Biodiversity

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 14th June 2006.

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Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Labour, Bridgend 4:30 pm, 14th June 2006

I am glad to see that the Minister agrees.

Funds must be available to continue with moth recording and monitoring. I have arranged a moth recording night in the Palace, with moth recording equipment being installed on the roof of the House, and I hope to integrate that with a bat recording evening, so that we can show that there is wildlife even in this most sterile of places.

The statistic that 50 billion moths are required to feed the blue tit population of the UK is staggering, but it is frightening to know how many birds are estimated to have died this spring because their food supply was not available. We need Natural England to commit to species-based project work at its launch in October, so that recovery work on species such as stone-curlew, bittern and black grouse can continue.

How are we to do that? The UK BAP is key to the way in which the Government work in England and Wales, through its agencies and non-governmental organisations and the voluntary sector. I am aware that the 2005 UK biodiversity action plan reporting round will be announced on 20 June by DEFRA. It is hoped that the new Natural England body will place greater emphasis on the UK BAP in its strategic direction document, following the DEFRA announcement. Strategic partnerships to implement the BAP targets with NGOs have proved critical in the past, but it is unclear if that will continue with Natural England, and I would welcome clarification. There is concern that the UK BAP has lost its momentum and that commitment has dwindled. I received an e-mail from a biodiversity co-ordinator who described the situation in her region thus:

"We have a lack of knowledge of BAP habitat and species distribution. Our Phase 1 habitat data is now 10 years old and was not completed in the first place. There is no finance available for commissioning up to date survey work. This makes it difficult to set local targets and to evaluate the importance of sites and parcels of land in the local and national context. Our SING site network falls into this same category. I think it would be fair to say that the only ones that have been thoroughly surveyed are the ones that are about to be developed."

She ended with the words:

"God, I feel quite miserable now!"

We need to acknowledge that securing the capacity to move towards the 2010 halting of biodiversity loss is becoming harder. Setting up local nature reserves is becoming a problem for NGOs and local authorities, and no finance is available for their management. Short-term, project-style funding prevents the setting of local priorities and reduces the capacity for long-term planning, and voluntary organisations are unsure about whether they can continue to research, keep staff and match fund grant aid for projects. The RSPB tells me that it estimates that the additional extra expenditure required to meet the UK BAP targets is £338 million a year. Where is that money to come from?

I am sure that the Minister will be pleased that there is positive news amid the gloom. The Government have recognised the critical role played by volunteers in the life of the UK. The role of NGOs and their volunteers in promoting Government policy and halting biodiversity loss must also be recognised. Butterfly Conservation, wildlife trusts, the RSPB and local wildlife groups rely heavily on volunteers for their monitoring work. Butterfly Conservation's volunteer audit showed that their volunteers alone contributed 77,000 person days a year, equivalent to more than £5 million, even at a basic rate of £60 a day. Add to that the huge army of volunteers working with the wildlife groups, and volunteers' value to biodiversity becomes incalculable.

EU structural funds could be set up to fund the creation of jobs to promote and enhance biodiversity, and funding for any development likely significantly to damage biodiversity could be refused. Planning application forms could include a requirement to report on the impact on biodiversity of a proposed development, and a percentage of the planning delivery grant in England could be specifically targeted for biodiversity. I recognise that some of the issues are outside the Minister's responsibility and that of his Department, but I am sure that it will be for DEFRA to promote such things in other Departments.

We must harness the new interest shown by industry in environmental matters. This week I was especially pleased to receive an invitation from the CBI to a meeting that aims to bring together business people and parliamentarians with an interest in the opportunities and challenges posed to businesses by action to protect and improve the environment. The Government placed the environment high on their agenda back in the mists of 1997, when some other political parties could not even spell "biodiversity". They introduced significant legislation to increase environmental protection and biodiversity. To keep up that momentum, we need statutory duties to report on progress. We need a renewed commitment to the UK BAP agenda from all agencies, including Natural England. We need funds to ensure that policy decisions are based on empirical evidence gleaned from monitoring and research, and, of course, the finances to do it all. The legacy of the Government should not be the national threat of the spread of Japanese knotweed or the 21,000 per cent. increase of the Blair's shoulder-knot moth as a result of the growth of suburban cypress trees. In the words of the RSPB,

"We must stop the rot, protect the best and restore the rest."

Minister, I am afraid that responsibility lies heavily on your shoulders.