These are catastrophic times for nature. Just last week the World Wildlife Fund produced a study showing an average 69 per cent decline in global wildlife populations since 1970. At home, of 8,431 species of UK flora and fauna assessed for the government’s 2019 landmark State of Nature report 1,188 of them were found to be in danger of extinction.
Undeterred by this, while tossing the disastrous Truss-KamiKwasi mini-budget onto an early bonfire, the government has shown no desire to incinerate its proposed new legislation, the Retained EU Law (REUL) Bill, to remove environmental laws covering water quality, sewage, pollution, clean air, habitat protection and the use of pesticides.
I know the economic damage caused by the Conservatives will bring serious pain to millions. The cost of living is skyrocketing. Mortgage repayments are set to double, and you can be sure that buy-to-let landlords will double rents. As a result most people’s hackles are rising, and rightly so, but at least we will eventually have the chance to add the Tories to the list of extinct species. We need maximum pressure on MPs now to make sure this existential threat to wildlife doesn’t happen.
For those who voted to leave the EU – which once regulated environmental standards – their Brexit dividend includes the restoration of our major rivers to Victorian-era sewers that are unable to support fish and other wildlife, and allowing out-of-control chemical spraying by farmers that will remove from the countryside the songs of skylarks and the “little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese” calls of yellowhammers.
Of course, the UK wasn’t told this by the Vote Leave Campaign. There was no “We’ll Kill Off Our Otters” on the side of a bus. When the environmental implications of Brexit were pointed out critics were labelled Remoaners and Project Fear.
It gets worse. Another government plan is to introduce at least 38 so-called “Investment Zones” in England. This will effectively sideline all planning regulations by bypassing local democracy, and as the RSPB has pointed out it means housing and commercial developments could be incentivised to damage habitats like woodlands and wetlands with little or no restriction.
Let’s be clear about why the Tories are doing this. It’s not because they hate ladybirds, dragonflies or dormice, although so warped is the mentality of some government ministers and backbenchers I should amend that to “all hate”. It’s really about giving the party’s big business cash donors a handsome return on their investment.
For industry it means less spending on anti-pollution measures and higher profits. For developers it means untrammelled trampling over whatever piece of the countryside they want to cover with factories or housing, including in national parks like the Lake District, Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.
As the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said in the Commons last week, there is no financial capital that is not entirely dependent on a thriving natural capital. Would the investment zones, she asked chancellor of the exchequer of the month Jeremy Hunt, be trashed like the mini-budget?
His answer was not encouraging. He insisted that environmental regulations should be “streamlined”, a beautiful piece of Orwellian newspeak which means scrapped to maximise profits, and evidence that, whoever succeeds Liz Truss, on the environment at least, the Tories are not for turning.