What should we expect from a first speech from a new Environment Secretary of State? We’d hope for personal commitment, a clear analysis as to why nature is in trouble, and an ambition to restore nature. And I think today, Michael Gove gave us that. But we also got a sense of where he will be investing his reformist energy – on the future of farming.

Michael Gove delivering his first major environment speech at WWF Headquarters today

He was right to suggest that farmers should be rewarded for restoring wildlife and protecting the natural resources on which we all depend for food production now and in the future.  We’ve worked with farmers up and down the country who show it is possible to produce food whilst at the same time restoring farmland wildlife.  Those wildlife-friendly farmers are bucking the overall downward trend for farmland wildlife, and we urgently need more of them.

We’re working with our partners in both the Greener UK and Environment Link coalitions to develop our shared thinking on the future of farming subsidies, and an approach that rewards farmers for doing the right things for nature is at the heart of that. We will be backing wildlife-friendly farmers by arguing for a system that supports their actions.

But, Michael Gove also gave us an indication that he was prepared to look at how you replace the enforcement powers currently provided by the European Union. To do that he’s going to have to influence the current Repeal Bill to make sure not only do we maintain existing levels of protection afforded by EU law, but also that we work out how to ensure that the laws are then enforced. As I’ve highlighted in recent posts, the Bill as it stands is woefully inadequate on both counts.

Overall it was a great first start, but of course the tough work starts now. He’s going to have to turn those fine words into actions and that means working across Whitehall with his ministerial colleagues to turn his vision into reality. It means working across the whole of the UK with the devolved administrations to make sure that his reforms will benefit all the UK’s wildlife and at the same time he’s going to have to carry on working with our allies in the European Union and globally to ensure that together we continue to do what we can to tackle the major trans-boundary challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

We want and need him to be successful so will do what we can to provide constructive challenge and support.

Outside WWF HQ congratulating Michael Gove on his speech and wishing him well to turn the fine words into action (image courtesy of Claire Smith)