It feels to me like 2017’s been a year of both progress and uncertainty. There’s been lots of positive talk, but not yet much concrete direction, on what the future for our environment will look like outside the EU. But in the absence of clarity over our environmental future this year, plenty else has ticked steadily on. Here are just some of the positive outcomes from the areas we’ve campaigned on this year:

  • 184 MPs have now signed the Greener UK Pledge for the Environment launched last year, for “a thriving natural world on land and at sea, clean air and water, communities connected to nature, and a sustainable economy.”

    You’ve sent more than 25,000 emails to your MPs asking them to do everything they can to defend our strong environment and nature laws, and ensure they are not left vulnerable to future change. Many of these MPs are championing the environment in the EU Withdrawal Bill debates, tabling and scrutinising amendments. They are calling on the Government to uphold the ‘polluter pays’ and ‘precautionary’ principles that play a key role in protecting nature from harmful activity.
  • The Climate Coalition’s Show the Love campaign each Valentine’s Day continues to grow, as more and more of us get involved to show that we care about climate change and the things it affects. Did you know that 75% of people in the UK support renewable energy, but think that only 9% of people do? Together, we’re changing that, by talking about climate change, and showing leaders from politics to sports to our communities that we want them to act, and we will too. And The Climate Coalition are kicking off the conversation a little earlier this time – watch their alternative Christmas advert here.
  • The number of birds illegally trapped and killed last autumn as they migrated over Cyprus seemed to have reached a new high, and our report published in March confirmed that an estimated 800,000 birds died on the UK’s Sovereign Base Area at Dhekelia alone. RSPB supporter Harriet Allen secured over 24,000 signatures on her UK Government petition challenging the MoD on this issue, before it was closed ahead of the election.

    As the autumn migration started again this year, hundreds of you wrote heartfelt letters to your MPs to call on Defence Minister Mark Lancaster to resume clearance of the illegally planted acacia trees that hold up the trappers’ nets and stop this activity for good. Thanks to the Base Authorities’ efforts this summer and some high-profile prosecutions, the toll on migrating birds is looking lower this year. We hope that with reduced criminal activity, the MoD will take note of your letters and continue the acacia clearance they’d started to put this slaughter on the Base to an end for good.
  • Next year water companies in England and Wales will write their investment plans for 2020-2025, for the £8 billion a year they spend. You’ve joined us in asking them to do more for nature which, of course, benefits clean water too.  So it’s good to see that water company regulator OFWAT’s guidance now contains higher environmental expectations of water companies, specifically that they should include improving ecosystem resilience in their decision-making. Practically that means things like better management of the land the feeds rivers and reservoirs, restoring river habitats etc. Let’s hope for ambitious plans from the companies themselves soon.


Successes for sites

There’s been good news for some of our most important wildlife sites:

  • At the start of the year, Welsh and UK governments announced the designation of six new Marine Protected Areas in Wales. The new sites recognised that our rare wildlife not only needs protection on land where they breed, but also the areas at sea where they feed and live. Tailing the year, with neat symmetry, the UK Government announced two further protected marine sites for seabirds at the start of December.
  • In April the wind turbine application that would (perversely) have damaged the carbon-storing blanket bog of Hoddlesden Moss was withdrawn, following sustained local opposition.
  • In May we got some good news for small plants – after your responses to the Welsh Government consultation, environmental impact assessments will continue to be compulsory for any tree planting over 5ha. That means precious places like ffridd flower meadows and other grassland habitats will be safe from thoughtless tree planting that hasn’t considered their existing value, and we can focus on new trees in areas where they are of benefit to woodland wildlife, such as connecting pockets of woodland.
  • In September, news came through that the planning application for 5,000 houses at Lodge Hill, Medway, that would effectively have destroyed the only protected site for nightingales in Britain, was withdrawn by the developers. Earlier in the year, over 10,000 of you called on Medway Council to remove Lodge Hill from its draft Local Plan. We’ll know whether the Council has listened when the next draft of the Plan comes out in 2018.
  • In October the Scottish Government ruled out fracking – a win for the climate, wildlife and for the precautionary principle.


Looking ahead

In July new UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove gave his first speech, laying out an ambitious direction for the future. He’s followed it with a slew of environmental announcements, not least the banning of neonicotinoid pesticides in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of the harm they cause. And there will be much more on farming and wildlife. Looking forward, the conversation around the future of our nature is only just starting.

Michael Gove has promised a consultation on an environmental watchdog in the new year, and a series of laws coming forward in 2018 could give our wildlife new support and protection if they move away from damaging farming and fishing policies that have driven wildlife declines. Last month you told us on Twitter what you think about the nature of farming, and back in January over 400 of you told the Welsh Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs (CCERA) Committee what you think the future of farming should look like. In the spring we hope the UK Government will be asking everyone for their views, and constructing new laws that support and reward farmers to restore nature, soil health and water and air quality in the way they grow our food.

We’re also looking forward to the UK Government’s long-waited 25-year Environment Plan for England, setting out how we’ll leave our natural environment to the next generation in a better state than we inherited it. Whatever’s in that plan, we need new nature laws across the UK to make such an ambition reality.


An easy action to end the year

But, whilst we’re still in this year, I’ll be (finally!) catching up on Blue Planet II over Christmas. Many of the episodes featured wildlife found in UK waters, but perhaps not the ones you might expect…

The oceans around our Overseas Territories are home to the largest coral atoll on earth, globally significant populations of albatross, whales and turtles, and as many as a quarter of the penguins on the planet, so protecting these waters can make a big difference for a lot of wildlife. Which is why we’ve teamed up with five other organisations to call for a new, four million square kilometre marine sanctuary around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which would be twice the size of the UK and protect 10% of the world’s penguins. 216 MPs have already signed the pledge to #BacktheBlueBelt – will you call on yours to join them?


Head on over to Global Conservation Director Martin Harper’s blog to read about more conservation highlights this year.