The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has rowed back after launching a blistering attack on the government for breaking environmental promises – and labelling ministers “liars”.
The RSPB, which boasts around 1.2 million members, published an angry Twitter thread following Rishi Sunak’s administration announcing it would remove some European Union rules it had retained post-Brexit that were meant to curb water pollution.
The move, to enable thousands of new homes to be built, faced widespread criticism. But the attack from the usually mild-mannered environmental charity was notable.
It wrote on Twitter: “All the while you have pretended to be a government that cares about nature. It’s now very patently clear that you do not.”
The posts criticised Sunak, housing secretary Michael Gove and environment secretary Therese Coffey directly.
But the NGO later apologised for its “frustration” at the government “reneging on its environmental promises”, which “led us to attack the people not the policy”.
Initially, it said: “We need the lies to stop, and the work to save nature in this country to start. Our members, supporters and everyone who loves nature demand it.”
The EU’s “nutrient neutrality” laws were put in place to ensure that development does not pollute waterways with additional chemicals that cause plants to grow, from sources such as agricultural fertiliser and untreated sewage.
But the government said that while nutrients entering rivers was “a real problem”, the contribution made by new homes was “very small”.
The RSPB later said: “We are in a nature and climate emergency and that demands urgent action. The RSPB is deeply frustrated by the government’s reneging on its environmental promises. But that frustration led us to attack the people not the policy.
“This falls below the standard we set ourselves and for that we apologise. We will continue to campaign vigorously on behalf of nature but we will always do so in a polite and considered manner.”
Defending the government’s green credentials, Sunak said on Tuesday: “We are taking strong steps to protect our environment, reduce our emissions but do that in a proportionate and pragmatic way that protects families too.”
And Michal Gove, secretary for levelling up, housing and communities, claimed it was a “myth” rivers are now more polluted than they used to be despite the mounting public anger over sewage being pumped into the country’s waterways.
In response, environment campaigner Feargal Sharkey said environment campaigner Feargal Sharkey said: “Let me help with that. Not a single river in England passes the chemical test, not one, they all fail, every single one.
“The ecology test? In 2009 25% of rivers were in ‘Good’ condition, 2016 fell to 14%, govt’s prediction by 2027 that will have fallen to 6%. Shame on you.”