• Devon wildlife groups blast so-called ‘greenest Govt ever’

    7th December 2011 | News | Claire
  • In the statement George Osborne sent a clear signal that the Treasury viewed the environment as a “ridiculous” barrier to economic growth and would be reviewing the UK’s implementation of the EU Habitats Directive which he claimed was “gold plated”.

    The Habitats Directive [Note 1] was established in 1994 under the previous Tory administration. In the West Country it provide safeguards from uncontrolled development to iconic landscapes as diverse as The Lizard in Cornwall, Dartmoor, the Somerset Levels and Moors, the Severn Estuary, Chesil Beach and the Dorset Heathlands. [Note 2]

    Tony Richardson, South West Regional Director for the RSPB said; “The Prime Minister has stated clearly that he wants the coalition to be the “greenest government ever”. Clearly his next door neighbour is yet to receive the message.

    “Feeling is running particularly high here in the West Country. The region is rightly proud of its rich natural environment. We are also keenly aware that more than any other region we trade on the quality of this environment. Far from being a barrier, it is difficult to see how economic recovery can be achieved here without safeguarding the very thing that makes the region attractive to visitors and a good place to do business. ”

    “And let’s be clear, we are not “anti-development”.  But we have to proceed with wisdom. With careful planning, under the requirements of the regulations, development can work for both wildlife and the economy.”

    Simon Nash, Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive said: “Somerset Wildlife Trust is deeply dismayed at the Government’s intention to weaken wildlife legislation. Somerset still enjoys a good quality environment, not only in areas like the Somerset Levels, the Mendip Hills, the Blackdown Hills and Exmoor, but throughout our countryside which is rich in protected species such as otter, water vole, dormouse and scarce butterflies. However, our wildlife is constantly under threat from development and unsympathetic land management.

    “Somerset Wildlife Trust believes that protection of our most important wildlife is essential to any planning framework for Somerset that encourages intelligent, long-sighted decision-making about development. The Government’s lack of environmental leadership is already having an impact in Somerset, where developers and local authorities are showing our environment less respect than it deserves. If the Government follow through on George Osborne’s stated intentions, Somerset’s wildlife and its people will all be poorer as a result.”

    Steve Grainger, Chief Executive Officer of Avon Wildlife Trust said, “We have been reviewing the Chancellor’s statement and it seems that he is not content with the massive shake-up of the planning system that is already under way, which could still reduce the protection given to over 800 Local Wildlife Sites in our area.  Now sites of European importance in and around Bristol face an uncertain future too.” 

    “This shake up seems to fly in the face of the coalition government’s rhetoric of being the greenest government ever. 

    “The Government’s own National Ecosystem Assessment [Note 3] and Natural Environment White Paper [Note 4], both published in June this year, promised us much more than this.  They were to herald a step change in nature’s fortunes.  Protected areas are a key part of the foundation upon which nature’s recovery will depend.  Yet taking our much depleted wildlife into a more positive future is clearly far from the Chancellor’s agenda.”

    Dr Gordon McGlone OBE FSB, Chief Executive, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust said; “In Gloucestershire we believe that nature is not valued. We are seeing a lack of commitment to one of the county’s greatest assets – its natural heritage. The environment is not a barrier, it’s the basis on which our prosperity depends.”

    Simon Cripps, Chief Executive of Dorset Wildlife Trust, said: “Dorset has shown how to work together to meet the requirements of EU wildlife legislation for heathlands in a way which is simple and clear for developers and avoids the lengthy delays that the government fears.  Downgrading the protection of our most precious habitats would be a short-sighted measure that would end up costing us far more in the end. Many studies have shown that the quality of the environment is vital to economic strength and to quality of life; the value to Dorset’s communities and to tourism and leisure industries is huge.

    Dorset has one of the highest concentrations of European protected habitats in the UK, yet even here the area protected amounts to only 6% of the county.  Surely this government would not want to be remembered for the destruction of a natural heritage that belongs to all.”

    Dr Gary Mantle MBE, the director of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust says: “We are deeply concerned about how the Treasury announcement will impact on the natural environment in Wiltshire.

    Wiltshire contains priceless wildlife meadows, sweeping chalk grassland and ancient woodland and we are working hard to sew this patchwork back together on a large scale. Without a robust well protected natural environment unsympathetic development in the name of economic recovery could tear apart these delicate beginnings, imprisoning wildlife once more in scattered pockets of habitats where it faces a slow and inevitable decline.

    The natural environment needs to be protected if we are to achieve the sustainable communities that we all know are needed. Studies show that reconnecting people to their natural surroundings improves their wellbeing. Surely this is particularly important during these times of austerity? The natural world should not be seen as a constraint to economic development but an asset to be cherished and nurtured.”

    Harry Barton, Chief Executive of Devon Wildlife Trust said: “Devon is blessed with some of finest natural heritage anywhere in Britain, and it brings immense benefits to the communities who live here. If the Chancellor believes the people of Devon will turn a blind eye while he unpicks the vital protection afforded to it, he should think again.

    “What we are witnessing is nothing short of an assault by Government on the environment. It shows a total lack of understanding and disregard for the benefits that a healthy environment brings to society”.

    In response to the Chancellors statement the region’s wildlife charities are urging the public to make their feelings known by contacting their MPs.

    Tony Richardson, RSPB, added; “We know that people here in the south west value the natural environment –  the strength of feeling showed by people at the threatened sale of forests powerfully demonstrated that.  And, combined, the membership of our diverse organisations is more than that of all the political parties.  We’re calling on people to again show that they care passionately about our wild places by contacting their MP, to make clear their own concerns for the future of the south west’s precious natural heritage.”