"Simon Says" May Blog - Election: Don't forget the environment
Wednesday 3rd May 2017
(Above) Who doesn't want cleaner rivers, more otters and drinking water? The South Winterbourne Channel in Dorset after conservation work.
Election, what election?
As far as central government is concerned the Wildlife Trusts and our colleagues in other organisations have had our hands full lobbying for environment to be considered in the Brexit process - if not the actual negotiations to leave the EU, then at least in the laws that relate to environment and wildlife that will need to be enacted in British legislation.
On top of all of this comes a snap election which nobody seemed to be expecting. We all have until the 8th June to listen to the debates, weigh up the promises and policies and then make our decision. Unlike any election I’ve encountered before, election fever doesn’t seem to be the top news item on many days. Reporting seems to centre on the personalities of the main protagonists rather than their policies. Perhaps the public are tired of politics and politicians.
That though is a dangerous position to be in for our natural environment. Well down the pecking-order long after healthcare, taxes and the economy, we always have to fight for a voice for wildlife. Is the election a challenging distraction from the real business of ensuring Britain retains its environmental regulations? Hopefully not. The election gives us more of an open door with candidates who have to be nice to their constituents and appear to be listening - at least up until polling day. We need therefore to make the most of this opportunity – within the bounds of lobbying regulations of course.
A Greener UK
To that aim the 13 major environmental organisations* in the country, with a combined membership of nearly 8 million people, have come together to agree a common set of principles and policies and a joint approach towards government. This is a powerful approach to present a united front, common messages and a unified strategy. The website under a unified banner of Greener UK is well worth a visit: http://greeneruk.org/resources/Greener_UK_Manifesto.pdf . In particular they have come up with some simple, understandable messages around farming and land use, fisheries, climate change and legislation.
Now is the time to get these messages across to our parliamentary candidates. To do this in the south-west, the 7 SW Wildlife Trusts, including of course Dorset have teamed up with primarily RSPB and the National Trust to take a joint approach to lobbying candidates. With your help we need to be saying’ “Don’t forget the environment.”
Getting it wrong
If you want to look at a country which has forgotten the environment and is getting it all wrong look no further than the US, where federal pollution regulations are being rewritten or not enforced, funding for national parks is under threat, protections for publicly-owned lands are being weakened, and webpages related to climate change are being removed from government agency websites. Such a shame when the US has been such a leader in the past. This serves as a warning that even the best of laws and regulations are never permanent, and vigilance is always warranted. As the Great Repeal Bill is passed withdrawing us from EU legislation, new laws will be needed, replacing them with British domestic regulations. Whilst civil servants will be very busy with these replacements there is an understandable wish by government to use the opportunity to review them and make them more fit for purpose. Our concern is that environmental legislation which can be (wrongly) seen as a limitation to economic development, might be left off the statute books or weakened.
When I was young, before we joined the EU and its environmental standards, I remember, even at that tender age, how polluted the UK was. I remember swimming off the beach in Poole as sizeable fragments of sewage floated past. I remember the layers of thick oil there was stratified in the sands of that same beach as I dug to make sandcastles. I also remember how dirty and polluted the air was in London when we travelled there for school trips. You had to wash it off your skin and clothes when you returned home. Those are just memories of pollution. Add to that the value of the EU for the stewardship of the countryside, the protection of key species, and the establishment of protected areas on land and at sea, so important for our health and wellbeing. The list goes on.
A vote for nature is a vote for you
Whether you like the EU and believe we should be a part of it or not, there is little doubt that the standards that have been applied have been hugely beneficial to wildlife, nature and our own health. Of course they haven’t been perfect as we are still seeing a decline in wildlife and natural places, but Brexit gives us an opportunity to build on this and make our country an even more healthy, productive and enjoyable place to live in.
We need our next intake of politicians to realise this and ensure that environment is considered important, that they don’t think of it as a barrier to economic development, and that they ensure our living standards are maintained with new domestic environmental legislation that protects our way of life and our nature. To that end we will be asking candidates of the main parties what their view of environment is. We will publish their responses for you to read. You can then make up your minds and may also feel inclined to follow-up yourselves by contacting them. We will not of course be suggesting which way you should vote.
Now is an important crossroads for wildlife, nature and the wider environment. We need to stand up and be counted and ensure our political leaders know how important environment is for our prosperity and wellbeing, let alone that of wildlife. Support us in the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and National Trust in particular to safeguard standards as we leave the EU, and ensure we have strong food, fisheries and farming strategies for the next decade.
* Campaign for Better Transport, ClientEarth, Campaign to Protect Rural England, E3G, Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, National Trust, RSPB, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and WWF.
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