The government published yesterday a draft of the upcoming Environment Bill, which will set out proposals to protect our country’s wildlife and natural landscapes. This is the first Environment Bill in 20 years, and Surrey Wildlife Trust is urging Surrey MPs, businesses, local communities and individuals to support strong legislation based on ambitious ‘nature targets’, ‘nature recovery networks’ and robust environmental laws enforced by a ‘nature watchdog’.
However, as the Bill stands, the lack of independence for a proposed environmental watchdog could limit its ability to hold government to account.
Surrey Wildlife Trust, together with Greener UK, a group of 14 major environmental organisations including The Wildlife Trusts, are urging everyone to come together and take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to call for stronger laws to protect precious green space and habitat and create a #WilderFuture and #WilderSurrey for generations to come.
Surrey Wildlife Trust is the largest land manager in Surrey and protects habitats which are home to nationally and internationally rare and protected heathland, woodland, wetland and chalk grassland species. It advises on over 1,000 planning applications per year and provides ecological consultancy on development and infrastructure projects to deliver the best outcomes for wildlife across Surrey.
The State of Surrey’s Nature report found that nearly one in nine species is now extinct in Surrey and more than one in five are under threat – including tree sparrows, hedgehogs and water voles. The Trust believes that with stronger regulations and ambitious nature recovery targets set in law, enforced by a strong and independent Nature Watchdog, the fortunes of species within countryside and urban green spaces across Surrey could be transformed.
The draft Environment Bill, published yesterday, sets out some of the government’s proposals for new environmental protections, including an Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) that would uphold and enforce protections. However, under the proposals, the Secretary of State for the Environment would set OEP’s budget and would make many of the appointments to the body, including the Chairperson. Surrey Wildlife Trust and the wider Wildlife Trusts believe that this would seriously limit its independence and ability to hold the government to account.
James Adler, Director of Land Management at Surrey Wildlife Trust, said:
‘We welcome the government’s intent to properly protect and improve the environment for future generations; however, the draft bill does not fully deliver on this ambition and must go further. Without a fully independent and powerful watchdog, the government would not be properly held to account and environmental standards could slip. A nature watchdog with real teeth is needed to enforce protections and ensure politicians are working to improve the environment for wildlife and people.’
Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, added:
‘Now Ministers and MPs must improve upon this draft Bill to create a bold visionary piece of legislation proportionate to the vast environmental challenge we face. Unless they do, we will regret losing still more wildlife and the health of our ecosystems for generations to come.
‘Critically, an ambitious Bill would put nature’s recovery on to a statutory footing by mapping out where wildlife must be protected and where habitats must be improved – a Nature Recovery Network on land and at sea.’