Greenest government, whatever?

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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

Greenest government, whatever?

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A recent poll of the British public suggests that the coalition Government is falling short of its commitment to be the greenest Government ever.  Only 17% agreed that the Government is the greenest ever, whereas 55% disagreed and 27% did not know. 

The poll was commissioned by Wildlife and Countryside Link, which includes 39 NGOs - including the RSPB.  It was produced to provide an insight into public attitudes to run alongside the publication of Link’s annual Nature Check assessment of the Government’s progress against its own commitments.  Link has given a red, amber or green rating to each of the Governments wildlife or natural environment pledges.  This is the second such report and the Government may take heart from a slight improvement in the assessments from last year, but the overall message is that there is still huge room for improvement. The report does not include commitments relating to climate change which was subject of a previous assessment by the Green Alliance.

The only two commitments to get a good progress (green) rating were on international issues, opposing commercial whaling and pressing for a ban on ivory sales.  Commitments where Link believes the Government has failed (red) include: to improve flood defences and halt unnecessary building in the floodplain; to introduce a science led badger control policy; and designate a network of Marine Conservation Zones. In a few areas the Government has responded positively to public concern e.g. on forestry policy and planning reforms and these get moderate progress (amber) assessments compared to red last year.  The Link poll and the report suggest that the government is lagging behind public opinion on the importance of the environment.

Well, what should the Government do to improve its ratings in the future and to live up to its Greenest Ever aspirations?  I think we need leadership from the top. David Cameron has to recognise that protection of the environment is part of a smart economy and that the green economy is working.  In tackling what he likens to an 'economic war' , he has to ensure that the environment does not suffer collateral damage.  The Link poll provides a useful insight on public opinion here.  Only 6% of people feel strongly that the natural environment is less important than economic growth and 81% believe that the natural environment and wildlife should be protected at all costs.

I also believe that we need to treat the loss of biodiversity as a crisis.  The new(ish) Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, deserves credit for the speed with which he responded to the Ash die back crisis, mobilising an emergency response and convening, for the first time I can remember, a Cobra committtee meeting to tackle a threat to a native species.  We now know that this genie is out of the bottle but this is not the Secretary of State’s fault. We now need the same determination and commitment to address the decline of farmland wildlife, to prevent species extinctions and set up a properly protected marine site network.  The most immediate issue of these is the need to protect and strengthen support for wildlife friendly farming.

A good pub question would be which government was the greenest ever?  Well, although I cannot give a first hand assessment I suspect that Clement Attlee’s post war Government will be difficult to beat.  It took one of the most far sighted and green steps possible by passing the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.  With the economy and the country on its knees they realised the importance of establishing nature reserves, ensuring access and preserving natural beauty for the well being of people. Incidentally, it was this act that established the forerunner of Natural England.  

I believe that nature needs such an enlightened and long term view now, just as much as it did then.

What do you think this government needs to do to become the greenest ever? Which government to do you think they would have to beat?

It would be great to hear your views.

Comments
  • Peter - we may have a map.  I'll check.

    Sooty - I am not sure what to say.  We seem to have gone round this one quite a few times.  And I am sorry that you feel let down.  The reality is that the prospect of vicarious liability is right here and right now with the Law Commission review.  And we are doing what we can to win the rational argument as part of this review.  There will be opportunities to mobilise public support as the LC issues its report to Government.

  • Think that wildlife survey was carried out on a wildlife reserve it certainly does not represent what this area would say and you cannot get out in the countryside than this farming area with no industry for miles,even small towns 5 miles away.It is obviously so untrue to be a joke,hardly anyone in towns thinks that way.It is also how the question is phrased.

    Robin,the sad fact is the RSPB did not put the effort promised to some of us on V L otherwise the 100,000 signatures required to do any good would have been achieved as not that long ago a very similar RSPB petition got over 200,000 signatures if I remember correctly.You will just have to believe the fact that they did not keep what some of us saw as a cast iron promise from top people.

  • I don't think the Government will be in any doubt over the RSPB's commitment to standing up for birds of prey.  You just need to read the Bird Crime report www.rspb.org.uk/.../Birdcrime_2011_edit_tcm9-324819.pdf  The RSPBs stance on vicarious liability is also clear as it is heavily features in their current letter writing campaign www.rspb.org.uk/.../betterwildlifelaws.aspx

    Anyone who wants to really make a difference in this area should respond to the Law Commission review by the end of this week. In my view would be much more influential than simply signing a petition.  Back on topic, one of the most interesting results from the market research that Martin draws attention to is that 81% of the public feel that the natural environment and its wildlife should be protected at all costs.

  • Peter,think you would find that if you want to mess with the CAP farm payments you need to talk to about 26 other country's and they rarely give agreement to anything you,I or the UK want so do not hold your breath.

    Redkite,perhaps the Government think that if the RSPB is so lackadaisical about seriously backing Vicarious Liability petition that would give protection to these BOP that is enjoyed by Scotland why should they bother about BOP,sadly a big opportunity missed.Was it a sexist thing because petition started by female or just as bad because it was started by a private individual.

    Whichever it was think lots of us may almost certainly put money that may have gone to RSPB into such as BTO.

    For once ignoring everything else RSPB for very little expense let English BOP down when it has spent really serious amounts of money on lots of other projects,(the RSPB could fill a page of these projects)unbelievable.

  • I have gone to Mary Creagh MP with above suggestions.

  • I fully agree Martin with your idea that the Attlee Government to date is the "Greenest Government Ever". Despite the austerity of the time which was far worse than we have now, that Government took its actions guided by the long view, and wisdom requires the long view.

    I would like to see this Government, really dramatically up grading the legislation to totally protect birds of prey and allocating the necessary resources to ensure the legislation is effective in the field. As you say I would like to see this Government leading the fight to protect and strengthen, here in the UK and in Europe, environmental friendly farming. I would like to see them leading campaigns. to essentially abolish biofuels;; to protect our seas far more effectively than now; to protect the worlds raiin forests much more effectively; to strengthen, support and increase the remit of Natural England much more than at present; to lead the international campaign to protect endangered species and the abolition of the wildlife trade, legal and illegal and, of course, to lead the international battle to limit climate change.

    The list can go on and on but these are some of the key actions this government could take to improve its green credentials. How many of these will they really get to grips with? -not many, if any, I suspect

  • Owen Paterson deserves credit re "ash die back" only in the fact that the disease has been imported and spread across the country by the inaction of his predecessors while "Woodland Trust admit that their assessment was that this disease was not a threat; who else came to this view ? FC ? And if so how as such a view came upon ? A judgement, in termd of our natural defences, akin to that of Pearl Harbour ?

    And what is the impact of pollution here ? Is the systemic deposition of kilos of pollutants per hectare fundamentally weakening the defences of trees to disease ? This was a spectre that 25 years ago we were able to raise clearly and coherently with regard to the acidification of soils; we know that the networks of soil fungae structures are dying due to this ? What about tree health ? Is anyone going to raise this ?

    I am trying to find a map Martin that clearly depicts the redistribution of CAP funds per county that you are trying to achieve ? Where is it ? What UK counties benefit and what lose ? Surely it exists ? Why not just cap farm payments at say 15 grand, the useless tier 1 payment and modulate the rest into tier 2.

    This would be a campaign that I suggest the western side of the country would support. Its where the areas of High Natural Value are; most of Suffolk and Norfolk are wilder ness so lets support the National Parks and what used to be called LFA's in the uplands which are also internationally important for their wildlife (or what remains).

    Can you please set your agriculture dept to work on such a projection and maps quickly?