Prime Minister must do more for nature, leading environmental groups warn

Wednesday 20th November 2013

The Government is failing to deliver nearly a third of its natural environment commitments, despite huge public support for action for nature, wildlife and the countryside.

The Government’s performance in protecting our environment has come under scrutiny in the Nature Check 2013,1 a report published today by 41 environmental organisations, under the umbrella of Wildlife and Countryside Link.2
The proportion of nature commitments on which the Government is failing has steadily worsened during its term in office. Areas in which it is falling short include protection of the Green Belt, farm animal welfare, designating the full network of Marine Conservation Zones and reversing wildlife declines.

Nonetheless, some areas show progress, demonstrating that the Government is capable of providing green leadership. Examples include reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, work on ash dieback, and international work to protect elephants, rhinos and whales. The report urges the Government to implement the Common Agricultural Policy so it delivers as much as possible for wildlife and the countryside.

The organisations behind the report include household names like WWF, The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, CPRE and the RSPCA as well as Buglife. All the organisations are urging the Government to recognise the value of nature to both the economy and to the people of Britain.

Alongside the report, the organisations have published a survey of more than 2,000 adults, which has revealed the love people have the British countryside.3 Notably, 83% of British adults believed the natural environment should be protected at all costs, while only a quarter thought the Government is doing enough to protect our landscapes and wildlife.

Speaking on behalf of the 41 organisations, Wildlife and Countryside Link Director, Dr Elaine King, said:
“David Cameron promised the greenest Government ever. Using the Government’s own promises as a yardstick, today’s findings show he’s failed to stick to his plan.
“Our survey shows that the majority of people want politicians to do more to protect nature and the countryside. The message from the public is clear – they want healthy seas and landscapes providing rich habitats for thriving wildlife.  But sadly, most species in this country are in decline. We’re told an economy in crisis is a higher priority than nature in crisis. Yet the Government is missing a huge opportunity – a healthy environment helps the economy and enhances people’s health and wellbeing. Our wetlands alone provide a home for millions of migrating birds and other wildlife, but they also give us £350 million worth of flood protection a year through storing rainwater that would otherwise run off our roads and fields into our towns. Without wetlands, the cost of resulting flood damage would need to be met by businesses and Government and passed on to the public through higher prices and higher taxes.There’s still time for the Government to reverse its sidelining of Britain’s natural wealth. And our survey figures show huge public support for doing so: more than nine in ten people in Britain believe the countryside is a national treasure and that we should improve the condition of our natural environment for future generations.”

The report rates four of the Government’s commitments to the natural environment as green (good progress), with 12 amber (moderate progress) and nine red (failing). Of the commitments which were rated in a similar report a year ago, 20% have got worse and only 10% have improved.

Buglife CEO Matt Shardlow commented:
“Time is fast running out for the government to make a meaningful response for nature, if they wish history to judge them favourably on the green agenda they need to act for the natural world now.”

Wildlife and Countryside Link’s ComRes survey, published today, shows the personal value of the environment to people in Britain, alongside their view of the Government’s performance. Findings include:
• 91% of people agree we should improve the condition of the natural environment for future generations.
• 85% agree the natural environment boosts their quality of life.
Regarding the Government:
• 21% agree the current Government is the ‘greenest Government ever’.
• 28% agree the Government is taking the right steps to leave the natural environment in a better condition for future generations
The report Nature Check 2013 and the ComRes Countryside Survey, both published on 19th November 2013, are available online .