Tuesday 25 May 2010

At last, some news in a newspaper!

Well maybe I’m being unfair, but I don’t tend to buy national newspapers as the news is always the same – and usually badly reported. But at last, on Saturday 22nd May the Guardian ran an article on things that actually matter. And it was given a decent level of priority – front page news.

This was a full article making the economic case for global action to stop the destruction of the natural world.


To some of us it may be sad that we have to make an economic case to conserve the natural world. Surely the natural world should lie above the petty economic squabbles that seem to dominate the world. But if that is what it takes to make the bean-counters take notice then maybe that’s what we should do.

The gist of the article is that, while we always seem to know the cost of looking after the natural world, we seldom calculate the benefit. Costs are easy and obvious – benefits are hidden but vital. Not surprisingly, if you do some calculations then the economic benefits from the natural world are 10 to 100 times greater than the cost of looking after it. A while ago I heard someone refer to calculations like this as a “poor approximation of infinity” – and I tend to agree, but even so this approach can be helpful. At least it should make the politicians and policy-makers sit up and take notice.

This is not a new subject. The idea of ecosystem services has been around for a long time. For those of you who want to find out more the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is where some of the recent impetus sprang from, so here is the link:


The work that the Guardian referred to is a major international initiative called “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity” (TEEB) – and this has some fascinating stuff:


It also has to be said that some good work is being done in Britain – see the UK National Ecosystem Assessment at:


If all this work is taken seriously then, fairly soon, there should be a shift in how economic valuing works. Nature will be viewed as the huge asset it really is and will be taken properly into account in all decisions. If it is not taken seriously then the same shift will be painfully forced upon us, in the longer term, as we end up paying for services that were once provided by nature for free.

Just to make sure I do not get too optimistic though – in the same issue of the Guardian there was a shorter report on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It was reported in the same old way – an oil spill was in the process of damaging some wildlife-rich piece of coastline. Dull-headed people could still read this and conclude “a shame, yes, but we need oil and maybe the loss of some pretty wildlife is unimportant by comparison”. If on the other hand it was presented in terms of the huge and long-term economic loss due to damaged ecosystems as a result of the oil then maybe the equation might look rather different.

Thursday 13 May 2010

The Coalition Government should now have a higher ambition for nature

As the new coalition government publishes its agreements, The Wildlife Trusts around the country are calling on it to raise its game in policies on the natural environment and commit to a White Paper on Nature.

Not only is nature conservation a fundamental “good” that any government should be aiming to enhance but there has been a growing recognition that our natural environment provides vital life-supporting services as well as enriching our sole. We need to take a long hard look at the way we make decisions about our land and ensure that the natural environment is restored. The Wildlife Trusts including us at the Sussex Wildlife Trust have therefore been calling on an incoming government to produce a new White Paper to fundamentally shift the ground in terms of the ecological restoration of our environment. Our wildlife is not just something we should “try not to damage too much”, it should be something that we positively aim to restore. A White Paper would identify the policy changes needed to restore our natural environment and ecosystems”.

The Wildlife Trusts, including the Sussex Wildlife Trust, have been working with the main political parties nationally to encourage them to be more ambitious with our environment. Before the election, The Wildlife Trusts wrote to the Leaders of the three main parties urging them to commit to introducing a White Paper on Nature and also to ensuring the designation of an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas by 2012. These letters and the replies from the Party Leaders can read at

The Sussex Wildlife Trust also asked the Prospective Parliamentary candidates about their commitment to the natural world and their responses can be read on our web site.

We have had some measure of success in that all three main parties recognized this in their manifestos. All have promised to do more for the environment including, in the case of the now ruling party, a promise to develop a White Paper. In a letter to the national office of The Wildlife Trusts during the election campaign, our new Prime Minister, David Cameron, recognized the importance of conserving our natural world for future generations. He said it was important to make a clear pledge that a Conservative Government would produce a White Paper on protecting the natural environment, including a focus on restoring habitat.’

Furthermore commitments have now also been made in the recent coalition agreement to develop measures to promote green spaces and wildlife corridors in order to halt the loss of habitats and restore biodiversity.

So - the commitment is there, the promises have been made and there is plenty of help available from non-government organizations like The Wildlife Trusts. OK – it is early days but hopefully we can expect some delivery soon!

Tuesday 4 May 2010

What your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates say

A few weeks ago the Sussex Wildlife Trust sent a questionnaire out to each of the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates in Sussex. We asked some basic questions about where their parties stood on a few key questions regarding wildlife and our environment.

It is slightly disappointing that relatively few responded. This is a busy time for all candidates so perhaps we should not be too uncharitable, we have had contacts with MPs of all persuasions over the years and have generally been given a good hearing. But as a key wildlife charity for Sussex I would have thought that they could have at least replied with a link to their own manifesto statements on the subject -I suspect that if we were a health charity asking about the NHS or a Chamber of Commerce asking about plans for the economy then we might have got a stronger response. I hope (and trust) that this rather weak response is not a measure of the various candidates commitments to the environment.

Nevertheless, we do have a range of responses from politicians from various backgrounds and I would encourage you to take a look to see where they stand.


As a charity the Sussex Wildlife Trust will not be making comments on the relative merits of the responses; we will leave that to you.