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Achievements

Link was set up in 1980 by a group of voluntary organisations that recognised the effectiveness of putting forward a consensus view. Since that time, the Link membership has grown considerably and, as a coalition, achieved a great deal for the natural environment. Early successes include helping to secure the Wildlife and Countryside Act in 1981; an International Whaling Commission moratorium in 1986; the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000; and the Marine and Coastal Access Act in 2009.

Achievements in 2016

Uniting to defend vital European legislation
The EU Nature Directives have provided the highest level of protection to vulnerable habitats and species for the past 30 years. Working in collaboration with our sister Links across the UK (Environment Links UK), we have been successful in advocating for the protection of Europe’s natural environment. The European Commission ‘fitness ‘check’ review of these vital laws has proved that they are not just fit for purpose, but can be some of the most effective nature conservation laws in the world. Together, the voices of 100 Environment Links UK member organisations helped to secure the strong political backing needed to save these laws. This success showcased one of Link’s key strengths - its ability to collaborate with large numbers of NGOs and bring them together as a single voice.

Campaigning for a better natural environment in 2040
The Government is expected to publish its framework for a 25 year plan for the environment, as well as a 25 year plan for food and farming, in early 2017. Link’s 25 Year Plan Group made a significant contribution to Defra’s thinking on the plans in 2016. In addition, Link’s response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry was the first significant opportunity to publicly advocate a joint sector voice on the future of EU legislation and on a replacement for the Common Agricultural Policy. 27 organisations signed up to the Link response on these two key post-Brexit issues. The Group continues to champion a plan for the environment that will deliver on the Government’s manifesto commitment: to leave the natural environment for the next generation to enjoy in a better condition than it is in now.

Campaigning for a healthy and resilient marine environment
Link’s Marine Working Group has long advocated for an ambitious, well-managed ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Early in 2016, the UK Government designated 23 new Marine Conservation Zones, representing a key step towards our shared ambition. Key to our work in 2017 was to maintain a productive relationship with Government officials and Defra Ministers, George Eustice and Therese Coffey. With our sister Links – Environment Links UK - Link also submitted evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into MPAs, as well as hosting a parliamentary drop-in event for MPs to sign and discuss Link’s Marine Charter.

Contributing to the work of the International Whaling Commission (IWC)
Link’s Whales Working Group continued its positive and close engagement with the UK Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 2016, including providing comprehensive briefings to the Government on key issues planned for discussion in the 2016 IWC meeting.

Translating science into better policy messages for Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Link helped transform new scientific findings of one of its member organisations into contemporary policy objectives. Working with members, Link published an influential briefing paper for the International Whaling Commission meeting (IWC66) regarding PCBs, and our advocacy on this issue is extending to other forums such as the ACCOBAMS and Government scientific committees. Work in 2017 has included a meeting with Defra in early 2017 to discuss the UK Government’s engagement in the forthcoming Stockholm Convention compliance negotiations.

A vision for farming post-Brexit
Link’s Agriculture Working Group set out its vision for farming in the publication Farming Fit for the Future. Launched in Parliament, in the Autumn of 2015, Link’s vision is to secure a thriving farming sector which is better for nature, people, our countryside and our livestock. Since the EU Referendum, Link members have been building on the principles in Farming Fit for the Future to develop policies to replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In this way, we will seek to embed our vision into a new agricultural framework once we leave the EU.

A vision for animal protection
A key element of Link’s work with members is to address animal welfare and protection issues. In 2016, Link’s Animal Welfare Strategy Group collaborated with the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare (ALAW), in organising a conference on the challenges and opportunities for animal welfare once the UK leaves the EU. Representatives from 44 organisations - including animal protection organisations, barristers and academics – came together to discuss the options for the UK’s future legislation. In 2017, Link, ALAW and other organisations that attended the conference, are taking forward a number of initiatives that will provide a strong, coherent message to Government regarding the future of animal protection.

Promoting sustainable development and habitat protection through planning
Link’s Land Use Planning Group has worked to highlight the importance of planning conditions that put nature first and protect areas of high environmental value. This included engagement with the Department for Culture and Local Government. Link’s advocacy work in 2016 contributed to the Government stating that it “recognises the importance and value of certain pre-commencement conditions in promoting sustainable development and ensuring that necessary safeguards are put in place for important matters including heritage and the natural environment.”

