• The future of forestry in England: the verdict

    It has been a nervous wait for the nation, but the news is in. Government confirms a more secure future for public forests. You can read my boss, Mike Clarke's reaction here.

    It feels to me as though the Bishop of Liverpool lobbed the ball up (with the Independent Panel's report) and the Secretary of State has smashed it into the back of the net (with today's response).  A political crisis in 2010-11 has turned…

    • 31 Jan 2013
  • The future of forestry in England: we await the verdict

    Today, the Westminster Government will respond to the Independent Panel report on the future of forestry in England.

    Set up in response to the furore over government proposals to sell off public forests, we rather liked what the Independent Panel said.  You can read our response to their (July 2012) findings here.

    Two significant things have changed since the Panel reported:

    - the public spending envirnoment has not…

    • 31 Jan 2013
  • Ding! Ding! Round 2 of the EU Budget talks: time to send a message to the Prime Minister

    On 7 February, round two of the EU Budget negotiations begins. For those of you that have not been following this saga, 27 Heads of State need to agree how to spend about a trillion Euros over the 2014-2020. Their meeting next week is the latest attempt to thrash out a deal. The last time they met, the bits of the Budget that offer the best value for taxpayers money and supported the environment, seemed to be most at risk…

    • 30 Jan 2013
  • Tests of investment in nature

    I said yesterday that governments are judged, partly, on how they spend their money.

    This government might be happy to spend £30 billion on 190 new road schemes, but how does it plan to fund the nation's forests, support a strong independent champion for nature or support wildlife friendly farming?  And what about local authorities?  In the face of tough spending environment, will they be able to protect their…

    • 29 Jan 2013
  • The fight for a sustainable economy

    Yesterday, while many of us were either taking part in Big Garden Birdwatch or out and about enjoying the sunshine, road protesters were digging in at Hastings.  They are making a stand against the planned Bexhill Hastings Relief Road through Combe Haven valley.

    National and local Government are planning to spend more than £30bn on 190 major road schemes. The fear is that the twenty first Battle of Hastings is just the…

    • 28 Jan 2013
  • A birdwatch of two halves

    It was a birdwatch of two halves.

    The first half went well.  The boy spotted the two goldfinches on the feeder and then a redwing appeared.  It was kind of it to make an appearance and stayed for most of the hour, perhaps wondering where the rest of the flock of winter thrushes had flown.

    The chaffinches, house sparrows, greenfinches, blackbirds, collared doves, robin, dunnock and blue tit joined the stage and it was…

    • 27 Jan 2013
  • An hour well spent

    This weekend, I plan to forget all about the triennial review of government agencies, wildlife crime, the fate of European environment legislation and funding for wildlife friendly farming.  I'm not even going to worry about climate change.

    I'm going to grab a coffee, get a couple of chairs and sit with my kids for an hour looking out of a window into our garden.

    And then we'll wait and wait and wait...

    • 25 Jan 2013
  • The good, the bad and the uncertain

    First, the good news.  Defra and the Home Office have provided a funding lifeline to the National Wildlife Crime Unit.  This is an important part in our fight against wildlife crime and Ministers Richard Benyon and Jeremy Browne deserve credit for securing the funding in this tough spending environment.

    Second, the bad news comes from Brussels where the European Parliament Agriculture Committee has voted on proposals to…

    • 24 Jan 2013
  • Why a healthy environment should be a social issue

    I was struck by the story last week that there was a strong correlation between the banning of lead in petrol and reduction in violent crime.  It reminded me of the story retold by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Tipping Point" about the rapid reduction in crime in New York in the 1990s credited to Police Chief William Bratton.  He achieved this partly by adopting a zero tolerance to graffiti in the subway.   

    While…

    • 23 Jan 2013
  • A Worthwhile Investment in the Natural World

    Following on from Tony Juniper’s guest blog yesterday here’s an interesting leader published last week in the Western Morning News (regional daily paper in the West Country) about the value of investing in seabirds.

    It follows the announcement that a broad coalition of organisations on the Isles of Scilly, including RSPB, have successfully secured funding for a major 25 year project to secure the future of…

    • 22 Jan 2013
  • GUEST BLOG BY TONY JUNIPER: What has nature ever done for us?

