Last modified: 23 August 2010
Image: Mark Hancock
Don’t cut the life from our countryside – that is the message the RSPB is taking to the doorsteps of ministers this week in the run up to the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
Campaigners will be out in the constituencies of The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, Cabinet Office minister, Oliver Letwin and Secretary of State for the Environment, Caroline Spelman.
Signs carrying the RSPB’s message will appear on banners in towns and villages and on billboards erected in fields and at busy road junctions. They will even be pulled through the streets behind bicycles.
Mr Osborne, and Mr Letwin are both members of the Government’s ‘Star Chamber,’ which will decide where the axe will fall on the budgets of Government departments.
As Secretary of State for the Environment, Caroline Spelman will decide which areas of Defra’s work will be sacrificed to meet the savings demanded of her.
Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said: “The members of the Star Chamber have a huge responsibility. They have to make meaningful cuts without harming vital services.
“We have been arguing very strongly that the natural environment is not the place to make swingeing cuts.”
Such cuts have serious implications for wildlife in the constituencies of the Star Chamber members.
In Caroline Spelman’s constituency of Meriden in the Midlands they could hamper efforts to understand and tackle the problems affecting the River Blythe.
The River is a site of Special Scientific Interest for its plant and insect life but is classed as being in unfavourable condition due to invasive freshwater species such as the non-native Signal Crayfish and pollution from agricultural and urban run-off, which has lowered the water quality.
The Environment Agency is charged with improving the Blythe and the 70 per cent of English water bodies that currently fail to meet European standards.
However, with cuts to the Agency’s budget all but inevitable, the picture does not look bright for our struggling river life.
In Oliver Letwin’s West Dorset constituency, the loss of support for wildlife friendly farming through the Higher Level Stewardship will seriously threaten the ability of the innovative Dorset Arable Project to continue its successful work with farmers to reverse the declines of farmland birds.
Also, as part of the South West Farmland Bird Initiative funded through Defra, the project itself faces an uncertain future beyond March next year.
Without it conservationists fear for the future of birds such as corn bunting, lapwing and yellowhammer.
In George Osborne’s Cheshire seat of Tatton farmers can claim public money for measures to help preserve wetland habitats which help make up the area known as the Meres and Mosses.
The Meres and Mosses is made of hundreds of small wetlands, areas of wet woodland, bog and open water, which are scattered across parts of Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Wales.
Farmers in Mr Osborne’s constituency can apply for cash through Higher Level Stewardship in return for taking steps to preserve the area, its wildlife and its archaeology, some of which dates back to the Bronze Age.
Now those payments and the environment they help protect could be under threat from the Chancellor’s axe.
Dr Avery said: “Defra’s budget amounts to just half a penny out of every pound the Government spends, yet that modest investment brings huge returns in the form of wildlife, clean air and water, flood alleviation, carbon sequestration and pollination.
“Such things are beyond price and their loss would be too high a price to pay to balance the books.”
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