I spent yesterday in Defra talking about its two 25 year plans - for food and farming and a separate one for biodiversity. There is a rather obvious need to broaden the farming strategy beyond growth objectives and to align the two pieces of work (more on this soon), but it was good ministers and officials engaged and listening.
I emerged to find that the Government had reneged on its commitment to ban fracking from SSSIs (see blog from my colleague, Matt Williams here). My initial thought was that this must be a cock-up. Here is a Government that has committed to restoring nature in a generation and surely they'd stick to Amber Rudd's promise when she said in January "we have agreed an outright ban on fracking in national parks [and] sites of special scientific interest”?
But then I read the response from Decc that said the number of SSSIs "would have an adverse effect on the development of the shale gas industry." So the intention is clear - fracking in SSSIs is fair game. This is going to be one hell of a test for the the National Planning Policy Framework. Developers will now feel that they can chance their arm and target SSSIs expecting to make the case that the benefits outweigh the costs.
This completely runs roughshod over existing Defra SSSI commitments in the England Biodiversity Strategy and undermines its ambitions to restore nature in a generation. Nature conservation starts in protected areas and we need more, bigger, better and connected sites if we are to halt the loss of biodiversity.
Over the summer, we shall make the case why this is a wrong-headed decision and hope to convince parliamentarians to vote against this ruling when the law is voted on after summer recess.
What a disgraceful change of decision. Deeds speak louder than words and I am afraid this Government's deeds in supporting nature are absolutely woeful. They won't let any wildlife stand in the way of money.
Notwithstanding the ins-and-outs of Decc's ambitions to develop shale gas resources, I suspect your statement that 'Nature conservation starts in protected areas..' will represent a bit of a surprise to the many hundreds of farmers, land owners, land managers, local authorities, public bodies, businesses both large and small and individual householders who all do their bit for nature conservation and biodiversity as well.
Protected areas are not the only parts of our landscape where nature conservation takes place, and many have been practising nature conservation of one sort or another for far longer than SSSIs or many other protected areas have been in existence.
Let's not airbrush their contributions out of the national picture.
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