Tuesday 7th June saw the launch of the Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) – the Government’s vision for protecting and improving the natural environment in England for the next fifty years. Listening to Caroline Spellman, the Secretary of State for the Environment, it was hard to be anything other than encouraged. The ideas were bold, ambitious and set to put the natural environment at the heart of Government thinking. Clearly Government had taken ideas from the 15,000 responses made to their consultation. Nature should be valued and considered an asset both for its importance to people and for its intrinsic value – no longer should it be seen as an impediment to economic growth. And this was a ‘cross Government’ initiative, this was not just the preserve of one Department, and Ministers for Transport and ‘Communities and Local Government were there to make that point. Importantly, and reflecting a key philosophy that we at ARC and HCT before have long advocated, the important part is ensuring we get a good outcome for nature.
However, like others present, we were left with a few anxieties – uncertainty about how this would pan out rather than opposition to the principles that were articulated. Will it be adequately supported, either across Government or by the agencies that would be needed to take a lead, noting the severe funding cuts that have happened? Will a focus given to just twelve ‘Nature Improvement Areas’ be sufficient to achieve the benefits needed across the country? Will resources be sufficient for Government and for the non-Governmental agencies that will be needed to take it forward? We are also concerned that the way the desired outcomes are expressed, with an emphasis on demonstrating socio-economic benefits and without the explicit recognition that nature is different in different parts of the country, may not provide the right guidance to ensure we are striving to get the right wildlife at the right levels in the right places!
This, though, is just part of the story – the new England Biodiversity Strategy is due to be launched later this month and we hope this may provide some of this important detail. The White Paper offers a lot to be pleased about and to a large degree it is up to us to make it work the way we want it to. We need to ensure that we use this opportunity make significant gains for reptiles and amphibians. Rest assured, ARC will be looking for ways to make this happen.