The RSPB has today weighed in to the Tory leadership contest saying that the anti-regulation rhetoric that has characterised the debates is nonsense when it comes to protecting nature.
The national wildlife charity has today revealed four recent examples where nature is under direct threat from potential changes to legislation and the bodies that enforce legislation:
Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB, said: “Strong laws and properly supported agencies are vital to safeguard the precious wildlife we have left in the UK, and both need to be reinforced not weakened.
“This rhetoric, if it becomes policy, has the potential to completely undermine the Government’s own stated environmental ambitions for nature at a time when we need urgent action to keep our loved common species common and prevent more of our wildlife from being pushed to the brink of extinction.”
The RSPB adds that deregulation would not be popular amongst voters of any persuasion. Research conducted by Unchecked UK shows that support for common-sense nature protections is strong among voters in every constituency.
The RSPB also fears the loss of independent advocates for nature whose purpose is to provide critical advice. It says that instead of suggestions that Natural England (NE) be absorbed into Defra, the Government needs to invest in making its independent scientific advisor on nature stronger.
Beccy Speight said: “More than ever we need a distinct body whose primary purpose is to think, speak and act for nature. A critical friend of Government who can scrutinise the actions ministers take and give advice free from political interference, acting as an independent champion for wildlife.
“But talk of moving NE into Defra itself, eradicating any last shreds of independence that NE has left, is yet another blow. By moving their natural environment regulator into the heart of a government department, Defra are ensuring that nature has no challenging voice in UK Government decisions. The idea that NE would be able to speak up for nature from the inside is unfeasible, and the result would be disastrous for our already declining wildlife.”
The RSPB claims that without basic protections and strong advocates it is more fearful than ever that nature will be abandoned in a “race to the bottom”.
Beccy Speight said: “We know the UK public love nature; this was demonstrated time and time again during the pandemic and is clear from polls. And yes, we are in a cost-of-living crisis where people are naturally asking questions about how as a society, we generate wealth. But the state of our economy is fundamentally dependent on the state of the natural world. And our wealth isn’t just about pounds shillings and pence, it’s about the quality of our lives and we know that is linked to the quality of our natural environment.
“We cannot and must not abandon nature. The laws we have are there for a reason; to protect what we need, value and cherish as a nation.
“We live in one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, now is the time to be ambitious and deliver on the commitments we have already made. We must use our copious skills and knowledge to turn the state of nature around. But now – what we are looking at is potentially a disaster.”
The RSPB is asking people to contact their local MP and ask them to support strong laws for nature. To find out more visit https://rspb.org.uk/protectnaturelaws
At a glance… How have the Habitat Regulations protected nature in practice? Three examples:
The Solent is protected under the Habitats Regulations for its internationally important populations of wintering and breeding birds like common, little, and sandwich terns. Sea level rise is squeezing this vital intertidal habitat against the hard coastal defences. Thankfully, under the Habitat Regulations, lost habitat must be compensated for, enabling the UK’s largest managed realignment scheme at RSPB Medmerry, which provides new opportunities for wildlife and people, and critical natural flood defences for the people who live there.
A large area of the Peak District is protected under the Habitats Regulations. Thanks to this, the important peatland blanket bogs that define it are protected from damaging activities like burning, and have attracted investment for restoration for wildlife and to help mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The Ouse Washes is protected for its significance for internationally important wading bird populations. This protection led to new breeding habitat being created after the initial area was compromised by flooding. Now breeding concentrations of many species, including black-tailed godwit, are amongst the highest in the country, providing one of the few safe havens for this beautiful but endangered species.