The government is failing to make good progress on five in six of its promises to protect nature and wildlife, according to a report produced by every large conservation group in Britain.
While praising moves to tackling damaging fishing practices and the ash dieback epidemic, the 41 groups say the government is failing to protect the green belt, reverse declines in wildlife, and improve the welfare of farm animals.
“David Cameron promised the greenest government ever. Using the government’s own promises as a yardstick, today’s findings show he’s failed to stick to his plan,” said Dr Elaine King, director of Wildlife and Countryside Link, which represents 41 groups including the WWF, the Wildlife Trusts, the RSPCA, the RSPB, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Marine Conservation Society. Only one in three people polled thought the government took the natural environment or scientific advice into account when making decisions and just one in five thought the government was “the greenest ever”.
“We’re told an economy in crisis is a higher priority than nature in crisis. Yet the government is missing a huge opportunity – a healthy environment helps the economy and enhances people’s health and wellbeing,” said King.
The report says the crisis in nature “translates into a crisis for people too, because the environment is the foundation of our lives and livelihoods, and a source of great joy and fulfilment for many millions of people across the country”.
The first full assessment of the UK’s natural environment, published by the government in 2011, found that looking after green spaces better is worth at least £30bn a year in health and welfare benefits.
The Nature Check report analysed 25 promises made by the government, in its coalition agreement, mid-term review, and plans published by departments. It concluded “good progress” was being made on four: reform of EU fisheries rules, especially on the killing of seabirds; a timely ash dieback response; and international support for a ban on whaling and moves against ivory sales.
But nine promises were judged as failing, including protecting the green belt, promoting high standards of welfare for farm animals, especially in intensive dairy farming, and improving flood defences.
The failure to implement the government’s strategy to “halt the overall loss of England’s biodiversity by 2020” is said to be of extreme concern, while the badger cull is criticised as being “neither balanced nor science-led”. The creation of just 31 of the 127 recommended marine conservation zones means it is not ecologically coherent, the report said.
On the government’s support for its farmer-led review of regulations, the report says “an unrelentingly deregulatory approach to farming is damaging and will harm environmental protection and animal welfare”.