The UK Government’s Natural Environment White Paper has been launched, and, overall, it is pretty good!
Congratulations to Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman, and her ministerial team.
The Government has clearly listened to the concerns millions of people in this country have about the state of our wildlife and green spaces. The aims laid out in this paper could steer us towards a future where farmland birds are no longer in decline, heathland and wetlands are no longer under threat, and some of our most threatened species are no longer teetering on the brink.
We are working through the 70+ pages and 92 recommendations. But, our initial assessment is that 5 of our 7 tests have been met. Here are the highlights and the two low-ish lights.
1. Defra ministers clearly do get it - "most people rightly believe in the innate value of nature and our strong moral repsonsibility to protect it".
2. They have the right ambition and are prepared to set and report against measurable outcomes (for habitats, protected areas and land outside of protected areas). More detail will emerge when the England Biodiversity Strategy is published later in the month but this is a promising start.
3. Most existing legislative commitments (including for water and the marine environment) get an airing. International responsibilities under the Nagoya agreement are also clearly acknowledged.
4. There are two clear proposals which should help deliver more wildlife close to where people live. Local Nature Partnerships will be set up and supported along with a series of Nature Improvement Areas. These will be based on a pioneering approach to conservation which brings together farmers, charities, communities and public bodies to make a real change across a whole landscape. This is something the RSPB, through our Futurescapes programme, have been working towards for a long time. It would see an end to the unconnected patchwork of environmental measures in our countryside which limits our potential to restore the natural environment.
5. This is a White Paper on behalf of all of government and it was great to see ministers Greg Clarke and Norman Baker from DCLG and DfT respectively on the panel at the launch today. There are some new initiatives including the establishment of a Natural Capital Committee which will report to the Chancellor and the value of nature will be considered in all relevant impact this assessments. This may sound a little dry and policy-wonkish - but if they get this right, then it could help ensure nature is at heart of decision-making. I don't expect this to be plain-sailing, and as I blogged today, there are already some existing problems, but the intent is admirable.
6. Alas, there is no clear funding strategy for delivering the ambitions for wildlife. But that is not surprising - there is no money! The Government will need to be brave enough to intervene with the right mix of regulation and incentives whenever progress on wildlife and habitats is stalling. And, existing subsidies will need to be worked harder for wildlife. For example, we know that the Entry Level Scheme is not delivering on its potential and ministers have an immediate opportunity to fix this through the Government’s review of the effectiveness of Environmental Stewardship.
7. It was disappointing to see that the Government has chosen not to seize the opportunity to introduce new legislation tackling environmental damage caused by horticultural peat use. The RSPB proposed a simple levy of £1 on a bag of peat based compost, and this idea has found support from within the growing media industry, the garden retail sector and amongst professional gardeners. But instead the Government will be continuing with a voluntary approach to phasing out peat use which has so far failed to achieve its desired outcome. There is simply no need to dig up carbon rich peatland habitats across Europe in order to grow flowers and vegetables in our nurseries, greenhouses and gardens. While this is a missed opportunity, we are slightly heartened that the proposed task force will be chaired by Alan Knight - a good man who previously tried to crack this issue when working for B&Q. We will be delighted to work with him but to encourage industry and consumers to make the switch to decent peat-free alternatives which are proven to deliver the results gardeners demand.
But, enough for now, I must go back to reading it. If I find any more gems, I'll let you know. Or if you do, let me know!
There two big ideas of Local Nature partnerships and Nature Improvement Areas appear to simply be dressing up old ideas in new clothes and providing little support for them. The more active Conservation Forums and similar to Local Nature Partnerships and we know the main support for Local BAP officers, who play a key role here, has been axed. Meanwhile we have Futurescapes, Living Landscapes, Conservation Target Areas and Biodiversity Opportunity Areas as well as IBDAs. These can deliver what is required but now we are down to 12 test areas with a brand new name. We'll just have to do our best I guess and that seems to be the message here - do your best but don't expect much help from us.
Graham - agreed. But the difference this time (I hope) is that government looks as though it wants to own the challenge and will be investing c£7m to make it happen. More than that, it is committed to learning from the lessons of the pilots to inform policy and showcase to others. I think that this what has been lacking from previous initiatives.
It's mad re the peat-free thing. Why keep digging up an endangered habitat?
'Which' tests showed that the alternatives are just as effective. Please stop using it!
Good for you Martin I admire your optimism but I worry about that amendment.
One obvious though only just struck home to me is that farmers generally farm because their interest is providing food so conservation,wildlife and birds are somewhere lower in their priorities whereas of course you conservationists etc have farming somewhere lower in your priorities and perhaps if conservationists take this on board better than in the past they will seem more in tune with farmers and perhaps build a better relationship with majority of farmers as opposed at the moment the minority of farmers.
Think it is a sad thing that lots on both sides are very close to seeing the other as the enemy,in my opinion neither side innocent or guilty,just how circumstances have come about but while this attitude prevails progress will be hard and wildlife the loser.
Sad to say Spoonbill think Which may have tried it in different circumstances to those which lots of gardeners use peat based seed compost and each year I just try a small amount of peat free compost for starting seeds off and each year have to pot them quickly into peat based as the peat free for seeds is absolute rubbish.Unless people use peat free compost for growing seeds they are not in a position to judge and if they do grow seeds in P F C successfully then please let us know which brands are readily available and we will change.
New Horizons peat-free/organic compost is good. I have used for salad leaf seeds successfully this year.