Sparking a debate on the future of Wales’ environment

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RSPB Cymru Blog

Sparking a debate on the future of Wales’ environment

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With the Welsh Government gaining primary legislative making powers last year, 2012 has seen a flurry of consultations on all aspects of Welsh Government policy including on the environment. The result is that we have a once in a generation opportunity to influence the future of how Wales’ environment is used, managed, protected and valued by current and future generations.

A number of areas of interest to RSPB Cymru include:

  • The proposals for a Sustainable Development (SD) Bill to introduce an SD duty and a new SD body;
  • Sustaining a Living Wales, a consultation which sets out how the environment and natural resources of Wales should be managed in the future, and the precursor to an Environment Bill;
  • The creation of a new single environmental body to replace the Environment Agency Wales, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Forestry Commission Wales;
  • A review by the Independent Advisory Group which has reported to Welsh Government, and which will influence the proposed new Planning Bill;
  • The first in a series of consultations on better protection for the marine environment through the creation of Marine Conservation Zones;
  • A recently revised Glastir scheme and a developing Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which have the potential to make a significant contribution to improving the quality of the Welsh environment.
  • Indications from the Welsh Government that various European funding streams, are either in danger of being reduced or are having additional criteria for job creation added to them.

The question is – is the Welsh Government grasping this opportunity or squandering it?

While there are some good intentions, we are concerned that what is currently proposed will not go far enough in helping us deliver the 2020 biodiversity target and this opportunity could slip by. We want the Welsh Government to build on and improve what is (or could be with a bit of tweaking or proper implementation and enforcement) working, such as protected sites, and to effectively implement new proposals for an ecosystem approach if we are to halt the loss of biodiversity and sustainably manage the Welsh countryside and seas. Following the Rio+20 summit in June we want to see the Welsh Government really taking the lead in delivering a sustainable future for the people and wildlife of Wales. 

We’re interested in hearing your views on this topic, please join the debate by commenting below.

By  Sharon Thompson, Sustainable Development Manager, RSPB Cymru

  • As Sharon mentions here, one of the opportunities ahead is in the field of the Marine environment, where the Welsh Government are currently consulting on the designation of highly protected Marine Conservation Zones (hpMCZs).

    The designation of these zones should provide the opportunity to protect nationally important, rare and common species unlike ever before, and create a national network of marine protected areas. However, the initial plans from Welsh Government only identify a few small areas (3-4!) which are within existing protected areas.

    Consequently, the sites as proposed will do little for mobile species like seabirds and marine mammals. In addition, by screening out areas of high economic activity and then banning all activities within the hpMCZs, Welsh Government’s current approach is likely to impact unnecessarily on some of the more sustainable, small-scale activities, that take place within the sites, while outside the site boundaries, damaging activities would be allowed to continue.  Ideally what we would like to see is a range of more, bigger protected areas, which restrict only the damaging activities but allows non-damaging activities to continue, possibly under permit to ensure that use of the seas is sustainable.

    This doesn’t mean that there should be no hpMCZs but they should be located where they are needed. There is an opportunity with MCZs to alter the way we use the seas around Wales, moving away from exploitative practices into a more sustainable approach that recognises the value of the marine ecosystems, working in a balanced manner to ensure that the rare species begin to recover and the common species stay that way – helping us to achieve the goal of halting the loss of biodiversity.