Julia Hanmer, Chief Executive, welcomes some of the results of a government review of the legislation that protects wildlife habitats, which has taken on board many of the Bat Conservation Trusts recommendations. In this blog, Julia explores the Review highlights, and considers how to build on our hard work as we await critical decisions on planning rules.
Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for the Environment, announced today the results of the Habitats Directives Review. The Chancellor’s original announcement of the Review in his Pre-Budget statement last autumn caused huge concern at the rhetoric used to attack this important legislation. So I am really pleased to see that the results of the review take account of the widespread evidence we put forward to demonstrate that the Habitats Directive, far from being a burden to business, is a vital element of the mix of approaches needed to achieve sustainable development.
Many of the points in our consultation response, and in those of our fellow wildlife NGOs, have been included in the recommendations. BCT called for the Review to focus on strengthening standards of professional practice, supported by well informed decision making, with an overall aim of meeting the Biodiversity 2020 targets. I am heartened to see that, as we asked, there is a focus on providing people with better access to the expertise, information and evidence that we all need to implement the Directives more successfully.
We are delighted at the inclusion of our recommendation that mitigations made to replace habitats lost through development be monitored and evaluated to ensure their effectiveness. There are positive measures to increase data sharing, and to achieve evidence-based implementation of the Directives. The recognition of the need for industry agreed standards is also welcomed. However, it is important that mechanisms are introduced to endorse and enforce standards effectively, particularly given the introduction of broarder class licences, otherwise we are in for a bumpy ride which could trigger further complaints about the Habitats Directives. The news that this consultation will continue over the next 12 months is encouraging, and I look forward to continuing to engage with this process as there is still much more to be done to ensure smooth implementation.
We warmly welcome the commitment made by Ministers to the importance and purpose of the Habitat Directives. These Directives provide an essential mechanism for safeguarding vulnerable species and habitats whilst ensuring social and economic needs are met. Defra can be congratulated for taking charge of the Review process and listening to the evidence submitted. Their next challenge is to ensure other government departments fully adopt the commitments the Government has already made in the Natural Environment White Paper.
Only yesterday we saw the Chancellor have another a dig at the environment during his budget announcement, when he said:
'Environmentally sustainable has to be fiscally sustainable'.
I think, like RSPB, that this is the wrong way round. As the White Paper states:
‘A healthy, properly functioning natural environment is the foundation of sustained economic growth, prospering communities and personal well-being’.
We need to see more joined up recognition of this across government.
I therefore wait with interest to see whether the National Planning Policy Framework, to be announced next Tuesday (March 27), will recognise that the environment is at the heart of sustainable development and that without environmental sustainability there can be no economic sustainability.