Change the course of history with strong new laws to protect Yorkshire's wildlife and landscapes, environmental groups urge ahead of election

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Leading environmental figures have urged whoever forms the next government to bring in new legislation to "change the course of history" by reversing the decline of wildlife and protect Yorkshire's natural assets after Brexit.

In a plea to the leading political parties with less than two weeks to go until the General Election, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, National Trust and Campaign to Protect Rural England called for Ministers to take a more active role in protecting the environment.

A stock image of the countryside near Hawes in Wensleydale.

A stock image of the countryside near Hawes in Wensleydale.

It comes as the main political party leaders' outlined their policies on climate change in a televised debate overshadowed by the absence of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, while tens of thousands of children skipped school yesterday as part of a global climate strike.

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Conservation charity the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust urges the next government to bring in a strong and progressive Environment Act with legal targets for protecting and restoring endangered wildlife and wild places.

Its conservation Policy and Campaigns Manager Louise Wilkinson said: “We need the next government to commit to a strong Environment Act that will change the course of history and ensure nature’s recovery in Yorkshire and beyond.”

Meanwhile environmental and heritage conservation organisation the National Trust, responsible for dozens of protected sites around Yorkshire, says new laws are needed to ensure environmental standards are upheld and improved after Brexit.

Public policy officer Matt Williams said: "If we do leave the European Union, we need to make sure that there are the same levels of protection in place for the environment.

"Up to now, the European Commission has had an oversight role to enforce the environmental law if it's been broken. We need to see a new, independent body that can make sure that any future government and public bodies are held to the letter of the environmental law.

"New environmental legislation should also set strong targets to promote improvements in the environment in a number of different areas, including water and biodiversity."

With green policies high on the agenda ahead of December 12, the Conservatives claim their policies represent “the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth”, while Jeremy Corbyn says a Labour government will "lead the world in fighting" climate change.

A poll taken shortly before the election was called revealed that the majority of people said climate change would influence how they voted.

Background

Amid the turbulence of Westminster politics in 2019, one of the most notable trends is the growing effort to persuade the nation to cut its carbon footprint. There are discounts for reusable cups, bring-your-own-container stories and food waste bins on streets alongside those going to landfill.

That is without mentioning the impact Extinction Rebellion, the protest group trying to force change to reverse the climate emergency, have had on the public consciousness this year.

So it’s no surprise that pollsters Ipsos Mori found recently that the environment was more important to voters than the economy, education or immigration.

Separately, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) found that 60 per cent of the country said they would be more likely to vote for a political party that wants to protect and enhance the countryside, including the ‘green belt’ ring of countryside designed to prevent urban sprawl.

In our region the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is calling on the new Government, whatever colour it is, to bring in a strong and progressive Environment Act.

Conservation Policy and Campaigns Manager Louise Wilkinson said: “As a conservation charity, we create, restore and campaign for wildlife and wild places in Yorkshire – both within our network of more than 100 nature reserves and beyond. But as a local charity we can only do so much.”

Ms Wilkinson said the new Act should give “legal targets for nature’s recovery” and create a Nature Recovery Network, where wildlife and wild places are not only protected but actively restored and connected.

She added: “The latest State of Nature Report revealed shocking statistics: one in seven species in the UK are at risk of extinction, and 58 per cent of all species are in decline. We need the next government to commit to a strong Environment Act that will change the course of history and ensure nature’s recovery in Yorkshire and beyond.”

An Environment Bill first announced by Tory Minister Michael Gove in 2018, the first such piece of legislation in two decades, had its first and second readings in the Commons before its progress was halted by the General Election.

Matt Williams, public policy officer at the National Trust, called for new laws to replace European Union legislation after Brexit which will set strong targets to promote environmental improvements.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “Because 70 per cent of our land in the UK is farmed, we want to see changes to the farmed environment. We want an agricultural system in England that rewards farmers who are doing things that benefit the environment – and properly rewards them.

“We want to see meaningful outcomes for the environment, too. Different agri-environment schemes over the years have had mixed results. But where they’ve been well delivered and well designed, and where the proper advice and support has been given to farmers to deliver them, have resulted in improvements in the natural environment.

“What we need to see is public money being driven into those.”

He said funding similar to what farmers currently get under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy should be “put into an agricultural system that primarily rewards farmers for delivering for the environment”.

The CPRE has produced a manifesto, urging politicians to reach net-zero emissions by 2045 at the latest, improving access to green spaces, changing the planning system, and addressing issues faced by rural communities through meaningful investment.

Chief Executive, Crispin Truman (pictured) said a big concern was protecting the green belt. He said: “I was on a visit in West Yorkshire recently and we went through a lot of suburban sprawl to get out to the green belt.”

Mr Truman said while travelling through urban areas he saw “run down suburbs”. He said: “For me particularly, we’re looking at brownfield site use.”

Matt Williams of the National Trust agrees on the role of the green belt, suggesting it be made “as green as possible with thee planting of new trees where necessary”. He said: We don’t want to see urban sprawl on the green belt, we don’t want to see development on it, and if brownfield sites can be used instead then we definitely think that’s preferable.”

Policies:

Conservatives

Promises: The Tories claim their policies represent “the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth”. This includes building environmentally-friendly homes, and an environment bill which they say will “protect and restore our natural environment”.

New body: The Conservatives say they would set up an Office For Environmental Protection with legal targets, including for air quality. They also promise £640m for a new Nature for Climate fund and the planting of 75,000 trees, including the expansion of the Northern Forest project.

Labour

Lead the world: Describing the climate emergency, its manifesto says: “We must confront this change while dealing with the growing inequality and insecurity in Britain. Labour led the UK Parliament in declaring a climate and environmental emergency. The next Labour government will lead the world in fighting it.”

Jobs: The party has pledged to kickstart a Green Industrial Revolution to create one million jobs. Its Green New Deal aims to achieve the substantial majority of emissions reductions by 2030 and nationalise the big six energy companies.

Liberal Democrats

Deadline: The Lib Dems have promised to “tackle the climate emergency by generating 80 per cent of our electricity from renewables by 2030 and insulating all low-income homes by 2025”.

Carbon cutting: The party says that in government it would introduce a legally binding target to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2045 at the latest, and they would set up a Department for Climate Change and Natural Resources, as well as appointing a cabinet-level Chief Secretary for Sustainability in the Treasury to coordinate government-wide action.

Greens:

Ambition: The party’s manifesto includes a pledge to reach net zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2030, quicker than any other major party.

Tax: A carbon tax will apply to all oil and gas extraction and to the use of petrol, diesel and aviation fuels. This will raise consumer prices, and frequent flyers will face a levy. Petrol and diesel cars will be phased out by 2030.

Farms: The Greens want 50 per cent of farms to be doing agro-forestry – the practice of growing vegetables or raising livestock between rows of trees – within a decade.