Budget cuts a cause for wildlife concerns

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A RADICAL rethink on how Britain protects the environment has been called for by countryside campaigners after a hefty budget cut was handed to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs this week.

Chancellor George Osborne announced that the department will make savings of ten per cent on its £1.9bn budget, as part of the Government’s Spending Review for 2015/16.

The cut is among the highest directed at any Government department in this round and has led environmentalists to question the importance being attached to reversing wildlife declines.

The Chancellor had a “misguided focus” on building new roads to boost growth instead of focusing on natural assets, according to Paul Wilkinson of The Wildlife Trusts.

Mr Wilkinson, head of living landscape at the UK-wide voluntary organisation, said cuts were being made despite a huge body of evidence that the natural environment underpins the health of both society and the economy, and that investment in the natural environment is a cost-effective way of addressing many of the UK’s future needs.

He said: “The Treasury appears to have conveniently misplaced its own Green Book guidance on assessing economic and environmental benefits. Road schemes such as the proposed £1bn extension of the M4 through the Gwent Levels in Wales have little or no economic justification and will cause irreversible damage to wildlife and valuable landscapes. Instead of supporting the UK’s long-term recovery through investment in rebuilding our natural capital, the Chancellor is concreting over the countryside in a short-sighted bid for growth.”

Martin Harper, conservation director at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: “These latest cuts signal the urgent need for a sea change in the way we protect our wildlife.

“Clearly, Defra is not alone in suffering cuts on this scale and with the economy in the shape it’s in it we would be foolish not to expect the coat to get cut to fit the cloth.

“However, the State of Nature report published in May laid the facts bare about the worrying declines in our native species. Without investment in the future of our natural environment the situation will only get worse.

“This is why we need a radical rethink of how we, as a nation which has pioneered conservation work over several decades, can protect our plants, animals, rivers, seas and landscapes.”

The State of Nature report found that 60 per cent of species tracked by scientists have seen their numbers fall in the UK over the last 50 years.

Barney Kaye, North East director of the National Farmers’ Union, said there must be capacity for Defra to identify savings by reconsidering some of the myriad regulation which entangles modern agriculture.

Mr Kaye said: “Where are these cuts going to be focused? I still think there’s huge areas for opportunity for Defra in terms of cutting agricultural regulation.”