Did you know that the UK no longer has a Biodiversity Action Plan? Forgive my ignorance here but I didn’t. Despite the fact that I have worked in conservation for at least 15 years and spend day in day out at the coal face trying to protect our habitats and species then I didn’t know that all the aims and targets for the things I most care about had been swept away.
Nor, it seems, did most of my colleagues. Maybe this is our problem, our noses are to the ground, trying frantically to protect what’s left and we don’t look up and see that we are living under a government determined to undermine our work.
The United Kingdom was the first county in the world to produce a Biodiversity Action Plan following the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. This is something to be proud of. The BAP provided detailed targets of how we were going to halt the loss of biodiversity and action plans which could be used to protect the most precious and threatened species and habitats. We failed to do this. No British Government cared enough to stop the loss of biodiversity but at least we still knew what we were aiming for and roughly what we should do to get there.
Now it seems, quietly, without fanfare, we have lost our direction. In 2011 the new Tory led government scrapped the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan, closed the website, along with a whole host of websites belonging to its environment and nature conservation agencies and sent letters out to say that all the habitat and species plans and targets so carefully worked out by experts were no longer relevant. What was put in their place? seemingly nothing.
The UK Bap was replaced by the snappily titled, Post 2010 Biodiversity Framework and a document was produced which had lots of nice waffle about how marvellous we were all doing but had no meat on the bones to say how we planned to make things better.
Wading through the website of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, who advise the government on nature conservation, is like walking through a forest of birch trees on a very foggy day. Shapes loom out at you but, before you can determine what they might mean, they are lost. Am I just being cynical when I begin to feel that this opaqueness might just be on purpose? You are not meant to find the information you are looking for because it doesn’t actually exist.
JNCC staff seem equally confused. When you ask them what has replaced the plans which once laid out how we were going to protect everything from the brown hare to an obscure pea mussel they seem unsure and take your e-mail address with promises to get back to you. Finally you might be directed to a web page which nowadays only gives you a list of important species, tells you the many reasons they are struggling to survive but gives you no idea what we are doing to stop their loss.
On a local level, things are different. Professional and amateur naturalists, county recorders and wildlife interest groups work frantically to protect their local patch but most of these people are voluntary or woefully underfunded and increasingly they are also portrayed in Government rhetoric as the enemies of the country. These are the people who stand in the way of progress, growth, development. These are the people who put a spanner in the works of housing estates being developed on green spaces and rich men getting richer.
Conservation, wildlife, biodiversity and those who seek to save it have become, it seems, the enemy of the Government and the Government has picked away at the strings and science and laws that once protected it. There is no UK plan, no joined up thinking and maybe this was the plan after all. Un-united they hope we might just fall.