This week at Westminster, the annual Nature Check 2013 report was launched by Wildlife and Countryside Link, a coalition of more than 40 organisations - including Humane Society International/UK - concerned with the protection of our environment, natural heritage and wildlife.
Whilst there have been several other important ecological assessments this year, including the State of Nature report, which painted a depressing picture of the state of our wildlife and biodiversity, Nature Check stands alone in assessing the government's performance against its own policy commitments. So rather than being about what we might want to see, it's about whether the government has kept its promises and met its targets.
Sadly, the picture it paints is no less depressing.
Using a 'traffic light' scoring system, the report looks at government performance across a wide range of policies concerning the environment, biodiversity and animal welfare.
What it shows is that the government is failing to deliver on its commitments, in particular those relating to habitat protection, wildlife species decline and animal welfare. Government performance is also getting worse, with nine red ratings in 2013 compared to four in 2012 and seven in 2011.
The red ratings reflect the government's failure to deliver on the following policy commitments:
- Implementation of a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control as part of a balanced package of measures to control bovine TB and to support the cattle industry;
- Implementation of recommendations from the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives Implementation Review;
- Promotion of high standards of farm animal welfare;
- Implementation of recommendations from the Macdonald Task Force's review of farming regulations to reduce burdens and increase responsibility;
- Designation of a coherent network of Marine Conservation Zones in 2013 and the reduction of the regulatory burden of marine licensing while maintaining a high level of protection of the marine environment;
- Implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy and the building of natural capital through Local Nature Partnerships;
- Maintenance of the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and other environmental protections, and the creation of a new designation to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities;
- Delivery of a new framework for achieving the dual objectives of increasing food production and enhancing the environment;
- Taking forward of the findings of the Pitt Review to improve our flood defences, and prevent unnecessary building in areas of high flood risk.
The government scored an amber rating on 12 commitments, and green ratings were only given for four commitments relating to the government's efforts on international wildlife trade, whaling, Common Fisheries Policy reform, and its response to Ash Dieback.
This year's Nature Check is an indictment of the government's failure to even do what it said it would do to protect our wildlife and wild spaces. David Cameron's promise of the 'Greenest Government Ever' seems to have fallen by the wayside. His government has an awful lot to do, and precious little time to do it, if it is to achieve its stated ambition "to leave the environment in a better condition than we found it".
Nature matters. It has an intrinsic value as well as a positive impact on human wellbeing.
As custodians of the earth, we have a responsibility to do the very best that we can to protect and preserve it. A ComRes survey released alongside the Nature Check report, confirmed that the overwhelming majority of British people continue to place great value on our wildlife and natural heritage and want to see them better protected. The government's track record, even by its own standards, simply isn't good enough to ensure that our precious natural heritage is safeguarded for generations to come.