On 22 September 2018, thousands of people gathered in Hyde Park in London for the People’s Walk for Wildlife, led by TV presenter Chris Packham.
The event was organised by a range of activists, experts and writers, including author and academic Rob Macfarlane, campaigner and author Mark Avery and environmental journalist George Monbiot. Their aim was to draw attention to the decline of UK wildlife and to call for action to halt and reverse this. The organisers cite the State of Nature Report 2016, which states that:
‘Between 1970 and 2013, 56% of UK species declined. Of the nearly 8,000 species assessed using modern criteria, 15% are threatened with extinction. This suggests that we are among the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
Of the 218 countries assessed for ‘biodiversity intactness’, the UK is ranked 189, a consequence of centuries of industrialisation, urbanisation and overexploitation of our natural resources.’
The march was organised independently of conservation charities, but most of the large non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and their members were represented including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust.
A People’s Manifesto for Wildlife
Along with the march, a manifesto, drafted by 18 experts in different aspects of wildlife policy was presented at Downing Street, calling for action across the UK, including by devolved governments. This manifesto presents almost 200 actions recommended to try and stop the decline in wildlife, reduce wildlife crime and reconnect people with nature.
What does the Manifesto call for in Scotland?
The manifesto is aimed at the whole of the UK and includes both UK-wide proposals and suggested policies at devolved level. It also identifies areas of environmental policy where some devolved areas are further forward and urges other areas to follow suit.
A selection of proposals are summarised below.
Progress that Scotland has made relating to the law on wildlife crime is used as an example that should be followed in England and Wales. The improvements mentioned are:
- publication of an annual wildlife crime report
- introduction of the offence of vicarious liability for landowners to make them responsible for wildlife crimes on their land
- the law that makes it an offence to possess specific poisons commonly used for wildlife crime.
Scottish Natural Heritage
A large-scale re-structuring of the UK statutory agencies responsible for wildlife agencies is suggested along with an injection of public money . A lack of investment and a loss of trust in these organisations, including SNH, is cited as an obstacle to implementing effective changes in conservation policy.
Mountain hares and seals
The manifesto bemoans the killing of mountain hares and seals in Scotland and it claims that mountain hare culls, along with habitat loss, are reported to have reduced their population density in parts of north-east Scotland to 1% of its 1950s level. The authors call for this to stop and management of hare numbers to be more tightly controlled by SNH. There is also a demand for the Scottish Government to cease issuing licences for the culling of seals and instead fund non-lethal protection methods.
Rewilding the uplands using ‘public money for public goods’
Leaving the European Union is described as necessitating a “radical rethink of how taxpayers’ money is spent” and the manifesto calls for the guiding principle for this to be ‘Public money for public goods’. The UK’s uplands, the large expanses of blanket bog and upland heathland that cover around a third of the UK land surface, are described as the “perfect places to deliver public services such as restored wildlife, cleaner water, increased carbon storage, more recreational access and reduced flood risk” and a target is proposed to ‘rewild’ at least 10% of our uplands, including more natural woodland, restored blanket bogs and reintroduction of species including beavers and lynx.
The manifesto emphasises that farmers are key to wildlife conservation given 70% of the UK is reported to be farmland. It calls for wildlife friendly farming initiatives to be embraced, promotion of organic farming, and for science-led and sustainable long-term farming strategies.
The manifesto is presented as a first draft, with the expectation of further editions being produced after a dialogue with government and stakeholders. There has been no official response to the manifesto from any of the UK parliaments or governments but Michael Gove said ‘I welcome this important contribution to the debate around our environment. Chris Packham and his colleagues have successfully motivated the public to get behind many of these issues. I shall consider the [manifesto] in depth’.
The People’s Manifesto for Wildlife came in the same month as the Scottish Government reiterated its commitment in its Programme for Government to maintain environmental protections following Brexit and strive to meet the ‘Aichi’ 2020 international biodiversity targets. Other commitments on wildlife in the Programme for Government included a plan to set up a Biodiversity Challenge Fund, of up to £2 million, to ‘support projects across Scotland focused on creating and improving habitats for key species and, where appropriate, encourage increased access to nature.’ The Scottish Government has not commented on the Manifesto.
Nick Harvey, RCUK PhD Intern, SPICe