The interminable delays in publishing the government’s own 25-year State of Nature plan is further indication of crass electioneering opportunism, says PETER FROST
Last December in this column I reported warning bells in a government State of Nature report. At the time I said we ignored these warning bells at our peril.
The report predicted than one in 10 of our native wildlife species is threatened with extinction. Overall the numbers of the nation’s most endangered creatures had plummeted by two-thirds since 1970 and that horrific decline continues.
Over the last 50 years, one in six species of our native British animals, birds, fish and plants have all been lost.
Deforestation, industrialisation and increasingly unsustainable methods of agriculture — greedy for profit and subsidy — have left Britain among the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
Add to that the long-term effects of climate change and the outlook becomes even darker. Many of our ecosystems have gone past the threshold at which they may no longer reliably meet society’s needs.
Peat uplands, wildflower meadows, watermeadows, traditional broadleaf forest, natural rivers and streams were just some of the types of landscape threatened by unwelcome changes in our countryside.
During 2016 50 of our most concerned conservation organisations had got together to produce the comprehensive report that spelt out the destructive impact of intensive farming, urbanisation and climate change on habitats from farmland and hills to rivers and the coast.
This State of Nature report assessed more than 8,000 British species and found that a tenth are threatened with extinction.
I quoted David Attenborough, who in his foreword to the report said: “The natural world is in serious trouble and it needs our help as never before. We continue to lose the precious wildlife that enriches our lives and is essential to the health and wellbeing of those who live in Britain.”
So what has happened to the report since? Amazingly it is still buried in some filing tray in the office of Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom.
MPs are demanding to know why she has still not published the report and asking her to explain why the strategy due in 2016 is still not out in the public domain.
The MPs say it’s essential that ministers agree and publish a clear plan before negotiations on Brexit begin.
The Tories promised in their last manifesto that they would leave nature in a better state than they found it. It was just one of the huge bundle of lies that helped them win the general election.
The plan was originally due to be published in summer last year. We are still waiting. Now the letter demanding publication has been signed by all the members of the Environment Audit Committee, including Tory, Labour and Green MPs. The Lib Dems also support urgent publication.
The MPs wrote: “We welcome this important step by the government to take a longer-term approach to protecting our environment. However, we are disappointed by the continuing delays in publication of the framework.
“First, the framework was delayed from summer last year to the autumn following the referendum. We are now in April, the framework has still not been published and there is no indication of when it will be.
“The plan should be published and consulted on before Article 50 is triggered [it has been triggered on March 29], so as to inform the government’s negotiating position.
“This seems unlikely, raising the prospect of the government entering crucial and time-limited negotiations with the EU without an agreed plan. It is essential that the 25-year plan is not delayed further.”
The MPs are particularly concerned about post-Brexit policy on farming, which will have a huge impact on wildlife, water and air pollution, soil loss and flooding.
They want assurances that when Britain is no longer under the jurisdiction of the Commission and the European courts, the government will still be able to be held to account if it fails with its environmental promises.
The government now says it is preparing a separate but related plan for post-Brexit farming. This alternative report is also said to be finished and approved but awaiting a suitable publication date.
Out and about in the countryside near my Northamptonshire home I often come across the red coated Grafton Hunt. It covers the area between Daventry and Buckingham and has a particular reputation for aggressive and violent opposition to anyone who raises a protest against hunting.
One video clip, widely available on the internet shows a hooded Grafton hunt supporter loudly abusing a woman monitoring the hunt. He can be heard shouting to the woman: ”Fuck off to France, where they shoot them like they shoot niggers.”
He received a caution for the remark from local police but other Grafton hunt supporters made no comment on his racist outpourings.
Leadsom — the local MP — is one of those often to be seen out and about supporting the Grafton hunt and is also an enthusiastic supporter of its fundraising balls and other public events.
A picture of Leadsom patting the master of foxhounds Mick Wills’s horse as she chats to him at a meet is part of the hunt’s local publicity.
Perhaps it is a bit much to expect this woman so supportive of tormenting and killing foxes to be very concerned with publishing a report on protecting England’s wildlife.
However, that shouldn’t stop us all writing to our MPs to demand publication and action on the long overdue State of Nature report.