My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
Today, Sir John Randall, who at the next election is standing down as Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, will introduce a ten-minute rule motion in the House of Commons to promote the Nature and Wellbeing Bill. Here, he explains why...
Way back in 2001, I introduced the Marine Wildlife Conservation Bill in the House of Commons.Talking with the RSPB, it was clear to me that the level of protection afforded to our marine wildlife was nowhere near the standard we provide to our sites and species on land. The underwater wonders of British corals, fish, molluscs and eels were at risk of being lost. And those amazing seabirds that depend on our seas were disappearing from around our shores: arctic skuas that peck at your head, gannets that dive deep underwater, kittiwakes with their distinctive and evocatice calls - all were in trouble.
There was great consensus around Parliament that action was needed.
But even then, the passage of law can be a difficult process. Only a handful of Bills introduced by a backbencher like me ever become law. My Bill got stuck in the House of Lords and ran out of time.
It was only later that the Government introduced its own version of my Bill. The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 finally gained Royal Assent on 12 November 2009, establishing the legal mechanism for designating Marine Conservation Zones. Today, we are still pushing Government on marine conservation. I hope to see all parties commit to a proper network of MCZs and protection for wildlife in our Overseas Territories with Marine Protected Areas around Ascension, the South Sandwich Islands and Pitcairn. I am really optimistic about that things will happen.So, when I introduce my Ten Minute Rule motion for a Nature and Wellbeing Bill today, I know that change won’t come overnight. But we do need to change.
The problem is that despite the high level of protection afforded to some wildlife, we still fail to take nature’s needs into account in most of our decisions: in Government, in business and in our day-to-day lives. As a result, 60% of the species we know about are in decline.
For politicians, it’s the urgency of political cycles and short-term issues like housing and the economy that can lead us to ignore what’s happening to our natural world. But we all know that saving money by abusing nature is a completely false economy. We absolutely depend on nature in almost everything we do and by using up nature’s resources today, we are only stealing from our children. We’re stealing the natural assets that fuel our economy, we’re stealing the natural services that protect us from flooding and air pollution, and we’re stealing the natural wonders that make everyone’s world a better place.
So I’m introducing a Nature and Wellbeing Bill to do four things.
First, it would set long-term targets for nature. That means statutory, legally-binding targets for sites and species. I want to see an increase in the biodiversity index by 2040 and our SSSIs in good condition. We need long-term targets in law to make sure that this objective guides political decisions even in tough times and to give certainty to businesses that we’re determined to make a difference.
To achieve those targets, we need to put nature into the heart of our economy and communities.
The second clause in my bill would establish the Natural Capital Committee in law, with new independence and powers. Now, I want to make it absolutely clear that I’m not in favour of turning nature into a commodity. But the NCC has already helped to demonstrate the economic case for looking after our natural world; our need for nature needs to be built into everyday decision-making, across all Departments, not just reserved for DEFRA regulations.
Next, I want to make sure that nature is built into our communities and our everyday lives. To plan properly for nature, we need to recognise that it’s part of the fabric of our communities. Sometimes species are important for their international scarcity or a wonderful feature. But just as often, they’re important for the impact they have on particular people and communities. And it’s the tiny patches of nature near us that form the natural networks Sir John Lawton identified as the next step in nature conservation.
Finally, nature is important to our health and wellbeing, but it’s ever-more distant in our lives. My Bill would set a standard for access to nature that would guide local planning and spending decisions. For new build developments, it would help to make sure that there’s plenty of greenspace accessible to everyone – like the RSPB and Barratt Developments are planning in their partnership at Kingsbrook in Aylesbury.
But for built up areas, it’s just as important to make sure that we’re thinking about providing safe access and enhancing the quality and richness of the open spaces we have. Doing so could help to save millions of pounds for the NHS by helping to get us fitter and healthier, as the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare is showing with its NHS Forest scheme.
Of course, new targets and accounting mechanisms won’t solve everything. We need these laws to build on the powerful legislation we already have in place – rules like the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives, which are the most essential safeguard for sites and species. We need to protect those laws and implement them properly, to prevent outrages like wildlife crime.
But it’s clear to me that the time has come for new nature laws; firm commitments to say that we will pass our natural world on to our children in better condition than we received it.
The Bill I’m introducing won’t become law today, but I know there are MPs on all sides of the House – and businesses, NGOs and people all across the country – who recognise that the time has come to turn round the state of nature. I hope that all parties will commit to come together in the next Parliament to Act for Nature. I will be watching them!
I shall share the detail of the debate as soon as it is published by Hansard. Until then, thanks once again to Sir John for using his considerable voice for nature.