Causes To Get Behind
There are those who don't know much, those that know a lot about a little, and those that know a little about a lot. I'm firmly in the third category, sometimes annoyingly.
Faced with government spin and complex regulation of even more complex issues I find it increasingly difficult to see the wood for the trees (sorry!) when it comes to knowing which environmental causes are worth getting behind.
I'm sceptical of the kind of headlines we saw last week about peat, for example. Looking into the detail, it's far from a complete ban on its use in horticulture (which rose 9% last year), and gives the industry until 2024 to sort it out. That's in addition to the last 30 years of "voluntary restraint". The Secretary of State was more interested in talking about the re-introduction of extinct species and tree planting without tackling various increasingly apparent issues associated with them. He also mentioned a review of the Habitats Regulations, which currently protect nature in the UK. Hmm - this is potentially very problematic. And what about the Australian free trade deal? On the face of it, it doesn't just seem to be a disgraceful sell out of the UK farming sector, but potentially enormously damaging to the environment. But on the other hand...
To stop my head hurting and getting all Victor Meldrew I've tried not to get cross about these big picture issues recently. Rather, I'm concentrating on some more specific problems.
Peat is significant, not just as the best carbon sink we have, but also as a complex and endangered habitat, which takes hundreds of years to replace. It also acts a huge sponge, mitigating flood risk. Current plans don't go nearly far enough.
1. Peat use in compost should be banned immediately for both domestic AND commercial use.
2. Prohibit tree planting (gasp!) on peat - lets not mess about - of any depth.
3. Ban bog drainage schemes.
4. Ban "controlled burn" of heather on commercial grouse shoots.
We should give ancient meadows legal protection and recognise the importance of unimproved grasslands as biodiversity hotspots and resilient carbon sinks. Incentivise creation of traditional meadows and wildflower areas, and promote their aesthetic appeal. Most people still don't understand the difference between a wildflower meadow and a colourful collection of annual flowers.
Just awful; if this was happening on land it would have been banned already. We should all just stop eating it while the government procrastinates.
Regular readers of this blog will know how strongly I feel about hedges. What an abused and overlooked resource, and a national treasure. They're a wonderful food source for all manner of wildlife, from invertebrates to small mammals. They're natural corridors for movement, and offer protection from predators and pollution.
So why - and despite Natural England advice - are farmers flailing these precious features into oblivion, year after year? Don't just reward farmers on environmental schemes for cutting them on a three year rotation, but actually make it illegal for anyone to cut hedges annually. When did this fad start, anyway?
Disposable BBQs / Sky Lanterns
This is incredibly simple. Just ban the wretched things, or, if you believe in a free market, help make them completely socially unacceptable*. The environmental damage and animal suffering they cause is horrendous, to say nothing about the cost of putting out the fires they cause.
What a national disgrace our rivers are. They are disgusting. We need to monitor water quality properly and hit polluters with massive penalties. At the moment, water companies seem to think the fines they're paying are just a cost of doing business. If they start getting hammered they might reduce dividends and massively increase infrastructure spend. If the Environment Agency was properly funded it might actually investigate the thousands of complaints it receives annually about farmers polluting watercourses with slurry and phosphate run-off.
We've been banging on about neonicotinoids for years. They should be banned absolutely, with no derogations. Period (and this includes use as flea treatments for pets). This has wide reaching implications for many farmers, I know, but we have to move on this ASAP, even if it means temporarily lower yields on some crops like sugar beet or even giving others up completely.
The Elephant In The Room
None of this is possible without enforcement. The Environment Agency is a smoking ruin, and simply not capable of fulfilling its statutory obligations. Farms can on average currently expect an EA inspection once every 263 years. This government might be strong on spin, but unless it really does prioritise the environment and reverse decades of cuts, even these pretty simple issues are going to be left dangling in the wind.
*like fake grass.