Nature’s Forgotten as Threats of De-Regulation Continue

A few weeks ago Defra, with the support of the Office of National Statistics, released their data[i] on biodiversity indicators for benchmarking progress against the Biodiversity 2020 strategy[ii] – England’s nature conservation strategy that provides a basis for the policy approach to biodiversity, set against our international and EU commitments.

The data show mixed results for conservation targets with many notable indictor taxa/receptors in decline, including wetland birds, bats and invertebrate pollinators. This report closely follows the latest regulatory review from Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) on the cutting of ‘red tape’ for house builders[iii].

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This Defra report states: ‘Biodiversity matters because it supports the vital benefits we get from the natural environment. It contributes to our economy, our health and wellbeing, and it enriches our lives.’ This statement is entirely at odds with the deregulation rhetoric in the BIS review, the antithesis of best practice and everything we work so hard to achieve.

Defra’s report is a worrying read, and I would question the reliability of the analysis in some instances, particularly regarding sustainable fish stocks in light of recent research on the underestimation of catches[iv].

Even the victories that are indisputable still feel hollow; for example, an increase in the extent of protected areas at sea[v], where we are still failing to achieve recommended coverage for Marine Conservation Zones (plus their associated management) by a significant margin[vi]. It is also very important to review what baseline the targets and conclusions of progress have been compared against – one of the supposed wins relate to the status of SSSIs that by all accounts have actively declined in quality over the last 13 years. It’s always impressive to see how statistics can be misused – Defra seem to suffer from a particularly bad case of Shifting Baseline Syndrome.

Even if we look upon the Biodiversity 2020 Indicators report as optimists and cling to the few legitimate wins, the trends in wider policy, characterised by actions such as the BIS red tape regulation review, truly reflect the state of UK’s nature: forgotten, neglected and undervalued.

Let’s see some improved appreciation of nature, and let’s not value engineer out biodiversity – nature is crucial and it needs to be seen as such. We wouldn’t skimp on the provision of other vital infrastructure features (‘let’s not build any roads or install plumbing on this site because it will be cheaper’) yet if we keep skimping on nature then the associated backlash will be vast and wide ranging. It seems an awfully corny statement, but everyone has their bit to play here, so play yours and enhance biodiversity on your project where you can!