The state of biodiversity.
As a concerned member of the public I am not really aware of Government making much effort to monitor the effect of UK activities on biodiversity. Most of the work I see which goes into monitoring biodiversity is done by non-governmental bodies such as BTO, RSPB, The Mammal Society, BSBI etc., all of whom produce relevant reports (some with Government involvement). Nearly all of the fieldwork is done by volunteers with very little, if any, assistance from Government.
The 5th UN Global Diversity Outlook Report confirms that not one of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets has been met. The UK government, like other governments around the world, has failed to reach these targets, despite a whole raft of legislation and policy intended to protect biodiversity.
I don’t think it is a question of where to prioritise resources. Across the board a major reason for the continued decline of biodiversity despite the legislation/policies designed to protect it, is that it has never been given a sufficiently high priority. For several decades now all Local Authority Development Plans have included detailed policies to protect habitats and species but there is always the caveat that a “greater interest” can take priority. In most cases where there is a conflict of interests an economic interest is given priority over biodiversity, even on supposedly protected sites. It has become common, and accepted practice, to rely on “mitigation” supposedly to compensate for loss, instead of enforcing the protection of the original site.
Evaluating measures to conserve and enhance biodiversity.
I am hugely encouraged by the ELMS proposals and believe that this could, at last, make a real difference. However, I am well aware that those who make their living from the land need an income and farmers will only change from concentrating purely on food production if they see the alternative as profitable. If ELMS is not sufficiently well resourced to offer an adequate alternative to the Basic Farm Payment it will fail.
The inclusion of Biodiversity Net Gain and especially Nature Recovery Networks in the Environment Bill is extremely good news but again it will only be effective if given priority and sufficient resources. Previous policies and legislation have sounded fine on paper but have been almost completely ineffective.
Nature Recovery Networks are essential and need to be planned and delivered in co-operation with the local bodies who know their areas (eg The Wildlife Trusts) and to be sufficiently well resourced.
The existing policies for conservation may well have positive results on a small scale in local areas but are nowhere near the scale needed to make any real difference.
Co-ordination of UK environmental policy.
Priorities need to change fundamentally. Even now Government is talking about building more and bigger roads to “get Britain going again”. The whole emphasis is on economic growth, followed by some tinkering around the edges to minimise the damage to the climate and biodiversity. Unless Government begins to think in the long term, i.e. to give priority to reducing emissions and improving habitats for wildlife and then to think how to make travelling easier for people within that scenario, nothing is going to improve. Development will only become sustainable when the climate and biodiversity are put first.
There is no serious attempt by Government to protect biodiversity within existing development or to encourage it in new development. Instead it is left to conservation groups to try to protect particular species. Members of the Swift Local Groups Network often find scaffolding put up and roofers working on buildings where swifts are nesting and have to try to persuade the firms involved to remove obstructions and leave the work until the birds have fledged, sometimes with the help of a sympathetic local authority officer. There is currently a petition by a hedgehog enthusiast to try to ensure that access between gardens is provided for hedgehogs in new developments as their numbers plummet partly because they are unable to forage over a wide area (At the same time stock fencing used widely all over the countryside has narrow gaps at the bottom, too narrow to allow a hedgehog through – why?). It requires much stronger commitment by Government to make sure that development is as welcoming to wildlife as possible, and more attention in the national curriculum to helping children to develop an awareness of the fun to be had from sharing our homes and gardens with wildlife.
At the forthcoming UN negotiations the UK Government should be pushing for global policies on tackling the increase in the human population, and should be leading the way by producing such policies for the UK. Making sure that everyone has easy access to birth control, and that women everywhere are educated and in a position to make choices is the most effective way to reduce the birth rate. In the same way that social attitudes to wearing seat belts, and smoking cigarettes has been changed, Government should have the courage to say that it is now socially irresponsible to have large families.
Economics and Biodiversity
At the moment there is no balance – economic growth is always given priority and “wins” because no account is taken of the long term. At what point are we going to admit that our economies cannot go on growing ad infinitum? How well-off do we all need to be? Surely we should be concentrating on making sure that the least well-off in our society are brought up to a reasonable level and that we are looking after the world around us so that our children and their children can live as well as we do.
I fear that the words used to phrase this question “maximise human prosperity” suggest that there is no acceptance of any limitation on human expansion and wealth. On a finite planet we need to limit both our population and our use of resources to have any chance of leaving some space for all the other species. Why is there no mention in the Call for Evidence of Population Control? It is absolutely obvious that the loss of biodiversity is down to the expansion of the human population, whether it be through destruction of habitat, pollution, invasive species or anything else, the problem becomes less and less possible to solve as our numbers increase. Just as we’ve gone on for decades pretending that biodiversity was being conserved, so we are now pretending that there aren’t too many of us. To allow space and resources for biodiversity to recover as well as making our own lives more comfortable and our lifestyle sustainable, the Government needs to take the lead in producing a sensible strategy to reduce our population in a gradual, controlled way which our economy can cope with.
Pairing nature-based solutions to climate change with biodiversity
Leaving small areas of grass such as road verges uncut during the summer allows them to become meadows supporting a wide variety of flowering plants, pollinating insects and so on up the food chain. Of course grass needs to be kept short where it is regularly used for sport or where road safety requires it, but in many cases it is kept short simply because it “looks neat and tidy”. Local authorities could save money by minimising their cutting.
We are all aware of the value of peat in the landscape as a carbon sink, yet areas are still drained and moors burnt and they are still devoid of wildlife which is illegally killed for the sake of grouse shooting. Government has shown itself remarkably disinclined to take any action on this. We have been well aware for decades that we should be preserving peat yet it is still difficult to find the small pile of “peat-free” compost amongst the many varieties available in any garden centre. Why is it not illegal to extract peat for sale as compost?
There is a huge appetite for recreation in large scale wild areas which should draw in investment from tour companies etc. However, it is all too easy to drive wildlife out if too many people are encouraged in, so this would need careful management.