    I am delighted to host a guest blog from Tony Juniper.   Tony is a former Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth, writer and top campaigner.  He has won more battles than he has lost and has always been an inspiration (and fun) to work alongside.  Today, Tony profiles his new book.

    --------------------------------------------

    One of the gravest misconceptions of modern times is the still widely held view that efforts to…

    • 21 Jan 2013
  • We need to talk about Europe

    Everyone seems to have a view about the European Union: Nobel Peace prize winners, mass social experiment or collosal waste of tax payers money taking away sovereign powers.  This is why there is such anticipation about the Prime Minister's speech on Friday.

    The debate about whether to stay, renegotiate the terms of our membership or leave is obviously intensely political.  But I do think it is worth understanding the…

    • 17 Jan 2013
  • A day at the BTO

    I had a nice surprise yesterday.

    Following a productive meeting with our friends at the BTO, four of us trekked about 200 yards through the snow to see a black-bellied dipper.  The last dipper I saw was actually on Christmas Day when I was walking with the extended family through Jesmond Dene in Newcastle.  But that was our resident species.  The one on the doorstep of the BTO breeds in northern Europe and wanders to milder…

    • 16 Jan 2013
  • It's offsetting time again

    In an interview with The Times this weekend, the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, revealed his interest in establishing a scheme to offer planners the power to “offset” large infrastructure projects that harm wildlife populations.  This is by no means a new idea, but is obviously attractive to Mr Paterson as he looks to reconcile his twin objectives of supporting rural growth while improving the natural…

    • 15 Jan 2013
  • Why nature conservation?

    I remember being asked this question on the Isle of Rum in 1994.  I had just started my Masters degree in Conservation at University College London.  Fourteen of us were staying in the servants quarters of Kinloch Castle.  I was quite an ideological 24 year old and I think managed to rattle off nine reasons ranging from the moral, scientific and economic.  I was pleased with myself for being so thorough.

    Dr Brian Wood, my…

    • 14 Jan 2013
  • In case you need more evidence of illegal killing of birds of prey

    My week started with questions from John Humphrys about the evidence that hen harriers were being persecuted.  The week ended with the successful conviction of a Lincolnshire gamekeeper for poisoning two buzzards.

    In Monday's Today programme debate (50 minutes in), the death of Bowland Betty was insufficent to make the case.  I probably should have highlighted the government agency conclusion that unless illegal persecution…

    • 11 Jan 2013
  • Groundhog Day and the Severn Barrage

    There are some environmental issues that make you feel a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.  Now I accept I am not as funny as Bill Murray but the current debate about another barrage in the Severn Estuary does have remarkable similarities to the debate in which I took part  between 2006-10 and no doubt the one in the 1970s and probably even to those that inspired the famous Thomas Fulljames painting of 1849.

    The attraction…

    • 10 Jan 2013
  • Shuffling the deckchairs (5): lessons from Wales

    Defra is currently consulting on whether to merge two of its agencies, Natural England and Environment Agency, or keep them separate.  Redesigning quangos may not be everybody's cup of tea, but as I have written before (here), the outcome could have huge significance for nature conservation. 

    We are particularly keen to ensure that the outcome of the review produces at least one organisation whose primary focus is…

    • 8 Jan 2013
  • Mid term blues

    If I were Mr Cameron or Mr Clegg, I'd look again at the ambition to be the "greenest government ever" and think that there was a point to prove in the second half of my term in office.

    I'd be worried by the schism that has emerged within the coalition over climate change policy and would see the Energy Bill as an opportunity to set the record straight.  Establishing a target to decarbonise electricity…

    • 7 Jan 2013
  • Asking tough questions

    The Oxford Farming Conference yesterday served up a good mix of debate and controversy but side-stepped some important issues. 

    The Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, was bullish about his desire for progressive reform of the Common Agriculture Policy.  He said that decisions about food production should be left to the market but also emphasised the value of "compensating farmers" for the work they do for the environment…

    • 4 Jan 2013
  • Cause for hope in 2013

    Happy New Year!

    I’m in Oxford today for the Oxford Farming Conference.  It’s a good way to start the year, catching up with those from the farming community that we have worked with in 2012 as well as some with whom we have crossed swords.

    Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, will be speaking this morning and this afternoon we will hear the results of a review of farming's Value to Society (a piece of research…

    • 3 Jan 2013