Government launched ‘attack on nature’ with mini-budget, conservationists warn

The Government has launched an “attack on nature” with its mini-budget, conservationists have warned.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust have all criticised the Government over planned policies announced on Friday.

On Friday evening, RSBP England posted a lengthy Twitter thread in which it criticised the Government’s proposed 38 investment zones.

These are areas in England where planning rules will be loosened to release more land for commercial and housing developments.

The RSPB said the policy seems to indicate a rolling back of rules on environmental assessments.

The charity tweeted: “Make no mistake, we are angry. This Government has today launched an attack on nature.

“As of today, from Cornwall to Cumbria, Norfolk to Nottingham wildlife is facing one of the greatest threats it’s faced in decades.

“What the Government has proposed in today’s mini-budget on top of yesterday’s announcements potentially tears up the most fundamental legal protections our remaining wildlife has.”

RSPB chief executive Beccy Speight told the PA news agency on Saturday the charity is “really concerned”.

Ms Speight called the investment zones a “carte blanche” for development, saying the Government’s proposals have no provision for environmental assessment.

She also expressed concern that the Government does not plan to keep EU laws protecting wildlife, rivers, clean air and food standards after unveiling its Retained EU law Bill.

Another point of concern for the RSPB is the suggestion that environment land management schemes, introduced to ensure the natural environment is protected on farmlands, will be rolled back, Ms Speight said.

“Nature is already in trouble. Taken together, these announcements, combined with the rumoured watering down of the new land management schemes for farming, could be the final nail in its coffin,” she said.

“Our economy and our health depend on a thriving natural world.”

Referencing the increasing amount of sewage overflow into UK waterways and coastlines in recent years, especially this summer, she added: “We all depend on a healthy environment.

“It’s time to strengthen protections, not do away with them.”

Ms Speight called on members of the public to write to their MP to help stop the Government rushing the proposed legislation through without proper scrutiny.

The Wildlife Trusts shared the RSPB’s thread and said: “Make no mistake – we are also incredibly angry.

“We stand with @RSPBEngland in calling out the unprecedented attack on nature launched by UK Government over the last few days.

“We’ll be challenging this together and asking for our supporters to stand with us.”

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, told the PA news agency on Saturday: “Environmental organisations were concerned that vital nature protections would be lost through Brexit but we were told all would be fine.

“Instead we have a catastrophe.

“Farming reform was supposed to be the silver lining but now the Government looks set to renege on that too.”

He added: “The estimated cost to UK farmers of soil degradation alone is £1.2 billion each year.

“To secure a sustainable future for British food and farming, we need more nature.”

The National Trust also shared RSPB’s tweet, adding: “We’ll be working with other nature charities and supporters to defend important protections for nature long into the future.”

Criticism of the investment zones also came from Labour, with shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy saying: “Slashing standards, destroying the environment and scrapping affordable housing is reckless and offers no prospect of sustainable growth. For most people that’s levelling down, not up.

“This country needs a serious plan to get jobs and investment into every nation and region, money back into people’s pockets and locally-driven growth, not more Amazon warehouses and deregulation.”

Replying to the conservation organisations on Twitter, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) dismissed claims the Government is attacking nature.

“We have a plan for economic growth,” it tweeted.

“It is not true to claim we are attacking nature nor going back on our commitments.

“We have legislated through the Environment Act and will continue to improve our regulations and wildlife laws in line with our ambitious vision.”

On the RSPB’s concerns over the environmental land management schemes, a Defra spokesman added: “Farmers are brilliant at producing high quality food for consumption at home and for export and now we need them to go further, as productivity gains have been flat for many years.

“To boost the rural economy, food production and our food security, we will continue to support farmers and land managers by reviewing farm regulation, boosting investment and innovation in the sector.

“This autumn we will set out our plans for working with industry to maximise the long-term productivity, resilience, competitiveness, and environmental stewardship of the British countryside.”

A Treasury Spokesman added: “Investment Zones will enable locally-elected leaders to set out bold new visions for their areas, and we want to ensure that they have every tool available to them in driving forwards local growth.

“The Government remains committed to setting a new legally binding target to halt the decline of biodiversity in England by 2030.

“We are working closely with areas to develop tailored proposals that support their ambitions and deliver benefits for local residents.”