‘People’s manifesto’ to save British wildlife from ‘mass extinction in our own backyard’ launched by Chris Packham

'I think we have normalised these declines that we talk about so freely ... We need to be more terrified about what they actually mean'

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Wednesday 19 September 2018 11:01 BST
Chris Packham has laid out a set of nearly 200 measures to save Britain's wildlife
Chris Packham has laid out a set of nearly 200 measures to save Britain's wildlife

An end to seal and grouse shooting, dog-free nature reserves and a tax on pesticides are among the proposals being released as part of a “people’s manifesto” to save British wildlife.

The call is being led by Chris Packham, who says “it’s time to wake up” to the “mass extinction in our own backyard”.

Together with 17 independent wildlife experts, the naturalist and TV presented has assembled nearly 200 measures to reverse the massive declines that have struck so many of the UK’s animal and plants.

According to the most recent State of Nature report conducted by a coalition of environmental organisations in 2016, the UK is one of “the most nature-depleted countries in the world”.

Between 1970 and 2013, 56 per cent of British species declined, and of the 8,000 creatures assessed rigorously 15 per cent are threatened with extinction.

In recent months experts have warned that Britain is rapidly losing hedgehogs, farmland birds and wildflowers as a result of pesticide use, land conversion and climate change.

Among the proposals in the ‘people’s manifesto’ to save UK wildlife are…

1. Every primary school in Britain to be twinned with a farm to help children understand farming and food growing

2. Primary school classes to name and own significant urban trees

3. Replant 300,000km of hedgerows destroyed since 1960

4. Wildlife ponds for every industrial estate and all municipal parks

5. Swift/sparrow/starling boxes to be included in all new-build homes

6. Rewild 10 per cent of UK uplands

7. 10 per cent of every farm to be managed for wildlife

8. Introduce a pesticide tax and set target for 50 per cent reduction in pesticides use

9. Make 30 per cent of UK waters off-limits to commercial fishing

10. Ban scallop-dredging in UK waters

11. Outlaw the use of lead ammunition and snares

12. Ban driven grouse shooting

13. Stop seal culling in Scotland

14. Make all nature reserves dog-free (except for assistance dogs) and create new dog-walking hotspots 

15. An independent public service body – Life UK – to oversee all environmental care, free from party politics and government interference

“Conservation has become complacent – I think we have normalised these declines that we talk about so freely, and we have lost the ability to see them in any tangible way,” Packham told The Independent.

“We need to be more terrified about what they actually mean. We are talking about declines of 95, 97, 98 per cent, so we are a few per cent away from losing these species.

At the same time, he said experts have developed a “remarkable toolkit for conservation” that will allow them to make a real difference, but this is currently not being implemented properly.

Packham has released the first draft of this manifesto ahead of his People’s Walk for Wildlife in London on Saturday.

“There is a growing feeling among the public, a groundswell of frustration, and the manifesto was born of that frustration,” he said.

He compared the immediate aims of the report to the government’s 25-year plan for the environment, which he said set targets too far away in the future.

Among the more controversial suggestions laid out in the manifesto are proposed bans on lead ammunition, snares and scallop trawling. There are also calls for a “rewilding” of a tenth of the UK’s uplands, and the reintroduction of species like lynx and beavers.

A tax on pesticides, which have been blamed for many of the nation’s most catastrophic declines, has already been announced in Denmark, as have major reduction targets for these toxic chemicals.

However, Packham described the manifesto as “overwhelmingly pro-farming”, and emphasised the need to encourage nature-friendly practices across the UK.

In the manifesto, Cumbrian hill farmer James Rebanks says: “Some people think that ‘farmers’ and ‘environmentalists’ are locked in a fight about nature. I don’t. I think if it becomes a fight we all lose. It is time to put egos aside and work together to change things.”

Packham said: “We need to encourage good quality, forward-looking, intelligent farming, and it’s out there, it’s being done – but we need more of it.”

The call comes in the wake of environment secretary Michael Gove announcing his plans to “deliver a Green Brexit” by paying farmers for “public goods” such as curbing flooding and improving access to the countryside.

In response to the “bold manifesto” set out by Packham, Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett said: “Our natural environment isn’t just a nice to have – it is crucial for our food, health and wellbeing.

“It’s time to end the sustained assault on wildlife and put it firmly at the heart of government policy-making where it belongs. This must include a post-Brexit agriculture policy with clear targets and timetables to deliver the greener farming future ministers have promised.

“But we can all play a role by making more space for nature in our homes and workplaces – as well as our towns, cities and countryside.”

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