I am sadly not in Manchester for the Conservative Party Conference this week, but our hard-working parliamentary team remains on the road - this time with RSPB Chief Executive, Mike Clarke.  So, I have asked one of our team, Paul McNamee, to shares his reflections below.


We are now well into conference season with week three finding us in Manchester for Conservative Party Conference. October has brought with it a rainier week but, as a soggy graduate of Manchester University, I was expecting nothing less of the city.

Once again the RSPB has joint-hosted a reception with WWF and the Wildlife Trusts which included speeches from the Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss, the Environment Secretary, and Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer at Aviva. The title of the reception was ‘We need to talk about nature... A healthy environment fro a stronger economy’ and both speakers picked up on this title. Steve gave a great speech outlining that in his line of work, the long-term is considered to be five years but that this needs to be reconsidered. Some businesses have started incorporating the effects of climate change and the declines in the natural environment as part of their investments and decision-making, knowing that these are problems that, if not addressed now, will cost us greatly in the future.

The Secretary of State continued on this theme, reiterating that the UK can only have a secure, thriving economy when it is under-pinned by a strong natural environment. These ideas were repeated the next day in her speech from the main hall in which she said “our natural assets are the country’s life-blood.” She covered how important children’s connection to nature is for the future; how the UK needs to use its science industries and world-leading data collection to help protect the environment; and that everyone should get involved with the development of the proposed 25-year plan for biodiversity (a word cloud of her speech is shown at the end of this blog).

This is a positive message and one we hope is recognised by the other Departments across Government. If, as we believe, the natural world truly underpins the economy, then every Department need to be doing their bit in helping protect our natural assets. One way in which the Chancellor can show his support in the next few months will be at the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) in November.

Defra provides many vital services such as flood protection and water quality; it invests in science industries; and it receives massive benefits for the money it invests, be it European funding or unpaid volunteering hours. As such, the CSR needs to ensure that Defra does not receive reductions in spending that make it unfit for purpose. The Department’s vital work can only continue if it is well-supported by the rest of the Government. As this week’s Conference has shown, this is important not only for the inherent value of our natural environment, but for the economy too.

Word cloud of Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss speech to Conservative Party Conference 2015

  • Isn't that word cloud scary ? Defra has arrived full circle, back where it started: it is indeed MAFF with food and farming massively and overwhelmingly its central aims. I'm not that keen on word clouds but this one works - it starkly reveals the underlying thinking. I can't spot water or flood at all, and nature is portrayed at exactly the scale Liz Truss and Defra seem to see it at. Forestry doesn't get a mention at all, but then loyal Liz won't have forgotten David Cameron's 'I never want to hear the word forestry again' after his humiliation over the forest sales fiasco. Yes, we should be supporting the 25 year plan - for the environment, not just biodiversity - but we should be supporting it from the point of view - and the scale - of the Natural Capital Committee - 100,000 ha of new wetland, 250,000 ha of new peri urban woodland, 140,000 ha of peat restored, not the sort of trivial recycling of existing policies in the Defra response to NCC.