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Nature charities challenge the PM to make new Environment Bill truly ambitious

19 July 2018

Twenty-five nature charities[1], co-ordinated by Wildlife and Countryside Link, welcome the announcement of an Environment Bill by the Prime Minister yesterday but are challenging the Prime Minister and Secretary of State to be truly ambitious in the scope and detail of the Bill. With only 28 countries in the world more nature-damaged than us[2], strong, specific targets and world-leading environmental protections are essential ingredients for the Environment Bill if the Government in Westminster are to keep their promises on improving the environment for the next generation.

Our environment and wildlife are continually declining despite current EU protections, so it is essential that the new Environment Bill lifts protection standards higher than in Europe, including giving powers and resources to the new watchdog to really hold Government and businesses to account. With our industrialised agriculture system one of the main causes of nature damage in the UK and concerns that proposed fisheries policy changes are a stop gap which won’t make fishing in UK waters sustainable, it is also vital that the Government heeds environmental warnings over the forthcoming Agriculture and Fisheries Bills.

Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, said: ‘With the UK one of the most nature-damaged countries in the world our environment is in serious trouble. As the UK seeks to leave the European Union we urgently need all our Governments to not only maintain the current levels of nature protection but to raise the bar and allow our wildlife to recover.’

Tony Juniper, Executive Director at WWF, said: Our country is increasingly bereft of wildlife, our rivers polluted, there is more and more plastic in the sea and an ever-increasing area of green space covered with concrete. Yesterday the Prime Minister made a welcome commitment to a new Environment Act for England. This new law must set clear targets for the recovery of the natural world that we all depend upon. There is no time to waste.’

Dr Elaine King, Director of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: ‘The erosion of our natural world harms us all. A healthy environment is not a luxury, it’s essential. Nature must thrive to ensure we have sustainable food to eat, safe waters to drink and clean air to breathe. The announcement of a new Environment Bill is very welcome, but we need clear and binding targets, strong protections, and robust enforcement to transform the vision of a better environment for the next generation into a reality.’

Joan Edwards, Director, Public Affairs and Living Seas at The Wildlife Trusts says: ‘Precious wild places and the species that depend on them have suffered steep declines over the past 70 years – both on land and at sea. Nature is valuable for its own sake and is the foundation of our society and of our economy - yet we have neglected its value for too long. We need to vastly improve our farming and marine policies which are currently up for review; and we need an ambitious Environment Act that puts nature’s recovery on to a statutory footing. A Nature Recovery Network on land and an ambitious blue belt of protected areas at sea – including all 41 of the Marine Conservation Zones currently under consideration – can help rebuild our fragile and beautiful natural world for future generations.’

Fiona Howie, Chief Executive of Campaign for National Parks, said: ‘Proposals for road building and other major developments in our National Parks threaten important habitats and show just how wrong Government priorities and policy are for nature. If we want to reconnect people with nature we need green spaces, including our National Parks, which are home to abundant and diverse species. We urgently need an Environment Bill that redresses the balance and creates a framework within which nature can thrive.’

Marian Spain, CEO of Plantlife, said: ‘Brexit gives the Government a major chance to hit the reset button on policies that have been damaging nature in the UK for years. The time for action is now. We have seen floral diversity crash in our magnificent but vanishing meadows, a staggering 97% of which have been lost since the 1930s. We must protect, love and restore meadows for the rich wealth of wildlife they support and the joy they bring to our lives. Government can play a huge part by introducing explicit legal protection for ancient grassland and meaningful incentives for the creation and restoration of 120,000 hectares of meadows.’

Additional quotes from Greenpeace, Buglife, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, National Trust, Bat Conservation Trust, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation, can be found here.

Environment and animal welfare experts are calling on the Westminster Government to heed the evidence on biodiversity and take major steps to nurse our environment back to health, by:

creating a new comprehensive Environment Bill, which: enshrines and strengthens EU environmental protections in law, delivers a strong watchdog, and sets out ambitious and measurable short and long-term targets for nature’s recovery and a healthy environment (separate Acts may also be required in the devolved nations)

• delivering a strong Agriculture Bill which helps put the environment back on track. This should include: binding targets backed up with funding and clear mechanisms; the environment and animal welfare put at the heart of future public-funded farm payments; a well-resourced watchdog with teeth to enforce effective regulations; and collaborative work with devolved administrations to make policies joined-up.

•Ensuring the Fisheries Bill has strong and specific targets on how sustainability will be achieved on important issues such as reducing bycatch of vulnerable species and achieving an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. Governments across the UK must work closely together to jointly develop, and agree on how to deliver, a fisheries management policy which works across all UK waters.

Key figures on the decline of nature in the UK include:
• Half of our hedgehog population has disappeared since 2000
• More than 44 million breeding birds disappeared from the UK in 50 years
• Two-thirds of moths and 71% of butterflies are in long term decline
• Half our bumblebee species are in decline, three are now extinct, and seven have more than halved in the last 25 years.
• Over 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s (7.5 million acres)
• More than half of the UK's ancient woodland has been destroyed it now covers just 2% of the UK
• 1 in 5 UK mammals are at risk of extinction, including the red squirrel, wildcat and the grey long-eared bat
• The UK’s resident orca population is at high risk of extinction, down to just eight members with no calves for 20 yearsght members with no calves for 20 years
• Common toad populations have fallen by 68% over the past 30 years, Over half of great crested newt breeding ponds have been lost since the 1960s, and adders are at high risk of extinction having become extinct from at least two counties since the 1990smmon toad populations have fallen by 68% over the past 30 years, Over half of great crested newt breeding ponds have been lost since the 1960s, and adders are at high risk of extinction having become extinct from at least two counties since the 1990s
• Seabird populations in the UK have fallen by 22% in the last 40 years, with the Kittiwake down by over 70%
• Almost 1 in 6 of all plant and wildlife species are at risk or are already extinct

ENDS

Notes to Editors:
1. Wildlife and Countryside Link is the biggest environmental coalition in England. The organisations supporting these calls include: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, A Rocha UK, Badger Trust, Bat Conservation Trust, British Canoeing, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Campaign for National Parks, The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE),Greenpeace, Institute of Fisheries Management, the Marine Conservation Society, National Trust, Naturewatch, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, Plantlife, Rewilding Britain, The Rivers Trust, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, WWT - Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, The Wildlife Gardening Forum, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, WWF-UK, ZSL – Zoological Society of London
2. State of Nature Report 2016. Out of 218 countries assessed, the UK is rated 189th for its biodiversity intactness