11 May 2022

Nature recovery plan does not address UK environmental cliff edge

Government plans to restore nature and halt the decline in species in the UK do not address the cliff edge we face in protecting and enhancing the natural environment, says PCS in response to a Defra consultation.

We represent workers throughout the civil service and government agencies, including Defra and its agencies and in our formal response to the nature recovery green paper, we have made it clear the plans only do the minimum that this government has already committed to.

Our response to the consultation, which ran from 16 March to 11 May, raises concerns around:

  • Private sector-led investment and the creation of a market for nature
  • Cost recovery
  • The future staffing of Defra and arm’s-length bodies
  • Consultation and accountability.

Public versus private

One of the fundamental things missing from the consultation is what public sector investment will be needed to achieve these targets. Instead, it only focuses on what investments the private sector can make.

Another concern we have is that the focus on private investment could be a way of privatising British nature by stealth. We need public funds to support UK nature so it can be experienced and accessed by everyone, not just those who own it or can pay an entrance fee. We understand that this money will come from the taxpayer. But this is funding to reverse damage that has been done under successive governments, sometimes knowingly.

Cost recovery

Cost recovery, or “the polluter pays principle” will, in our opinion, have a disproportionate impact on smaller businesses and individuals compared to those who could already afford to change their environmental impact but place profits for their shareholders over this. We do not believe that carbon offsetting is the answer.

A new consolidated approach

Having a consolidated approach can work. But the motivation for consolidating must not be efficiency and saving money or be at the expense of the quality of work being delivered by or our members’ working conditions.

We think that it is vital to retain skills within Defra’s ALBs. Our members will deliver this work whichever government is in place and losing these skills could take years to redevelop, allowing us to fall behind in any progress towards net-zero climate and nature recovery targets. For all this vital work to be delivered we need to see fully-staffed ALBs.

Consultation and accountability

We find it concerning that this green paper says: “we aren’t waiting for the conclusions from this consultation to be implemented in order to put the other necessary measures in place to put us on the right trajectory.” While we understand that the natural environment and climate change need to be addressed without delay, anything brought in before the end of the consultation must be given the same consideration as any other long-term plans which will affect our natural environment for decades to come.

We believe decisions regarding what is best for the natural environment should be evidence based, rather than made to please those who have direct influence over our elected representatives.

Read a blog by Beth Wagg, PCS Efra Group President on the paper and the PCS response in full.