A few months ago when the vital campaign for a Nature & Wellbeing Act was launched I did my duty and signed the online petition/form. Doing so sent a message to my local MP, asking them to pledge their support to this essential piece of legislation. My local MP is Caroline Spelman (MP for Meriden), this was her email to me in response:
Dear Mr Phelps,
Thank you for contacting me about the campaign to introduce a Nature and Wellbeing Act.
I am delighted to say that the Conservative Party is committed to protecting our natural environment, keeping development sustainable and giving everyone the opportunity to access and enjoy the great British outdoors.
I’m proud that this Government published the first Natural Environment White Paper for 20 years and established a proper strategy, Biodiversity 2020. £7.5 million has been provided to establish 12 Nature Improvement Areas, providing space for wildlife to thrive; 148,000 acres of priority habitats and 20,000 acres of woodland are also being created, plus another million trees planted in towns and cities. England’s woodland cover is expanding at a rate not seen since the fourteenth century.
Being outside in nature benefits people physically and mentally, so it is important too to protect access to the countryside. Our network of public rights of way plays an important role, so the Government is simplifying the process of recording them to ensure no historic rights of way are lost. Work is also ongoing with Natural England to establish the England Coast Path.
The Government’s vision for sustainable development, launched in February 2011, made clear that it must be ‘central to the way we make policy, run our buildings and purchase goods and services’. For the first time all departmental business plans include actions that contribute to sustainable development, and tools and capabilities in this area are being embedded right across the Government.
My Party’s manifesto will be published during the General Election campaign, but I believe the progress the Government has made shows our commitment to protecting and promoting our natural environment for the present and for the future.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
As Caroline has taken the time to compose an email to me, I feel it only fair that I reply. I have taken the step of doing this as an open, public letter as I feel that what I have to say is important and necessary, and will hopefully resonate with others. I also want to use this as an opportunity to lend my public support to the Nature and Wellbeing Act campaign and help promote it to as wide an audience as I can. I also hope, that by doing this in the public arena, my actions can encourage others to also write to their MP.
Dear Ms Spelman,
Thankyou for your reply to my email about the Nature and Wellbeing Act. I am very grateful to have received such a swift and direct response.
I hope you do not mind me publishing your reply to me, and similarly I hope you understand why I have decided to reply to you in this publicly visible manner. Open and honest communication is important, especially with regards to conservation and the environment.
I would also like to make it perfectly clear that this letter is sent to you in a personal, not professional, capacity. The views expressed in this letter in now way represent my employers or have any bearing on the professional conservation work that I do.
Whilst I am grateful for your response to me, I am quite disappointed to read some of the statements that you make. You claim that the Conservative Party is “committed to protecting our natural environment, keeping development sustainable and giving everyone the opportunity to access and enjoy the great British outdoors.” I’m afraid that, and I apologise for being blunt, I find that to be nothing short of a lie.
How can you claim to protect our natural environment when you are allowing the HS2 rail development to destroy so many valuable sites for wildlife? How can you claim to be promoting sustainable development when you are allowing houses to be built on Lodge Hill in Kent, a SSSI home to our largest population of Nightingales (a bird which has declined by over 90% in the past 40 years)? Or what about the housing development in Plymouth that will destroy millions of years of evolution by making the Horrid ground weaver spider extinct? How can you claim to be encouraging everyone to enjoy our wonderful green spaces when you are scrapping environmental studies in schools and replacing local nature reserves with houses (such as Babbs Mill in Solihull)?
These things are all happening and they all point to a different direction that the Conservative Party is moving in, a direction of moving away from valuing the environment. In all of the examples I have given, the environment is given a lower priority than other competing interests. This does not say to me that you are a party who is trying very hard to protect our natural environment. I would value more honesty from you in admitting that you are not doing as much as you could to protect our environment.
It is good that you published the White Paper and established Biodiversity 2020, however these are merely written strategies and policies. Until real conservation actions take place on the ground our wildlife will continue to decline. The State of Nature report demonstrates clearly the perilous state our wildlife is in, with 60% of all species in a state of decline. We do not need more reports to tell us this, we don’t even need strategies, we know what to do.
The Nature Improvement Area’s are an excellent idea, promoting landscape scale conservation and giving vital funds to regions that need it. However you’re only giving £7.5 million to this initiative; you spent £126 billion last year on health care alone. How much is the health of our environment worth? Couldn’t you spend a lot more on protecting it?
You claim that our woodland cover is expanding, but it is also contracting. The HS2 rail project threatens to destroy or damage 50 of our precious ancient woodlands. We’ve lost 50% of our ancient woodland, we can’t afford to lose anymore. These are jewels in the rich tapestry of our countryside, sites of wonder than we enjoy losing ourselves in, and they’re being taken away. No amount of tree planting can ever replace them. Where do we walk when it’s all gone? What use is the footpath network that you praise then?
Your sustainable development vision sounds wonderful, but the examples cited in this reply clearly show that it is failing to do what you say it should. If these processes were working as you set out, the Nightingale and Horrid ground weaver (despite being such a horrid creature!) would be safe, but they aren’t.
I look forward to seeing your parties manifesto and I hope that it contains many details of how you plan to halt the decline of our beloved wildlife. Our wildlife needs a long term (I’m talking a minimum of 50 years, not 4) commitment from political parties to stop their assault on its remaining strongholds. You claim to recognise the importance of green space to people’s mental health, but I see daily examples of local green space being lost in favour of new housing. People might have homes to live in but will they enjoy the concrete jungle outside their front door? The evidence is all there, lets create a country rich in wildlife and healthy people that are connected to the natural world they live in. I implore you to be radical in your parties manifesto, anything less will not save our wildlife.
Thankyou for taking the time to read this and I look forward to hearing from you again in the future.