Conservation groups brand mini-budget an ‘attack on nature’

The government has been accused of launching an “attack on nature” with its mini-budget, which conservationists warn could roll back environmental rules.

Miranda Bryant 

Groups including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust have criticised plans, announced on Friday, to create 38 “investment zones” across England.

The announcement of the new areas by the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, where planning rules will be loosened to release more land for commercial use and housing, will act as a “carte blanche” for development, leading conservation charities warned, and represent an “unprecedented attack on nature”.

“Make no mistake, we are angry. This government has today launched an attack on nature,” the RSPB tweeted. “As of today, from Cornwall to Cumbria, Norfolk to Nottingham, wildlife is facing one of the greatest threats it’s faced in decades.”

Making reference to a new bill introduced to parliament on Thursday, which could lead to the removal of EU environmental protections such as the Habitats Regulations, the charity added: “What the government has proposed in today’s mini-budget on top of yesterday’s announcements potentially tears up the most fundamental legal protections our remaining wildlife has.”

Beccy Speight, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Nature is already in trouble. Taken together, these announcements, combined with the rumoured watering down of the new land management schemes for farming, could be the final nail in its coffin.”

She added: “Our economy and our health depend on a thriving natural world.”

In a strongly worded tweet in support of the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts said: “Make no mistake – we are also incredibly angry.

“We stand with RSPB England in calling out the unprecedented attack on nature launched by UK government over the last few days. We’ll be challenging this together and asking for our supporters to stand with us.”

Craig Bennett, the trust’s chief executive, said environmental organisations were previously reassured over nature protections lost through Brexit, but now nature is in “catastrophe”.

“Farming reform was supposed to be the silver lining but now the government looks set to renege on that too,” he said, adding: “We need more nature.”

Sharing the RSPB’s tweet, the National Trust pledged to work with other nature charities and supporters to “defend important protections for nature long into the future”.

Labour also joined criticism over the planned investment zones, calling it “reckless”.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, said: “Slashing standards, destroying the environment and scrapping affordable housing is reckless and offers no prospect of sustainable growth. For most people, that’s levelling down, not up.

“This country needs a serious plan to get jobs and investment into every nation and region, money back into people’s pockets and locally driven growth, not more Amazon warehouses and deregulation.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) dismissed the claims, tweeting: “We have a plan for economic growth. It is not true to claim we are attacking nature nor going back on our commitments.

“We have legislated through the Environment Act and will continue to improve our regulations and wildlife laws in line with our ambitious vision.”

A Defra spokesperson added: “Farmers are brilliant at producing high-quality food for consumption at home and for export and now we need them to go further, as productivity gains have been flat for many years.

“To boost the rural economy, food production and our food security, we will continue to support farmers and land managers by reviewing farm regulation, boosting investment and innovation in the sector.

“This autumn we will set out our plans for working with industry to maximise the long-term productivity, resilience, competitiveness, and environmental stewardship of the British countryside.”

A Treasury spokesperson claimed that investment zones will “enable locally elected leaders to set out bold new visions for their areas, and we want to ensure that they have every tool available to them in driving forwards local growth.”

They added: “The government remains committed to setting a new legally binding target to halt the decline of biodiversity in England by 2030.

“We are working closely with areas to develop tailored proposals that support their ambitions and deliver benefits for local residents.”