I have just emerged from a speech by Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers announcing the publication of a new Environment Bill.
This comes a fortnight after we published the state of nature report highlighting the ongoing and shocking declines of wildlife across the UK.
The publication of the Environment Bill is, of course, an important milestone: for the first time we have, after many years campaigning and hard work from loads of people across many organisations, a government promising legal targets to drive nature’s recovery in England.
The announcement once again took place at WWT’s London Wetland Centre and comes 20 months after the Prime Minister published the 25 year environment plan at the same venue.
At the time, while applauding the ambition, we argued that the commitment needed to be underpinned by legislation which is why are pleased to welcome the new Bill.
The new environment bill provides the shell of a plan for how these targets will be implemented through a new environmental watchdog and new measures to make the planning process work for nature.
As the UK continues to debate is future relationship with the EU it is vital that this new Bill maintains and bolsters existing legal protection for wildlife. Much of what has been announced today sends us in the right direction but the devil, inevitably, will be in the detail of the 130 clauses.
The publication of the Bill is good news but not only must the proposed targets reflect the urgency and threat posed by the ecological and climate emergency, the government must back up the ambition with the necessary finance. The context, of course, is that we have seen a massive reduction in public spending on biodiversity over the past decade.
What’s more, this Bill primarily applies to England and we want to see urgent action by governments across the UK.
While today’s politics remain febrile and it is uncertain when or if this Bill will be debated in Parliament, the government has set the bar and it is important that this triggers a competition amongst the political parties to develop the best plan to address the planetary crisis.
I shall endeavour to provide a fuller critique of the Bill later in the week.
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