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Tories ‘not living up to green rhetoric,’ campaigners say

CAMPAIGNERS accused the government of failing to match its green rhetoric with action today, after it claimed to be putting nature at the heart of the Covid-19 recovery.

Environment Secretary George Eustice told conservationists that leaving the EU will allow Britain to better protect species overlooked by the bloc and enhance habitats without long delays. 

Mr Eustice also announced plans to simplify the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) that are currently required for some developments.

But green groups fear that this signals deregulation and will undermine environmental protections.

Speaking to Mr Eustice, RSPB chief executive Beccy Speight said she felt the plans were “more of the same, or in fact going backwards.

“Today’s speech was an opportunity for Mr Eustice to guarantee to match the government’s ambitious rhetoric with action,” she said.

“Instead we heard a welcome but frankly tiny announcement of new money  — well short of the investment that is needed — and a commitment to change the planning system where the purpose and details of that review remain opaque at best, or catastrophic for nature at worst.”

During the online meeting hosted by the Green Alliance, Mr Eustice announced a £4 million trial for “green prescribing,” where people are sent outdoors in order to boost their physical and mental health.

A further £5m pilot project to improve the science that determines which environments and species need to be protected was also pledged.

But Ms Speight argued that without any major recovery plans, “nature actually won’t be there to prescribe for much longer.”

Other groups agreed that the pledged money falls far short of what’s needed.

Greenpeace UK’s executive director John Sauven said: “Over £900 million of additional funding per year is needed for a UK-wide programme of nature recovery and protection projects on land and at sea. Simply ripping up the rulebook is no route to recovery.”

Friends of the Earth condemned Mr Eustice’s speech as lacking clarity. 

The group’s senior planner Kate Gordon warned against weakening EIAs, which she said are “used throughout the world as a key tool for environmental protection.

“Any proposals for reform should seek to strengthen and improve their effectiveness, not water them down,” she said. 

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