Monday 2 August 2010

A Natural Environment White Paper

Could this be a major turning point for the environment and its wildlife?

For a few years now the Wildlife Trusts have been lobbying the main parties to develop a major new driver for the natural environment. On Monday 26th July Caroline Spelman announced the start of a consultation period for a new “Natural Environment White paper”. Could this be the Living Landscape White Paper that we were proposing? See the discussion document “An invitation to shape the nature of England”.

Current approaches to the natural world focus on protecting what we have – think of nature reserves or Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The basic method is to put a line around an important area and look after it. We should not be derogatory about this - it is the vital first step. However this is less than the basic minimum, it could not work by itself as there are inevitable continual losses through compromise and “balance”. So, over the years we have seen strengthening protection for our natural world but (with a few significant exceptions) we continue to see the loss of species and the degradation of habitats.

We also see that, whilst people do cherish the natural world, it is still totally under-valued in political and financial terms. We know the financial cost of nature conservation but we don’t know the financial benefit. So whenever there are cuts, the axe falls heaviest on “nice to haves” like the natural world.

A new approach is needed – one that not only protects but which fully recognises the value of nature and which restores, expands and connects our natural environment to make it a healthier place that enhances the wildlife we cherish and provides the services we rely on.

Before the election the Wildlife Trusts lobbied all the major political parties to get commitment for a major re-think over the natural environment. We were delighted that they all seemed open to the idea, but would anything actually happen when a new government was formed?

Well this “Natural Environment White paper” could be the product we are after. There is now a 12 week consultation period, in which people will be asked for their views. And after that people will be organising workshops to bring ideas together.

The introduction to the consultation document makes interesting reading. It reflects much of the “Living Landscape” thinking that the Wildlife Trusts have been promoting for several years, now picked up by several other environmental NGOs as well. Maybe this reflects some success from the political lobbying the Trusts have done around the country. Perhaps the time we took in Sussex to talk to our own MPs, some of whom had major shadow positions before the election, was time well spent.

The Trust will be writing to all of our members in the next few weeks with more information and to ask you to become involved in the consultation. This is a major opportunity – indeed if you do only one thing for wildlife in this decade then I would suggest that engaging in this consultation this should be that one thing one thing!

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