Government rejects criticism over green measures

The government has dismissed the findings of a report by conservation groups which claims it is failing to deliver on a third of its commitments to the natural environment.

The report, by the Wildlife and Countryside Link, which represents 41 green organisations, including the Wildlife Trusts, RSPCA, RSPB and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, praises the government for its response to the tree disease ash dieback and tackling fishing practices.

However, it claims the government is failing to protect the green belt, improve farm animal welfare and reverse the decline in wildlife, including farmland birds.

The report urges the government to implement the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) so that it delivers as much as possible for wildlife and the countryside.

The organisations are urging the government to transfer the maximum 15% of Pillar 1 direct payments budget into Pillar 2 rural development schemes, a proposalwhich has angered many farmers.

“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, said Elaine King, director of the Wildlife and Countryside Link.

Alongside the report, the organisations have published a ComRes survey of more than 2,000 adults on the British countryside.

Only one in four people think the government is doing enough to protect our landscapes and 83% said they believed the natural environment should be “protected at all costs”.

“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,” added Ms King.

“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 well-being.”

DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson (pictured) hit back at the criticism, describing it as “unfair” and an “expression of opinion” from very active campaigning groups.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “The environment is such an encompassing tableau. There are areas where we have gone backwards, there are areas where we have advanced.”

Government achievements

    The coalition government’s achievements on the natural environment to date:

  • The government is spending more than £2.3bn on tackling the risk of flooding, which, with contributions from other partners is more money than ever before.
  • From 2015 it is spending £370m on improving flood defences, rising to more than £400m in 2021.
  • The government produced the first White Paper on the environment for 20 years and produced an ambitious Biodiversity Strategy for England
  • It is supporting a wide variety of work to protect and enhance biodiversity through stewardship schemes and are investing £7.5m in 12 Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs)

But he added: “You won’t be surprised to see that one of the signatories here is The Badger Trust. It’s very public knowledge that The Badger Trust does not like our policy on the control of bovine TB.

“You cite these groups. These are very active campaigning groups – we have vigorous discussions with them on many issues, it’s just that on this a lot of their conclusions are very subjective and I think they are being pretty unfair, because we have a clear long-term programme to leave the environment better than we found it.”

The report Nature Check 2013 and the ComRes Countryside Survey, both published on 19th November 2013, are available online

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