A breakout of consensus

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I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

A breakout of consensus

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Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be asked to give evidence to the Efra Select Committee on the Natural Environment White Paper.  Lucky because I was representing 36 members of Wildlife and Countryside Link and their 8 million supporters.  And lucky because I was sharing the panel with Pavan Sukhdev , the leading light in environmental economics and the driving force behind a seminal report published last year called the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity - or TEEB for short.  He is a hugely impressive man and it was good to hear him explain how to capture the value of nature and invest in protecting a healthy natural environment.

My fellow witnesses were equally impressive, but perhaps not quite so well known - Peter Unwin from Defra, Ellie Robinson from the National Trust, Chris Knight from PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Andrew Clarke from the National Farmers' Union.  Yes, the benches were quite crowded.

The Committee, under the careful chairing of Anne McIntosh MP, probed well and encouraged a good debate.  It was a departure from the normal, slightly confrontational format but it seemed to work well.

And yes, consensus did largely break out.  There are  many things to welcome in the NEWP:  it has great ambition, sets an excellent framework for action over the next few years and includes some great initiatives, but the funding and delivery tools do not yet look sufficient. 

We talked through these issues at length.  And if at any time thoughts wandered, it was only over to Brussels where we were waiting to hear the announcement about the EU Budget.

My closing point was about our support for so-called Local Nature Partnerships which are designed to encourage local people to come together to take action for wildlife.  I explained our worry that the timetable to apply for government funds to support these partnerships was too tight and would prevent the formation of new, creative coalitions necessary to deliver great things for nature.  So, I was delighted when Peter Unwin announced that, yes, ministers agreed that timing was tight and so the deadline for applications would be extended until September.  It is nice to know that Ministers do listen!

Finally, I encouraged the Committee to invite Peter or perhaps the Secretary of State to appear in a year's time to hear progress on implementation.  Am confident of great things being achieved, but the Committee has an important scrutiny role to play and if we are not on track then it is right that the UK Government is encouraged to explain what it is going to do about it.

And that is the power and responsibility of the Select Committees.

  • That is excellent Martin the fact that six or seven very senior persons, in, or associated with, conservation and/or the environment were asked to give evidence at the  Parliamentary Select Committee and particularly  pleasing that it should include yourself as a person from the RSPB. It is also pleasing that the RSPB seems to be increasingly consulted by the top echelons of Government/ Parliament, as of course it should be, as the leading wildlife conservation organisation having more members than the three main political parties put together.