The coalition programme: good news for wildlife and the countryside?
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The UK’s new coalition government has published a massive shopping-list of promises, calling it the Coalition Programme. It’s a bit like a manifesto, with the added curiosity of being issued after an election rather than before. If you’re at all interested in government and what it does in the UK then you might want to take a look at it.
There’s all sorts in this document, from immigration policy to the hunting ban, and everything in between. So come with the Ranger to take a first look at a few selected policies which might impact on his area of work over the next five years.
We will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other environmental protections, and create a new designation ” similar to SSSIs ” to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities.
A curious couple of designations to single out – the Green Belt is a fairly old-skool planning designation that is not actually an environmental designation but a kind of land-use super-category, one which has limited effectiveness and in many places doesn’t exist. I suspect it was included because it sounds good, and frankly, to ‘maintain’ it just means not to abolish it. SSSIs are quite different animals, being often quite restrictive and putting serious limitations on development. One of the problems with SSSIs is that doing anything on them often needs consent from the appropriate government agency – which recently have been cut back so much already that they can’t always give a timely or appropriate answer. Perhaps the new government will be maintaining SSSIs by giving proper support to the agencies who oversee them. Or perhaps not. And as for the ‘new designation’ described – that sounds to me exactly and specifically like the existing Local Nature Reserve designation. I wonder how the new designation might improve on that?
We will take a range of measures to encourage volunteering and involvement in social action, including launching a national day to celebrate and encourage social action, and make regular community service an element of civil service staff appraisals.
Now this is a thoroughly good thing, albeit a promise that more-or-less every politician ever born has regularly made but rarely delivered. Why the poor old civil service get singled out I don’t know, but hey, why not. The Environment Agency already do this, and their staff action days are well-known as good ways to get conservation work done.
[We] will ensure that enforcement agencies target irresponsible owners of dangerous dogs.
Which they already do. This is actually a promise not to do something: it means “We won’t be repealing the Dangerous Dogs Act, despite moaning on about it for the last 13 years.”
We will introduce measures to protect wildlife and promote green spaces and wildlife corridors in order to halt the loss of habitats and restore biodiversity.
Well, here’s a thing. At work we play the game of trying to get senior figures in the council to use the word ‘biodiversity’ (we also try to get them to say “AONB” at the end of meetings, but that’s another game entirely). It’s surprisingly difficult. So here’s that word right at the top of government, being used in a half-sensible context. This looks like a bullseye for the Wildlife Trusts’ very well-orchestrated Living Landscapes campaign, so well done them.
We will launch a national tree planting campaign.
Oh, mum, here we go again. The only thing I’ll be planting is a palm, on my face. Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. Planting trees is fun, and in the right place can be very good habitat creation. But looking after trees is much more difficult, and we have a great many much older and more valuable trees that need some looking after already, and are not getting it. And there’s more to woodland than just trees. Planting more trees, especially indiscriminately, is unlikely, in the long run, to lead to more woodland. It may well lead to more people having had the enjoyable experience of planting one, which is fine. But let’s not confuse tree planting with forestry and woodland management. If the government is serious about improving woodlands, then tree planting is only the beginning. That’s all from me for now, but there are many more policies worth looking at, like the hunting ban, badger control, all that stuff about the planning system… well, it goes on. What do you think?
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The Environment Agency already do this, and their staff action days are well-known as good ways to get conservation work done.