The National Trust, the RSPB, and WWF have joined forces with celebrity champions Maisie Williams and Cel Spellman to launch the People’s Plan for Nature, a national rallying cry for the public to have its say on how to respond to the ecological crisis.
The plan calls on Prime Minister Liz Truss and new Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena to take rapid action on what the charities describe as “open season” on existing environmental legislation, with the recent mini-budget and rumours that Defra will U-turn on its manifesto sparking concerns amongst green groups.
The People’s Plan for Nature aims to give people from all walks of life across the UK a voice in co-creating a vision for the future of UK nature and is based on a poll from the charities which found that 81% of UK adults believe nature is under threat and urgently needs help while 42% want to take action but don’t feel empowered to do so.
The new plan will include the People’s Assembly for Nature; an independent and representative group of 100 people from across the UK, which will be introduced this winter, and the first ever UK-wide citizen’s assembly for nature.
The three charity chiefs, Hilary McGrady (National Trust), Beccy Speight (RSPB) and Tanya Steele (WWF) said in a collective statement: “This government, elected on their greenest ever manifesto, is now contemplating breaking its promises on vital protections for the UK’s nature, risking catastrophic consequences. From abandoning fundamental legal protections for wildlife to failing farmers committed to sustainable agriculture, this would be an attack on nature at the worst possible time.
“The desire to defend nature unites people in every community from Caerphilly to Cumbria, Antrim to Aberdeen, and we must all be part of the conversation about how we protect and restore it. Today’s People’s Plan For Nature is vital for us all to have our voices heard – nature has never needed us more.”
Respondents to the poll, also released today (30 September) were asked to prioritise the actions they’d like to see carried out in their areas to improve nature and wildlife.
The suggestions with the highest percentages were: more action for cleaner rivers, waterways and seas, more protection for nature in the planning and house building system, strengthened legal protection for nature, wildlife, and habitats, more wildlife reserves to protect habitats and increase wildlife diversity and more funding to restore and protect nature-friendly spaces in farmlands.
During the mini-Budget, Kwarteng presented a new ‘Growth Plan’ first confirmed by the Treasury. The Plan’s headline measure is the creation of 38 new ‘Investment Zones’ across England, spearheaded by local councils. Similarly to Freeports, Investment Zones will be able to offer local incentives designed to encourage businesses to set up there, or to expand if they are already there.
In Investment Zones, businesses will be able to pay lower rates of tax. Plants and machinery will have tax removed entirely. Buildings and infrastructure will see tax rates reduced for a ten-year period. Stamp duty will be scrapped for purchases of land for business or residential developments. No business rates will apply to newly-occupied premises.
The Government will also relax planning rules in these areas – including, the Treasury has confirmed, environmental requirements for developers. Investment Zones will only be created if local leaders so wish. Kwarteng said the Government is in “early discussions” at this point in time.
Reports have also emerged that the Government could scrap plans for new subsidy schemes for farmers intended to improve nature.
December 2021 saw Defra announcing the first part of its Environmental Land Management (ELM) package – the framework replacing the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidy schemes post-Brexit. The announcement concerned a basic payment scheme called the Sustainable Farming Incentive, under which farmers would be paid for “common goods” such as better water, air and soil quality. The idea was to incentivise farmers to play their part in delivering the Conservative Party’s commitment to leave nature in a better state for the next generation.
Then, in early 2022 Defra launched the Local Nature Recovery scheme and Landscape Recovery scheme, both designed to help farmers and landowners collaborate on larger-scale projects to create and restore habitats. The three-tier system, Defra stated, should improve environmental outcomes on individual farms and also contribute to nature restoration at scale.
The handling of all three schemes was criticised. Scathing reports were published by the Public Accounts Committee and the House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee. But the general consensus was that the handling was the issue and that the UK does need to depart from the EU system, which incentivised increased production even at the expense of nature, to meet its climate and nature goals.
Now, national news outlets including the Observer have been told by Defra sources that proposals are being drawn up to scrap these schemes before their proposed launches during 2023 and 2024.