This article first appeared in the March 2023 edition of Birdwatching Magazine
In the early days of the USSR some production targets were set by weight. When the head of a bedstead factory was slipping behind and in danger of losing his livelihood, and possibly ending up in a labour camp or worse, he quickly fulfilled his quota by switching from using steel for the frames to another metal – lead!
You are forgiven for thinking this has nothing to do with birds… but a similar phenomena is happening closer to home. In 2020 many countries signed up for 30×30. This terrific idea was that, by 2030, 30% of our land and sea would be protected for wildlife. In the UK it currently stands at less than 3%!
Rather than pulling out all the stops to reach the target our government is busy tearing down all the laws that protect the environment because they were adopted from European law. Brexiteers lead the campaign to replace EU law with homemade British laws. Whichever side of that chasm you stand, replacing one set of laws with nothing at all, frees up the UK to have no protections. With just three SSSI’s declared of late we stand no chance of protecting 4×24, let alone 30×30.
This is where politics comes in to play. Declared Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (18% of UK), and all our so-called National Parks (15%) are suddenly declared part of nature protection, despite the fact that the former offers no protection for wildlife, and the latter hardly much more. (Don’t worry about the math, some areas overlap) So, hey presto, we are now well on our way to 30×30 with 28% of our green and pleasant land protected… or rather painted with greenwash.
Do AONB’s and National Parks protect anything? The truth is they protect nothing more than the picaresque, they look mighty pretty, but the fields are just as chemically farmed, the lodge-pole pine forests are wildlife deserts and the rivers just as full of effluent, while the hillsides are just as ravaged as the rest of the country. Like the Emperor’s new suit us plebs can see right through the sham. If the creation of new ‘enterprise zones’ takes place then what few protections exist elsewhere will not hold in those areas. So, instead of re-wilding and protecting 30% for nature that meagre 3% percent could actually shrink!
Welcome to the world of faux nature, where the tooth and claw, bugs and weeds of conservation have been replaced by paintings of hay wains in stagnant streams and sheep on hillsides where hanging oaks once thrived. Admire the Monarch of the Glen, surrounded by the pretty purple heather and freshly burnt grouse moors.
Just a minute, haven’t beavers just been declared a native species protected under the law? Surely, these landscape engineers will help? You mean just like Hen Harriers and White-tailed Eagles? Two things may well negate that. Firstly, licenced slaughter is always on the cards. Like native badgers, or innocent corvids in the wrong place the organisation designed to protect them may well issue licences to kill. Secondly, laws are the first plank in the protection platform, they have to be policed and prosecutions have to deter. The police are nowadays overseen by elected commissioners (politicians) and magistrates can impose pathetic fines. So a police force can be told to give wildlife protection the lowest priority, and prosecuted perpetrators can walk away with nothing worse than a slapped hand.
Every survey shows that we, the people, care about wildlife and nature, so get your pen out and lobby politicians, sign petitions and march for nature.