In 2017, the Group is continuing this work on planning conditions, engaging with Ministers and officials within the Department for Communities and Local Government whilst the Neighbourhood Planning Bill follows its path through Parliament. Furthermore, the Group will be advocating for better environmental safeguards and protections, following the Housing White Paper, released in February.

Encouraging natural flood management
In early 2016, Link’s Blueprint for Water Group gave evidence to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee on Future Flood Prevention, highlighting the importance of using natural systems to prevent flooding and support resilient landscapes to deliver multiple benefits. This contributed to a significant change of approach within Government towards viewing Natural Flood Management (NFM) as a valid management tool, with £15million announced in November to fund NFM schemes, including planting trees to slow the flow of water, better soil management and installing leaky dams.

Access to justice
Link’s Legal Strategy Group challenged the Ministry of Justice’s proposals for Judicial Review reform and changes to the Environmental Costs Protection Regime (ECPR). The proposed measures would result in it being more difficult and more costly for charities to initiate a Judicial Review. A letter was published in The Times from Link’s Director and a group of leading QCs, and - as part of Environment Links UK - we advocated our views at the 9th meeting of the Task Force for Access to Justice in Brussels. The Government has recently pulled back considerably from introducing many of the measures which concerned us. The Group will continue to keep the pressure on the MoJ on this important issue and ensure our views are taken into account.

Dealing with the threats posed by Invasive Non Native Species
Invasive Non Native Species (INNS) is a growing concern in the UK, in large part due to the threats they pose to native species. Link’s INNS Group is an active member of the England Working Group, convened by Defra and the GB Non Native Species Secretariat, which works to ensure implementation of the GB Non Native Species Strategy. Defra relies upon and values Link’s expertise. In 2016, members of the Group were invited to lead on delivery of specific actions from the Strategy Implementation Plan. The group was also asked by Defra to provide its vision for future invasive species legislation in the UK post-Brexit.

Collaborative working with our sister Links
For over two decades, Link has worked very closely with our sister Links in the devolved countries, more recently as ‘Environment Links UK’. In 2016, we worked with Environment Links UK on a number of initiatives regarding the conservation and protection of the marine environment and in defending the Habitats and Birds Directives. We also established an Environment Links UK Strategy and Memorandum of Understanding to guide and inform our collaborative work. In early 2017, the Environment Links UK Brexit Nature Coalition was established, with the key aim being to advocate for strong environmental outcomes across the UK post Brexit. The Group is seeking to influence the Government’s Great Repeal Bill and is also liaising with Greener UK on devolution issues and broader campaign strategies.

Communications
Publicity was secured in the ENDS Report and Planning Resources for Link’s position on brownfield development and Link’s guidance on wildlife-rich brownfield sites. Sparked by interest in a blog on Link’s website, the Daily Mirror published an article about the uncertain future of the Government’s National Wildlife Crime Unit. A Link press release, and a series of blogs to mark Invasive Species Week, resulted in coverage for Link and member organisations in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Sun, together with articles in regional and specialist publications. We also worked with our sister Links in the devolved countries to publicise a statement calling for improved access to justice across the UK.

Since its relaunch in December 2015, the Link website has been viewed almost 76,000 times. The blog section is the most visited page, after the home page, and is proving to be an excellent space for members to both share their views and promote a joint sector voice. In 2016, Link ran two hugely influential blog series - one focussing on the 25 Year Plan for the Environment, #Planfornature, the second on Brexit - #Brexit - that continues to attract a great deal of attention and was used by Government officials and other key decision-makers as source of valuable information and comment.

Member Survey 2016
A Member Survey, conducted in November 2016, confirms that members are supportive of Link’s approach and consider that Link is adding value to their own work. For example, 81% of respondents most valued the opportunity to develop a joint sector voice as a Link member. Of second most importance was the opportunity to share intelligence and engage with other NGOs. 91% of respondents felt it was important for the Link to continue to function as part of a UK wide network of Links. The blog was seen to be the most valued part of the new Link website.

Influencing and stakeholder engagement
Throughout 2016, Link continued to communicate widely with external stakeholders, such as Ministers, Government officials and senior leadership teams at Natural England, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the Environment Agency, promoting the work of our members and creating opportunities for them and for Link. Through these trusted relationships, Link gathers information to help inform and shape our collaborative work.

For further information, please contact the Link team on 0207 820 8600 or enquiry@wcl.org.uk.