3rd July 2020
On the same day the Prime Minster gave his “Build, Build, Build” speech, thousands of people came together to talk with more than 200 MPs at The Time is Now virtual lobby to call for a green recovery that benefits the economy, people, the environment and wildlife. It was therefore very disheartening to hear the Prime Minister suggest planning de-regulation as a way forward.
Like many others, we listened to the Prime Minister’s statement with great anticipation. As we build back from the current crisis, it is critical that we create a green recovery in order to avert the urgent and far bigger environmental crises of our time. Investing in a green recovery will bring huge benefits to people and wildlife alike. Although we must wait for further details, several points in the Prime Minister’s statement are both concerning and disappointing as they appear to go back on previous promises and statements.
The last review of the legislation that protects wildlife was carried out in 2018 and concluded that the challenges associated with the protection of Britain’s internationally important bat populations in England arise from how the legislation that protect bats and other wildlife is implemented, and not with the laws themselves: ‘It is clear from both businesses and conservation groups that the Habitats Directives should be maintained and enforced – the issue, for both ecologists and infrastructure providers, is the practical process of enforcement’.
At the Bat Conservation Trust, we have been working with businesses who share our conservation goals and who want to ensure that their activities are not detrimental to wildlife or the environment. We recognise the challenges of the planning system, but new developments should not be at the sacrifice of the environment or wildlife conservation. One example of how the challenges are already being tackled effectively is a non-Government funded partnership project led by the Bat Conservation Trust to simplify, streamline and improve the consideration of biodiversity in the planning process (see: http://www.biodiversityinplanning.org).
The State of Nature report in 2016 cited Britain as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. However, it also stated that: “A combination of legislation and education has assisted the partial recovery of a number of bat species.” The latest data collected by the National Bat Monitoring Programme confirms that this trend has continued. In the UK, we do not have many conservation stories where we have seen a consistent recovery of species. The government may be in danger of undermining one of the few conservation successes it has been involved with to date. Habitat loss - including through building development - is recognised as one of the main causes of wildlife declines in Britain and globally. What some may view as red tape is in reality our first line of defence against the destruction of Britain’s precious natural heritage.
In September 2019, the Prime Minister gave a speech in relation to climate change where he stated: “If we get this right, future generations will look back on climate change as a problem that we solved by determined global action and the prowess of technology.” We hope he will use this same approach to the challenges that we face today. Nature-based solutions are possible and available; investment in a green recovery is likely to bring greater return and be more sustainable – to ‘build back better’ rather than ‘build, build, build’.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all our lives, but nature has been central to helping many of us cope through this difficult time. This is reflected in an increasing appreciation for wildlife and a desire to build back better. We have an opportunity to bring about real meaningful change that will benefit people, the environment, and all wildlife, including bats. A recent YouGov poll showed that three out of four people in England (76%) support the suggestion that nature could contribute to economic recovery in the UK. Let us continue to work together to find solutions rather than unnecessarily blaming and sacrificing the natural world that brings so many benefits to us all. Nature is our natural health service. We must safeguard it in order to protect ourselves. It is imperative that we work with nature not against it.
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