The Nation's wildlife organisations have looked at how well the Government is performing according to its own nature conservation policies. Remembering that they examined what the Government said it would do, which is much less than the 41 organisations concerned would like it to do, their report (Nature Check http://www.wcl.org.uk/nature-check.asp ) does not make good reading. Of the 25 commitments investigated only four merit a green light, meaning good progress is being made. Nine have a red light, meaning that they are failing, and 12 an amber light, indicating moderate progress.
The commitments cover a wide spectrum, including protection of the greenbelt and designated sites, habitats and species, conserving endangered species at home and abroad, opposing the resumption of whaling, reforms of the water industry, the planning system and the Common Agricultural Policy, animal welfare, and enhancing the natural environment.
Elaine King, Director of Wildlife and Countryside Link, which published the Report, said: 'David Cameron's Government ...... has failed to stick to his plan. The majority of people want politicians to do more to protect nature and the countryside.'
One of the key constraints identified in the Report is the false assumption that environmental progress and protection is incompatible with economic development. Instead of dealing equally with the twin crises affecting nature and the economy this Government puts the economy above all else.
When challenged on the 'Today' programme on Radio 4 Environment Minister Owen Patterson dismissed the Report, claiming that it was published by 'active campaigning groups' and was full of 'opinions not facts'. This rather begs the question as to why campaigners should not have and express opinions, most people think that that is their role. It is also ironic, coming from a man who consistently ignores scientific facts related to badgers and bovine TB in favour of certain other active campaigning groups' opinions.
It is good that some progress is being made, but there are too many topics where this is not the case. The problem is that whereas economic problems were identified and robust action was taken to address them, in relation to nature there is only prevarication, evasiveness and sometimes outright hostility.
To make matters worse it is now proposed to appoint a property developer to Chair Natural England, the government nature conservation body. The person concerned is Andrew Sells, a venture capitalist, major donor to the Conservative Party and one time Chairman of Linden Homes. The nearest he has come to having a professional interest in the natural environment seems to be time spent as Chairman of Wyevale Garden Centres.
What a dreadful state this Government (and its predecessors) has brought us to: senior staff and board members with the original Nature Conservancy and its successors, of which Natural England is the latest manifestation, were once respected leaders in the field of natural sciences. Now we have someone nominated for the chairmanship no doubt eminent in the financial world, but with no apparent qualifications for overseeing what was once our nature watchdog.
It is difficult to see how the delivery of green policies will be improved if the leadership of one of the crucial agencies involved is diluted with people who appear to have no experience or proper grasp of the issues that need to be addressed.