A Prime Minister’s day out at a wetland nature reserve is a rare spectacle. Was it recapturing the youth vote and the need to appeal to young minds, that led the beleaguered PM Theresa May to make green pronouncements in January? We’ve been here before of course, suffering governments’ cyclical interest in nature.
So how should we feel when politicians re-discover the environment and hype it for their advantage? It’s a tricky judgement. Should we be chuffed that our causes have gained some profile, and encourage the new interest, or should we scoff at the cynicism, feeling cheated by some token moves all the while funds have been allowed to drain away? Peter Shirley takes us through this dilemma in the following pages, with his take on the Government’s new plan for the environment. Environment Secretary Michael Gove is a Marmite minister, loathed and hailed in equal measure. He is a slippery beast – a political big hitter, an operator and a risk taker. So if anyone can raise the stakes in government for the natural world, maybe he can, in his daring style. Peter Shirley is all for giving ‘Govey’ a chance. Inviting Ministers to drive the train can lead to some promising destinations. Better than staying idle at the station.
The new northern forest is a neat example of this ambiguous politics of the environment. A trans-northern forest from Liverpool to Hull, to regenerate degraded places and denuded habitats has got to be good news hasn’t it? Maybe, maybe not… Government can sound bold with an ambitious programme like this, while in reality offering minimum funds, and relieving itself of the slog, by letting local councils and NGOs like the Woodland Trust take the strain in making it happen.
This is the art of tactical government – promise high, while offering low, and hope people take the bait. Ok, there are risks, but in this instance we should take the bait. The Northern Powerhouse is a focus for much political ambition and action. The new northern forest could be too. We should do everything to give it status. We should want it linked to economic strategies, and as it rolls out we should use it as a catalyst for other environmental action, big and small. And this message, this tactic, can apply to all regions, all parts of the UK. We should be pushing Nature’s Powerhouse as a springboard for the exciting projects we bring to the table, from landscape-scale schemes to connecting wildlife with people’s wellbeing. These should be up there and integrated with the economic projects that grab the attention of councils and business groups.
Elsewhere in this ECOS we remind ourselves of the range of positions people can adopt when they forge their interest in green matters. This is courtesy of Martin Spray, as he offers a trailer for our next edition looking at the tribes within nature conservation and some of the consequences of our inevitable tribal behaviour.
If you are new to ECOS, welcome along – we hope you get what we’re about and please join in where you can, by offering comments, getting in touch to suggest an article, or encouraging a certain topic to be covered. We call ourselves independent and challenging (to greater or lesser degrees no doubt) as we offer comment on the fortunes of nature conservation and the evolution of the subject. This is our first open access edition. The web format is pretty different from the first 37 years of our life, when we produced tri-annual book style editions, of 60-80 odd pages. We hope to have a growing web archive of the back contents, but you can order back editions at a modest price as well. We hope you feel part of ECOS as it challenges the narratives of nature - and perhaps most of all, challenges ourselves.