Natural Capital Report: Trick or treat?

On Halloween …. I finally got round to reading the Government’s response to the Natural Capital Committee’s third State of Natural Capital report (published September 2015).  Readers might judge for themselves if this is a trick or a treat by the Government?

The NCC’s third (73 page) report is glossy and is compiled by an interesting mix of experts.  The NCC’s membership comprises Prof. Dieter Helm (Chairman), Giles Atkinson, Ian Bateman, Rosie Hails, Kerry ten Kate, Georgina Mace, Colin Mayer and Robin Smale.  It has a supporting secretariat from defra of four.  The NCC was the product of the 2011 White Paper, The Natural Choice and it claims to have set out the building blocks “to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited”.  Its initial term was for three years but has received a six month extension to produce the third Report post the 2015 general election.

What does it tell us?  What does it tell us that we didn’t already know?  More importantly what is the Government going to do about the parlous State of Nature?

The State of Nature 2013 asked the question what needs to be done?  What has been done in the intervening period?  We understand that many of the original organisations and new ones have come together again to provide the answers and identify key actions needed to reverse the ongoing decline, this is to be reported shortly in a Response for nature (seperate issues for England, Scotland and Wales).  This is laudable, we can all look forward to another glossy launched at a grand event?  Will Iolo provide the opening speech, or will they wheel out a Government Minister who will refer to their response above?  It could be an opportunity for Government Ministers and Chief Executives to persuade any sceptics in the masses of their sincerity?  Would realists prefer underwritten guarantees given track records?

Ten NGOs have written to David Cameron expressing dismay at the weakening and cancellation by Government of ten environmental measures.  Stephanie Hilbourne, representing the Wildlife Trusts is reported to have said that “the Government’s stance is shocking and showed disregard for the health and wellbeing of current and future generations as well as the environment we all depend on”.  Dismay could be considered as a tame word, but then we remember the days when the late Stephen Warburton was active within the WTs and the conservation movement generally.  Today’s managers have understandably to keep an eye on the bank balance if they are to keep the ‘ships’ afloat?  They would be foolish if they were to bite the hand from which crumbs fall?

We can all do our bit, but at the end of the day it is our consumption of finite resources and our spending choices which allow the market economy to wreak havoc upon the natural environment across the globe.  Even if the UK Government provide funding for ‘project management’ to stem the tide …. I seem to recall that Cnute failed?  “Green Blobs” are set up to fail, simply by virtue of the disproportionate funds aka subsidies or state welfare payments to industry?  Neo-liberalism  survives by virtue of state support (Jones 2015).

The recent publication by Government, as part of its Rural Productivity Plan for England, is a 10 point plan for ‘boosting’ …. fundamental to my mind would be the requirement for broadband.  That is to say actual broadband, not necessarily 4G but a decent broadband connection?  Trick or treat, most definitely a cruel trick out here?  Oh, look they will look at satelite provision, ‘look’ just like years ago they were going to deliver but drip drip drip and watering down of words?  So, Mr Osborne & Ms Truss the plan falls at the first and as for the rest they read as more deregulation and therefore risk the very landscapes and natural environment so many of us living in rural areas value?  It would be interesting to access the research which evidences the need for these ten points?  As yet the underwriting of failure eludes readers, but perhaps it’s principally about the deregulation and maximising of private profit at the expense of communities and long term residents?

Like the aforementioned organisations, the Forum has in the main in a voluntary capacity, delivered reports on the state of the natural world on our doorstep.  It is important that we all do make contributions to the catalogue of change in our fauna and flora.  One of our best recent examples has been the Inkle Moor Invertebrate Survey undertaken in 2012.  As well as providing an update on the status of the invertabrate assemblage of this important piece of remnant lagg fen, it even delivered a first for the UK!  Streptanus okanensis a species of terrestrial Hemiptera (or ‘bug’ if you prefer).  The Survey was a tri-partite collaboration and has its origins in 2011 when a funding application to defra was successful and secured from them around £10,000.  The Forum contributed a further £5,000 from its own funds but the added value in kind saw the project deliver, at a conservative estimate, outcomes worth in excess of an estimated £115,000.  The statistics are pretty impressive too, but maybe it’s only entomologists who would appreciate them?  On the back of the findings from the Survey, funds were then found by an independent conservation charity to purchase Inkle Moor so a ‘win win’ situation delivered by a collaborative endeavour?

Similarly Thorne Moors A Botanical Survey initiated by Ian McDonald a local botanist and Colin Wall a local bryologist and for whom this represented something of a magnus opus and a project which the Forum were happy to be involved in and make available their extensive expertise in terms of editing and publishing, also working with other stakeholders to add value to the raw data by incorporating supplementary supportive chapters.  From very positive feedback received since its publication in last year those chapters have added value by providing previously unpublished information to researchers and the public.   Whilst the Forum was able to act as the lead in terms of project management and delivery through to publication, the initial idea was that of local naturalists.   Significantly this project provided the first ever published list of the flora (including bryophytes) of Thorne Moors.  The work started in 2010 and it details the flowering species found over the three and a half years of survey whilst the moss list provides the species known up until publication in 2014.

TMABS front scan

Both these projects demonstrate the value of volunteers and their expertise as amateur naturalists.  It is amateur naturalists who are committed to cataloguing the changes in the nature of Thorne & Hatfield Moors.  Without such contributions and data like these then there is the risk that statute might forget the value in biodiversity and the value in climate regulation, carbon storage etc.?

There are a few copies remaining and details of how to obtain one can be found here.




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