Lukewarm reception for nature white paper

Caroline Spelman's nature white paper is not universally popular
Caroline Spelman's nature white paper is not universally popular

By Phil Scullion

Caroline Spelman launched the much anticipated 'Natural Choice' white paper today to a mooted reaction from environment groups.

Included in the environment secretary's plans is £1 million for new local nature partnerships to help strengthen local nature agencies and organisations.

There is also £7.5 million of funding for nature improvement areas (NIAs) which the government hopes will help transforming 12 rural and urban areas into bigger and connected sites for wildlife.

A natural capital committee will be set up to help the government place protecting the value of nature at the centre of future economic policy decisions.

However Alice Barnard, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said the white paper was "a missed opportunity".

She said: "There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Rather than trying to create a new set of bodies to administer the natural environment, the government should be investing in the people who do so much to keep the countryside the special place it is."

The recent national ecosystem assessment (NEA) attempted to place a value on nature to the UK economy, estimating health and welfare benefits of over £30 billion.

The conclusions of the NEA have been reflected in the white paper with a provision for an annual statement of green accounts, highlighting where the economy has taken from nature and where it has invested.

Ms Spelman said: "If we withdraw something from mother nature's bank, we've got to put something back in to ensure that the environment has a healthy balance and a secure future.

"What I'd really like to see happening is more children enjoying nature and continuing that interest into adulthood, so that they pass that passion for the environment down through the generations. That would be a legacy well worth leaving."

Children are to be encouraged to experience nature through more practical support for schools in running outdoor learning.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Paul de Zylva said: "New designated wildlife areas, green spaces and efforts to restore peat bogs that suck up carbon will help to protect our natural environment."

Peat is to be phased out in a move designed to help protect and restore the UK's peatlands which are considered valuable carbon sinks and habitats.

However Mr Zylva added: "If the government is serious about being the 'greenest ever', it must introduce policies right across Whitehall that help to protect nature home and abroad - such as supporting planet-friendly farming."

Mary Creagh MP, Labour's shadow environment secretary , said: "The white paper fails to set out a clear plan for major challenges such as reforestation or biodiversity loss; nor does it deal with concerns about planning policy.

"The government's record so far does not bode well: a breathtaking attempt to sell-off England's forests, plans to get rid of national nature reserves and an appalling 30 per cent cut to the frontline agencies that care for the environment."

The government is still recovering from the angry response to its plans to sell off some of England's forest, which triggered a viral email campaign and subsequent U-turn from Ms Spelman.


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