes looking towards Southend - bird's eye view from a powered glider. Photo Rolf Williams RSPBImages
I keep abreast of scientific developments and so find the mismatch between political economics and the science of climate change incomprehensible. I am deeply shocked, appalled and genuinely furious that politicians and big business should continue to pursue growth in environmentally damaging activities like aviation at a time when science warns of impending catastrophic climate change. Indeed the scientific community has recently gone further, warning that the various geo-engineering options may not work. For many years items like this article from the BBC ought to have jolted the public, politicians and business into a new mind set. Far from pursuing environmentally sustainable solutions to our economic woes, government has announced to the world that the UK will be determined in pursuit of environmentally damaging activities like aviation, and it will seek to extract oil and gas from ever more risky areas like the deep waters to the north west of Scotland. Far from encouraging people who live here to holiday at home and improve the UK balance of trade, the PM and Chancellor have given their strongest signals yet that they are seriously considering a staggering increase in aviation by building a Thames Estuary airport. I am now more worried than ever that government will make one of its worst decisions, ignoring the ethos of evidence based policy. If it goes ahead and builds an estuary airport we must face the prospect of moving 76,000 employees from Heathrow to North Kent and South Essex, building thousands of new homes in areas at risk of flooding from sea level rise. The towns that make up the borough of Southend on Sea will face a dramatic decline in tourism and the value of property. Currently property developers and the council enjoy a very healthy return from the grandiose flats that are springing up along the seafront. People are willing to pay many hundreds of thousand or millions of pounds for the sea views from those luxurious apartments; but none of them would pay that sort of money with a view equivalent to that of a Heathrow. And how many day trippers would want to come to a seaside town dominated by the utter misery associated with a hub airport? Little wonder then that politicians of all parties in South Essex are united on this issue like no other. When I was interviewed by the BBC for the Sunday Politics Show and have commented in the local press, I’ve talked about the impact of an estuary airport upon wildlife. But I would argue that we now need to take the economic arguments to Boris Johnson, George Osborne and David Cameron, making it clear that the aviation tourism deficit is hitting the UK hard (we make a net loss of over £15billion per annum). We need to carry the argument to them that spending such a vast sum of money on an estuary airport is short-sighted and wasteful of financial resources, particularly at a time when the supply of oil has peaked and will gradually diminish.
And we need to promote an alternative economic vision that boosts UK growth by encouraging more UK nationals to holiday at home, thereby freeing up space for long haul business trips that may only be required in large numbers for a few more years. Government must be encouraged to see that, with the pace and quality of broadband tele-conferencing improving so rapidly, there must be a very real chance that demand for long haul flights to the far east may stall then decline in the years to come. To waste our national effort on an estuary airport could turn out to be the greatest economic folly in history.
We’ll have more contributions from around the estuary as the aviation consultation unfolds over the spring and summer. Jon and I would be interested in your views.