Another day and another lesson from a colleague in the environment movement. This time from Peter Marren - a respected writer, wonderful naturalist and someone who I admire a great deal.
Peter wrote a piece in the Independent yesterday arguing that wildlife needs a louder voice.
He is right to highlight wildlife decline as an overlooked environmental issue – and he is partly right in the directions he points his finger when looking for the causes.
In attacking conservation groups like Buglife, Plantlife and the RSPB he conveniently ignores the many success stories we have achieved in recent years both directly on nature reserves and through dogged campaigning for better wildlife protection legislation. I’m immensely proud of our record but yes, we can and will do more. We will do more to secure CAP reform which benefits wildlife, we will do more to secure better protection for the marine environment and, yes, we will do more to ensure that the proposed changes to the planning system do not undermine existing protection for wildlife. And, unashamedly, we will do more to work with other protect nature overseas.
The really interesting point he makes is around the changes to the business model of Natural England – the Government watchdog charged with championing and protecting our wildlife.
Wildlife needs a strong independent voice in this country at a time when farmland birds, woodland butterflies, marine life and many others species are under threat and habitats are facing increased pressure from a proposed planning system which puts the economy before ecology.
Natural England’s staff includes some of the country’s most passionate and able wildlife experts. Since the Coalition Government came into power, funding for Natural England has been cut and their public voice has been lost. We need Agencies that are able to speak truth to power when it comes to protecting our precious native wildlife. Alas, the tests which the Prime Minister set public bodies when Leader of the Opposition, has arguably prevented these bodies from speaking out publicly.
I thought it then and still believe today that this is bad news for wildlife. And, bad news for governments as ministers and officials need to hear bad news from people who know what they are talking about. This is why Natural England must retain its scientific integrity and, I would argue, be encouraged to publicly report the facts about what is happening to wildlife.
The Government has a responsibility to our natural environment and Natural England is a central part of that - they must be equipped to do their job.
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