Scientists take action at DEFRA demanding government halt UK destruction of nature

November 25 2022

Scientists for Extinction Rebellion protest at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to highlight the state of nature in the UK and the failure of the government to protect it. The scientists who took part in the action and risked arrest included leading experts in ecology and conservation science who have previously worked for or advised Defra. 

Scientists for Extinction Rebellion protest at DEFRA 25 November 2022. Image: Extinction Rebellion

The action comes just a few days before the start of a major UN biodiversity conference in Montreal, Canada where leaders will face the fact that the globe has failed to meet a single one of the Aichi goals for protecting nature agreed in 2010. This is at a time when scientists warn the world is facing unprecedented rates of biodiversity loss, with 1 million species now threatened with extinction worldwide.

Posters highlighted scientific evidence showing the dramatic recent decline in species and precious natural habitats like peatlands, wetlands and ancient forests, failure of government to deliver on commitments and the threat posed by new government actions intended to scrap existing protection measures.

Scientists for Extinction Rebellion protest at DEFRA 25 November 2022. Image: Extinction Rebellion

Scientists for Extinction Rebellion made clear that the protest was not directed at DEFRA employees, acknowledging that they are doing a crucial job in difficult conditions. Public funding for nature protection has seen a one third cut in real terms in just the last 5 years. DEFRA employees and their scientific advisors are being prevented by government from doing their job.

Scientists for Extinction Rebellion protest at DEFRA 25 November 2022. NB: Marine-protected areas bottom-trawled. Image: Extinction Rebellion

Quotes from the scientists who took part in the action: 

Professor Jeff Waage OBE, an ecologist and former member of Defra’s Science Advisory Committee, said: “Ours is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. The Government has made commitments to address this dire situation, based on excellent scientific advice, but it is failing profoundly to deliver on these. 

“Further, it is misleading the public, claiming for instance that it is close to its target of protecting 30% of England for nature by 2030, when the true level is currently about 5%. Adding to this its recent failure to meet legal deadlines to set targets for clean water and nature recovery, it is clear to me that this Government is not taking its commitments seriously. Critical nature recovery in the UK is being actively delayed, avoided and undermined. Habitat- and species-loss looms large, and nature-loving citizens need to hear the truth. That is why I am here today.

Dr Laura Thomas-Walters, a conservation social scientist, said: “I left my job as a senior analyst at Defra this year because I felt I had no opportunity to make real change. I worked with wonderful colleagues, smart scientists, but we were stymied by a lack of ministerial support. Civil servants are there to serve at the discretion of their ministers, and without buy-in from the Government we couldn’t work on vital issues. 

“Biodiversity loss is just as big a threat as climate breakdown – we are racing at breakneck speed into an environmental catastrophe, and the ministers are the ones cutting the brakes. I left Government so I could speak up, to finally demand the change we need.

Dr Ryan Walker, an ecologist and conservation biologist, said: “During my lifetime I have watched the decline of once numerous species such as lapwing, curlew and hedgehogs, descend to critically low numbers in this country. Tragically, our government’s response to this biodiversity crisis is a proposal that threatens 570 pieces of legislation specifically protecting nature and our natural environment. Our habitats and environmental legislation desperately needs strengthening, not disregarding as this Government is proposing. Healthy, and functioning ecosystems are essential to our food security and the clean water and air that we all depend upon. 

“We are here as a coalition of scientists, to demand unequivocally that this Government takes its commitments to nature protection seriously, this is now a matter of survival, without nature there is no future”

[Extinction Rebellion press release]

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