The UK government, under the leadership of the newly appointed Prime Minister Liz Truss, have so far refused to implement a windfall tax on energy companies record profits, lifted the ban on fracking, said they will issue new oil and gas licences, and removed green subsidies from energy bills. If that wasn’t enough, it now seems that Truss has launched an attack on nature and biodiversity, appointing climate sceptics to her cabinet, ignoring climate science, and announcing new policies which trample on existing environmental protection laws.
What’s happening here?
The government’s recently announced measures, if implemented, could spell disaster for the environment, and the wildlife that depends on it. The list of policies includes:
- The creation of ‘investment zones’ where planning, environmental, and nature protection rules could be ignored in order for developers and industry to build houses and ‘gigafactories’.
- Introduction of the ‘EU Retained Law’ bill which would open the door to the removal of hundreds of EU regulations including 570 environmental laws covering areas such as wildlife habitats, pollution, pesticide use, and water quality.
- Rumours of plans to scrap the recently-created Environmental Land Management contracts. These were designed as a replacement for the heavily-criticised EU Common Agricultural Policy, and were designed to reward farmers for environmental efforts, rather than intensive farming.
Doesn’t sound great, but why are these actions so concerning?
These moves come despite the fact that the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with 1 in 10 species at risk of extinction, and only 3% of land reliably protected for nature.
Recent actions are in direct contradiction to previous government pledges, with the Conservative party having been elected in 2019 on the basis that they would ‘deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth’. The policies could even undermine the government’s own legal commitments – the UK is legally bound to halt species decline by 2030 under the Environment Act legislation.
What has been the reaction?
Wildlife and nature organisations reacted immediately and with unprecedented anger. The RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, WWF, and the National Trust (amongst others) have all been outspoken in their criticism of the government’s plans.
The RSPB tweeted: “Make no mistake, we are angry. This government has today launched an attack on nature”.
Craig Bennett, the chief executive officer of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “Nature is under attack from a raft of dangerous decisions by government and we know people are furious at the new threats”.
Doug Parr, policy director of Greenpeace, stated: “[Her] government has launched an indiscriminate attack on environmental rules ignoring both their own manifesto commitments and very strong public concerns about nature”.
And what about the public?
The general public certainly do seem to share their sentiments, with 81% of 8000 people surveyed saying they believe that wildlife and nature are under threat and that urgent action is required to protect it. When asked what three things to help nature and wildlife they would most like to see, the top responses were:
1. More action for cleaner rivers, waterways and seas
2. More protection for nature in the planning and house building system
3. Strengthened legal protection for nature, wildlife, and habitats
– the very things that will be threatened by the government’s recent actions.
So what can we do about it?
In order to capture more of the views of the public and encourage the government to put in place measures to protect nature, the RSPB, WWF, and the National Trust have launched “The People’s Plan for Nature”, a new joint initiative. The aim of the project is to gather people’s thoughts on 3 big questions:
- What do you love about nature in the UK? What would you miss if it disappeared?
- Imagine it’s 2050 and nature in the UK is thriving. What is different from now?
- What exciting examples have you seen of people working together to restore and protect nature?
The responses will then be collated and discussed at a People’s Assembly for Nature in November. Following this, a full report will be published in the new year which they say will be “be too big for anyone to ignore. The plan will set out how the government, businesses, NGOs and communities can take action to protect and restore nature.”.
- Write to or tweet your MP / MSP and local councillors to encourage them to reject this attack on nature. There are templates and advice available from The Wildlife Trusts, and the RSPB.
- Respond to the People’s Plan for Nature and share widely with your network!
- If you are able to, make a donation to support one of the many organisations working to protect nature and wildlife such as The RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, WWF, or the National Trust.
- Join nearly 400,000 people who have signed the petition calling for a snap general election.