The Response for Nature report, produced by 26 nature organisations, including the RSPB, National Trust and Wildlife Trusts, was launched last Tuesday by broadcaster and naturalist Steve Backshall. It firmly outlines 10 key proposals on how the government, together with each and every one of us, can take action to halt and reverse the decline of the UK’s birds, butterflies and natural environment.
The proposals, which follow on from the 2013 State of Nature report that showed 60% of species in the UK have halved in number in the past 50 years, act as a prompt to the current government discussions on their 25 year plan for restoring biodiversity in the UK.
Steve Backshall warned that the environment department, which has already suffered some of the biggest cuts in Whitehall, will not be able to do that alone and suggested that every department, from Defra to the Treasury, needs to understand that restoring nature will be a key solution to some of our most pressing social, environmental and economic problems.
Environment Minister Rory Stewart replied saying we need to be honest and recognise that restoring nature in the current socio-economic climate is going to be difficult: we have a growing domestic population with growing need for natural resources – for energy, for water, for food, for enjoyment – and we want to find space for nature but financial resources are tight. Defra will have to save an extra £83m in 2015-16, or nearly 4% of its £2.1bn budget, under plans announced by George Osborne in the summer. That means we need to find innovative ways to reconcile these competing demands.
As well as the admirable actions listed in the report, we at Conservation Grade believe that Fair to Nature farmers and products can be a big part of the solution. As Steve Backshall pointed out, “there is no doubt that the public is behind us. An independent survey showed that 88 per cent of the UK population believe that biodiversity, the variety of life, is indispensable in the production of our food, fuel and medicine.”
Our Fair to Nature farmers already satisfy many of the listed actions through their creation and management of the specific Conservation Grade habitats, for example Action 4: Deliver an ecological network on land and Action 5: Safeguard species. What we now need is a positive response to the other actions. It is vital that farmers are supported in their actions and whilst we endeavour to expand our range of Fair To Nature brands to help spread the area of Conservation Grade habitats across the country, farmers will need incentives (or other financial measures) that work for nature – we need to reward those who enhance our natural world, so Action 7: Provide smarter financial instruments needs to be heeded and the UK Government must lobby the EU to develop a new contract between farmers and the state to ensure that public funds pay for public goods like the conservation of nature.
We also want to encourage more businesses and retailers to embed nature conservation into their supply chains as critical requirements in their corporate social responsibility and that will mean engaging consumers to seek out brands that bear the Conservation Grade logo. To that end Action 10: Support people working together for nature will be valuable.
And finally we need to continue to harness the enthusiasm of the next generation whose involvement in the response for nature was so eloquently communicated at Tuesday’s launch of the report by 17 year old Josie Hewitt. Josie eloquently argued “that young people are the future; they are the leaders, educators and scientists of tomorrow”. She pointed to the fantastic work that her generation are doing under the banner of the organisation called A Focus on Nature (http://www.afocusonnature.org/) which is a network for 16 to 30 year old young nature conservationists. And let’s not forget they are also the consumers of tomorrow! (full details of her talk here http://blog.josiehewittphotography.co.uk/).
So the Response for Nature project is a shining example of conservation NGOs working together for wildlife and we at Conservation Grade will continue to play our part on farms up and down the country. But Government has a key role to play too so we welcome the commitment to produce a 25 year plan to restore nature but we need this to be turned into effective action and fast.