Around 20 scientists pasted posters on the windows of the Dept of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (@DEFRAGovUK) on Friday morning, and handed letters to staff entering the building.
Leading experts in ecology and conservation science wanted to draw attention to the dramatic collapse in UK species, and the concerns this raises for food security, health and the natural environment.
Around 1000 species are threatened with extinction, including a quarter of mammal species, amongst them hedgehogs, dormice and water voles.
Ecologist Dr Aaron Thierry pointed out that only 14% of English rivers are now classed as healthy for wildlife, and ALL of them have failed to meet quality tests for pollution.
6 out of 10 of the UK’s economically important fish species are overfished and the government has only met 4 out of 15 targets in their Marine Strategy. The population of fresh water wildlife in the UK is just 16% of what it was in 1970.
Ecologist Dr Jeff Waage OBE, who served on the DEFRA Scientific Advisor Committee for several years, told Real Media that Britain is now one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with dramatic decline of animal and plant species, partly due to the destruction of important peatland and ancient woodlands.
In 2010, the UK government signed up to commitments at the Convention on Biological Diversity – the so-called Aichi targets – a ten year plan to address biodiversity decline. It has actually only met 3 out of 20 of those commitments. A government claim that we’re already 26% towards a target to set aside 30% of English land for nature protection by 2030, was exposed as a lie by RSPB experts who rated it as just 5%.
Despite a recent poll showing that a huge majority of UK citizens believe that nature is under threat, demanding more action, the reality is that the government has massively cut funding for the Environment Agency (which provides protection services) and the conservation watchdog Natural England.
The letter delivered to DEFRA on behalf of ScientistsForXR calls on staff to call out the government and demand the powers they need to protect nature. This is in the context of the Retained EU Law Bill currently before Parliament, which seeks to remove 570 environment protection laws in a Brexit bonfire of deregulation. This will give developers and all manner of polluters even more access to exploit already depleted land.
Since the 1980s, our key insect pollinators have declined by a staggering 30%, but the government still permits the use of nicotinoid insecticides, banned across Europe, which are believed to harm bees. Since WWII, we import more and more food as our own food security declines, and without pollination, we lose plants and even more of our own food crops (as well as destroying nature’s food chain).
As several of the scientists mentioned on the day, many of the things we could and should be doing to protect our natural environment will also have positive impacts on our other big existential issue – that of climate change.
Despite around a dozen police turning up to this small peaceful protest, there were no arrests, and because water-soluble chalk spray and paste was used, the windows were cleared and cleaned at the end of the action.