Last night at the London launch of the Response for Nature, Environment Minister Rory Stewart apologised for being boring after two inspirational speeches from Steve Backshall (see video here) and 17 year old Josie Hewitt.
Steve and Josie had provided the compelling case for action and the prize if we do what it takes to recover our threatened natural environment. The Minister (pictured) was there to pick up the civil society gauntlet in advance of today when Secretary Liz Truss will open up a big conversation about the Government’s 25 year plan for nature. Mr Stewart’s pitch was boringly simple – we need to be honest and recognise that restoring nature in the current socio-economic climate is going to be difficult: we have a growing domestic population with growing need for natural resources – for energy, for water, for food, for enjoyment – and we want to find space for nature but financial resources are tight. That means we need to find innovative ways to reconcile these competing demands.
The Minister, who is anything but boring, wants the 25 year plan to come up with a systematic response to these challenges. That makes sense to me and I applaud the thoughtful approach that the new minister is taking.
But, now it’s my turn to be boring.
The ten point plan in our Response for Nature report provides a robust framework and it builds on much of what we already have in place obliging us...
...to protect our finest wildlife sites on land (as promised through the England Biodiversity Strategy) and at sea (through the Marine and Coastal Access Act)
...to scale up conservation to a landscape scale (building on Professor Sir John Lawton’s vision, Nature Improvement Areas, Catchment partnerships, agri-environment agreements across many farms and commitments for habitat opportunity mapping through the National Planning Policy Framework)
...to protect species from direct threats (by properly enforcing the law to allow species like birds of prey to fly free from harm)
...to guide development away from sensitive sites (adhering to obligations in the Habitats Regulations and NPPF)
...to secure innovative funding (building on payment for ecosystem service schemes like those adopted by water companies for catchment management and taking forward recommendations from governments own Natural Capital Committee).
We need to make the existing mechanisms work much harder for nature - sometimes this means rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard graft. And this requires tough conversations both locally and nationally.
Locally, more support is needed to enable people to use their voice for nature, for local authorities to have the capacity to access and interpret data about nature and for people to be brought together to develop their shared vision for their areas.
Nationally, we need ministers outside of Defra to share Mr Stewart’s ambition for creating “an environment which is the envy of the world”. Wouldn’t it be great to hear similar words from Communities and Local Government Secretary Greg Clarke, Business Secretary Sajid Javid or Chancellor George Osborne? But for that to happen, there need to be a number of tough (not necessarily boring) conversations across the Cabinet table. There needs to be widespread recognition that our prosperity is reliant on both a healthy economy and a healthy natural environment.
So, I wish Mr Stewart and his Defra ministerial colleagues well for today’s launch of the big conversation about the 25 year plan for nature.
The nature conservation sector (both current and future represented by the growing and impressive Focus on Nature group) is here to help. We want this, and any government to be successful. As RSPB Chairman Professor Steve Ormerod said last night, ours is the generation that has to act if we are to save nature.
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