RSPB Warns of ‘Attack on Nature’ as Government Pursues Growth Policies

A pair of gannets. The RSPB fears wildlife protections are being eroded .

The head of the RSPB warned yesterday that it was ruling nothing out as it organised a mobilisation of millions of people against what it called the government’s “attack on nature”.

Beccy Speight dismissed accusations by Conservative MPs that the bird charity was lying to its members and pursuing a marketing drive as it led a coalition campaigning against the government over key “growth” policies that it argues will damage wildlife and nature.

The chief executive said a meeting with the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Ranil Jayawardena, had not provided any reassurance that the government’s growth policies would protect nature.

The director general of the National Trust, Hilary McGrady, accused the government of “demonising” conservationists, saying her members were “outraged and worried”.

The RSPB made its concerns clear two weeks ago, saying: “Make no mistake, we are angry.”

Since then, it has joined forces with others including the National Trust, Wildlife and Countryside Link,

and the Wildlife Trusts to fight government policies they say threaten protected habitats and species, put clean air, water and national wellbeing at risk, and penalise farmers trying to protect nature. Between them, the coalition has 15 million members.

Speight said: “The response from the public has been overwhelming. I think this has really hit a nerve for people. We are facing a really serious situation and that is why we have seen this coordinated response. This was not planned.

It was an uprising of concern two weeks ago and a feeling that we need to make our voices heard in order to

try to defend nature.” The coalition’s concerns focus on:

• The removal of 570 laws derived from EU directives that make up the bedrock of UK regulations, covering sewage pollution, water quality and clean air. Habitat regulations have protected wildlife areas for 30 years.

• The ending of the moratorium on fracking in England.

• The creation of 38 low-tax investment zones, from Cornwall to Cumbria, where protections are to be relaxed to encourage development. • The feared scrapping of the post-Brexit environmental land management scheme (Elms), which pays farmers to enhance nature.

The groups have been encouraging supporters to put pressure on Tory MPs over these proposals, which they say strike at the heart of environmental and wildlife protections. In response, Tory MPs have criticised the RSPB, accusing it of using claims of a government attack on nature as a “marketing strategy”.

Speight said MPs had been sending out “a generic response” and that it was“not credible” to suggest it was a membership drive. “This is nothing to do with marketing,” she said. “We have specific concerns that we have raised and we have not received assurances around any of these.

“Our members are people from every political persuasion expressing concerns and I think this shows how significant this threat is.”

With little sign that the government is drawing back from the key policies of concern, Speight said the campaign would be intensified.

“All options are open for what we do next. This is a really serious situation and we really need to make progress so all options are on the table. We have said that we will mobilise our membership, and we will.”

Asked whether the strategy would include taking direct action, Speight said: “We are ruling nothing out.”

Justifying the strong response, Speight said the situation was urgent, with 41% of species in the UK in decline and 15% at risk of extinction. “It could be really critical if they rip up these regulations,” she said.

The RSPB was not mentioned in Liz Truss’s party conference speech last week, but Speight has no illusions that the charity is considered part of the “anti-growth coalition” identified by the prime minister.

“We are not anti-growth,” Speight said. “But growth is not just about GDP. We think growth needs to be done better, within a healthy, natural environment which is essential if we are going to build an economy which is strong long term.”

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