Compensation culture, part 2

(… continued from Compensation culture, part 1, posted on 16 Feb 2017).

In part 1 I reported that our natural environment is, in the words of Sir David Attenborough, “in serious trouble”. According to the State of Nature partnership’s report (see footnote 1):

“We have a moral obligation to save nature and this is a view shared by the millions of supporters of conservation organisations across the UK. Not only that, we must save nature for our own sake, as it provides us with essential and irreplaceable benefits that support our welfare and livelihoods.”

The United Kingdom is a comparatively densely populated country (see footnote 2), that is highly industrialised and intensely farmed and our natural environment has suffered the consequences. The development stimulated by relentless population growth and the desire for ever-increasing prosperity will continue to threaten our natural environment. Even if we wanted to, we can’t go back to our relatively unsullied countryside as it was before the Agrarian Revolution and the Industrial Revolution: we couldn’t support our standard of living or even feed our current population if we did. But we do need to compromise our apparently unbridled passion to root out and plough up our natural assets and “improve” our wildernesses, in order to give nature a fair chance.

Changes in practice in the last century, such as the replacement of conifers by native broadleaved species in forestry and the introduction of more environmentally-aware methods into agriculture, have demonstrated that much can be achieved for the benefit of nature and, with the help where necessary of the taxpayer in providing subsidies, without significantly reducing the bottom line for those seeking to exploit our natural resources. But, if we are to halt the decline that the State of Nature partnership’s report chronicles, we must obviously do more. Those whose activities contribute to this decline are unlikely, without inducement or coercion, to rein back, and it is to government that we must look to formulate appropriate policy, backed up by legislation. Unfortunately, my researches over the past five years or so lead me to conclude that the two Governments serving over that period have failed to provide the necessary leadership: certainly, they seemed to have talked the talk, but their actions have, by and large, not delivered.

Of course, I have been particularly concerned with the environmental impacts of the HS2 project, where the Government is both polluter and regulator – well, officially the environmental regulation of HS2 has been in the hands of Parliament, but the Government, secured by a large parliamentary majority, has been pulling the strings, in practice. The Woodland Trust was so disturbed by the treatment that was being meted out to ancient woodland that it told the Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee that the approach being taken by HS2 Ltd was “woefully short of … best practice” (see footnote 3) – a remark which was condemned as “unduly harsh” by the Committee in its report (see footnote 4).

Unduly harsh, or not, if the Woodland Trust – a trusted and respected body, that has no political axe to grind – is concerned that a major government-backed project is not making adequate provision to protect nature, then this surely brings into question whether the State of Nature partnership’s message is being heeded. This is not to claim that, with the possible exception of barn owls, HS2 alone is likely to have a measurable impact upon the nationwide species population levels that State of Nature monitors, but that the project’s significance is, as the Woodland Trust expressed it, that it is “going to set the bar” for other projects (see footnote 5). The Trust sees HS2 Phase 1 as setting a poor precedent as “there has been poor assessment, with little avoidance, indirect effects not fully appreciated and poor compensation proposed” (see footnote 4).

All this seems to be a far cry from the image that the Government wants to sell to us. Take, for example, the speech made by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, at the launch of the State of Nature 2016 report (see footnote 6). At the heart of this speech was the Environment Secretary’s announcement that it was her “ambition” and her department’s “vision” that the current generation will be the first “to leave our environment better than we found it since the industrial revolution”. Whilst admitting that this was “quite an ambition”, the Minister said that she and her department were “determined” and promised us a “long term vision” provided by “an ambitious 25 year plan for the environment”, which would be a “new game-changing approach to managing the environment”.

However, although Mrs Leadsom cited a proposed ban on the use of microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products and the 5p plastic bag charge as examples of her department’s determination “to take action to protect the environment”, she failed to mention the potentially much greater threat to the environment that the loss of biodiversity resulting from development posed.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. See page 6 of the report Hayhow D B, et al, State of Nature 2016, the State of Nature partnership.
  2. The UK ranks fiftieth in the list of the population densities of 233 countries/territories produced by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, with a density of 262 people per km2 in 2015.
  3. See paragraph 364 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  4. See paragraph 305 of the publication Special Report of Session 2016-17 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, House of Lords Select committee on the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, 15thDecember 2016. I feel that the Lords Select Committee would have been better employed addressing the concerns that gave rise to the comment, rather than criticising the words used.
  5. See paragraph 375 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  6. The speech was delivered at the Royal Society on 14thSeptember 2016.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the Lords HS2 Select Committee from which the quote reproduced in this blog has been taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record in such instances, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

 

 

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