The General Election: what nature needs

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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

The General Election: what nature needs

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Parliament has now 'prorogued', officially bringing an end to this Parliamentary session. As Peers doffed or tipped their hats to mark the remaining Bills becoming Acts this week, whether you like it or not, all eyes now focus on the official start of the General Election period – including the party manifestos being launched.

As charity, the RSPB is strictly non-party political and we don’t have a view on which party people should vote for. However, we do have an interest in what all candidates, of any political party, have to say on nature and the environment and we urge competition between the parties both for ambition on environmental matters and imaginative policies to realise that ambition.

As we have in previous elections, we have reached out to the political parties to remind them of the commitments they made previously and inform them of things we would like to see in their manifesto for this election.  The current state of nature at home and internationally demands serious attention and we and our 1.2 million members expect clarity from the parties about how they will meet the international obligations to halt the loss of biodiversity.

Some of the issues we are highlighting for this General Election are featured below – though it is worth bearing in mind that many of the decisions about environmental matters are now made by the devolved governments rather than at Westminster, and there may well be manifesto commitments not suggested here that will have major environmental impacts. We have also drawn the attention of the parties to the Greener UK manifesto that we launched with our partner charities earlier in the year, urging that the impacts of Brexit proposals on the environment are fully considered. I will be returning to the General Election in the next few weeks but meantime here are some of the priorities we are looking to see featured in the party manifestos.

Global Leadership

The UK has a strong record of protecting and promoting nature and the environment, both here in the UK and abroad. As such, we have urged all parties to commit to continued international leadership on the environment and climate change, including during the UK’s Presidency of the Commonwealth Summit, and to playing a full part in delivering the Paris Agreement on climate change; the Sustainable Development Goals and the Aichi biodiversity targets. This will include taking a leading role in developing international biodiversity agreements beyond 2020. We are also asking that parties honour existing funding commitments to international climate change, biodiversity and environmental protection, and that they will ensure that new trade relationships are based on high environmental standards, for the benefit of the UK and other nations.

Cooperating for nature across the UK

We will be looking to see the parties commit to seeking liaison, cooperation and agreement between the four countries of the UK, to ensure that there is a coherent approach across the UK to the conservation and recovery of nature.

Making Brexit Work for the Environment

In March, the current UK government published the Great Repeal Bill White Paper which outlines how it intends to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and transfer EU legislation into domestic UK law. This is a monumental task and poses great uncertainty for the environment. We therefore seek strong assurances from the parties that their manifestos will seek to transpose all existing environmental law into UK law, including guarantees for the introductions of appropriate safeguards for the environment and nature. This process and beyond should involve the continued support to independent bodies such as the Natural Capital Committee, alongside well-resourced and robust environmental agencies, and ensure improved access to justice for environmental matters, as required under the Aarhus Convention.

Protecting Nature at Land and On Sea

We would welcome commitments to complete the designation of an ecologically coherent network of protected areas on land and at sea, and also to ensure the highest protection and appropriate funding and management for SSSIs, including other land of high environmental value, and improving the condition of our most important sites. Appropriate management of land and sea is vital and we would ask that these manifestos outline plans to develop a sustainable agriculture and land use policy, building on existing agri-environmental measures to incentivise wildlife friendly farming; and for development of sustainable fisheries policies.  

Noting that 94% of unique British wildlife is found in our 14 Overseas Territories, we would welcome commitments to support local communities to protect their highly threatened nature, and in particular to complete the creation of world-leading networks of marine protected areas in their rich waters.

Nature for People

A strong connection between people and nature is fundamental to enriching both our lives and that of our incredible wildlife. As such, we would welcome manifestos committing to creating opportunities for people to enjoy the natural environment for health and wider benefits. These efforts should involve effectively using the planning system to build communities where people can access wildlife-rich green spaces on the doorstep of their homes and recognise the role of civil society organisations to work alongside government in conserving the environment and creating opportunities for people to enjoy and benefit from it. manifestos should also commit to tackling the effects of pollution, both on people and the natural environment and commit to improving water quality; putting in place a more sustainable approach to water resources, as well as a flood defence policy that protects both people and the environment.

This is clearly not an exhaustive list and we will be watching announcements closely over the coming days. But we shall also contact our members and supporters soon to let them know how they can help raise the issue of the natural environment during the Election campaign.

As I wrote yesterday, we need active optimists for nature and we need the next generation of politicians prepared to use their voice for nature.

  • There is no shortage of demands and bids for money in this election. What is absent is any real vision for the future of the UK – which makes a leak suggesting the Government is headlining the Natural Capital Committees (NCC) proposal for 250,000 hectares of new green space around our towns and cities in the 25 year plan for nature hugely significant.

    I’d suggest we are at a crossroads, on the one side the Lawton approach, on the other NCC. Lawton was right about one thing: that we need more space for nature, and wrong about two: that it should be primarily, if not solely, for nature, and that there would be a huge bill attached. The first won’t happen because the other two have not and will gain political traction.

    In contrast, NCC attempts to gather and evaluate all the benefits effectively asking the question does the motivation matter if the results are achieved ? Meaning in practise whether Medmerry was about getting rid of lots of soil or about birds is irrelevant to the outcome of the project. The case for green space close to people on a huge scale (the size of the Forestry Commission estate in England, England’s  largest single land holding) is justified on economic grounds and holds out the prospect of building the houses we need and – way beyond current perceptions – improving the environment. Imagine the Hoo peninsula  as a huge, bird rich mosaic of habitat (including a preserved Lodge Hill) with a minority of the land taken by housing.

    Carrying the principle over to the biggest issue of all, farming, the corollary to the Lawton approach would be farmer’s first resort – intensification. ‘If you are taking that land, we’ve got to do more on what’s left’. In contrast, the corollary to the NCC approach is to look at – and, for public benefit, pay for – the full range of benefits deriving from  land management, including building in resilience and reducing pollution.

  • Thanks for getting back to me Martin.  I acknowledge your point but surely the appalling ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey is already widely recognized?  It persists precisely because those who carry it out and those at whose behest they do it hide behind the fact that it is so difficult to prove they did it.  As to their being no case, is that not simply an opinion of the Crown Prosecutors?  Why not test it in the civil courts if a criminal prosecution cannot be brought by naming and shaming and challenging them to sue?  

  • Hi Jonathan, not sure I know the answer to your question regarding the comment box. I'll check. On your point about pixelation, given the lack of a case, we wanted to put a spotlight on the nature of the crime and not the individual.  In this way we want to profile the appalling and ongoing illegal killing of birds of prey on some driven grouse moors and clearly to secure a stronger response from governments across the UK.  


  • Technical issue - why does the comment box shrink down when I write in it to the point of making it impossible to continue writing?

  • Global leadership means setting a tough example here at home.  In this respect, why is RSPB publishing video footage of Cabrach Hen Harrier shooting incident with perpetrator's face pixellated?  Surely you should 'publish and be damned'.  Please publicize as widely as possible who did this and where and let them sue if they will!  We members pay our membership fees in order to give the RSPB deep pockets and would like to see forthright action taken to put an end to the deplorable persecution of raptors by shooting interests.  

  • Excellent blog Martin, I agree with all you say. I think it worth specifically reminding our "glorious" politicians that an EU review of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives just before the UK referendum and to which the British Government was party, declared that these Directives were NOT inhibiting economic and business development in any way. They were therefore not changed in any way by he EU. As I understand it, the UK Government signed up to this declaration and therefore it is reasonable to insist that they act consistently and incorporate these Directives into UK law without any modification whatsoever.