#LetNatureSing

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Residents of Walthamstow has been in touch asking if I support the RNIB’s campaign to #LetNatureSing. And who can blame them, when we have stories of businesses suggesting we could build on Green Belt land in local news.

The #LetNatureSing campaign specifically asks that we campaign to introduce laws that:

  • Build on our existing nature protection laws, ensuring they remain at least as strong as they are now
  • Set binding new targets for nature’s recovery
  • Establish a world-leading environmental watchdog to ensure nature is truly protected

This one is pretty easy for me to support, given the Green Party’s stance on the Environment, and the recently released manifesto contains a number of plans that would cover these three asks.

The Green Party’s Green New Deal will make space for nature, with policies to restore habitats in urban, suburban and countryside settings. It will transform our food and farming system, to improve human and environmental health, maximise the landscape’s ability to store carbon and prevent flooding, promote innovations in land management and ownership.

The amount of farmland, woodland and forest destroyed by development has grown by nearly 60% in recent years, whilst over 10,000 miles of footpaths have been blocked, built over or allowed to fall out of use. Nature is under attack from industrial farming, overfishing, hunting and shooting – with devastating impacts for wildlife species and their habitats, from farmland to the hills to the coast.

It’s time for an approach that recovers, rebuilds, restores, regenerates and reinstates nature and the health of our countryside.

We have a plan to transform and reconnect with the countryside, which will:

  • Create a new ‘ecocide’ law to prevent crimes against the natural environment. This legislation will place a legal duty on the government to prevent agricultural and industrial practices which harm the environment.
  • Strengthen Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest protections, with development in these areas only being permitted in exceptional circumstances.
  • Encourage applications from communities for new Green Belt, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Park designations.
  • Create a new Environmental Protection Commission (EPC). This will be one integrated body to enforce environmental protections, from clean air to litter-free roads. The EPC will enforce the ecocide law, and a new Clean Air Act, which will set new air quality standards for the UK. The EPC will also enforce new soil quality and biodiversity standards.
  • Increase funding for the Environment Agency and Natural England, to support the vital work they do to protect our environment.
  • Immediately ban the most harmful pesticides (including glyphosate) and introduce new rigorous tests for pesticides. Only pesticides that pass this test, and demonstrably don’t harm bees, butterflies and other wildlife will be approved for use in the UK.
  • Protect our precious water supplies by enforcing stricter penalties for polluters and for water companies found to be extracting too much water. We will require water companies to invest in water conservation and in capturing water surpluses, to enable transportation across the country.
  • Introduce new support for small-scale family farms and for new entrants to farming. This support, including increased security of tenure for farmers, will help develop sustainable farming methods. Farmers will be supported to adopt diverse uses for agricultural land and buildings, such as fitting solar panels on farm buildings and planting orchards and other woodlands. The incorporation of trees into farming will provide new crops such as fruits and nuts, as well as timber, linking forestry and farming industries. A more densely wooded and hedged farming landscape will provide new habitats for wildlife, and sanctuaries for threatened species.
  • Reintroduce nature into our urban environments, by investing in schemes such as street planting of native trees, compulsory hedgehog holes in all new fencing and bee corridors.
  • Recognise access to diverse nature as a human right and uphold it across society.
  • Create a Nature GCSE to encourage children to value nature, and to grow a whole new generation of naturalists. We will also introduce an English Climate Emergency Education Act to support schools to teach young people about the urgency, severity and scientific basis of the climate and environmental crises, and to ensure youth voices are heard on climate issues.

80% of our environmental laws come from the EU. Membership of the EU has been essential for environmental protection. By their nature environmental challenges such as air pollution don’t respect international borders and require coordination between states, The UK can’t solve problems like these on its own.

Being part of the European Union offers us the best chance of safeguarding our environmental standards which is why the Green Party is campaigning for a People’s Vote and to remain in the EU. We would like to see changes to the way the EU operates including reforms to the Common Agriculture Policy to enable farmers to farm sustainably. We are committed to working with our neighbours on our shared challenges rather than creating barriers which harm both sides.

Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is worse for environmental protection than that which was proposed by Theresa May. The ‘backstop’ contained a legally binding commitment to ‘non-regression’ in areas such as air quality, climate, biodiversity and waste at the end of any transition period and to the formation of an enforcement body with the power to maintain existing standards. This has been replaced with an aspiration to ‘maintain common high standards’ in the non-binding Political Agreement. Should the UK and EU fail to make an agreement on their future relationship the UK will not be legally obliged to maintain existing standards.

The new Environment Bill introduced in the recent Queen’s Speech does not ensure that the UK will have an effective and independent environmental watchdog. The proposed Office for Environmental Protection will have its funding of the OEP set by ministers who will also appoint its members. This has been met with criticism from the Environmental Audit Committee who have suggested the OEP should be fully independent and accountable to Parliament rather than the government on similar terms to the National Audit Office. The Green Party would introduce an Environmental Protection Commission, the world-leading watchdog we need to properly protect nature and our environment. The EPC would be powerful, independent and would ensure targets for the regeneration of our natural environment are met.

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