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National Trust: Government going in ‘opposite direction’ to protecting nature

The RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust have criticised the Government over some of its proposed policies (Alamy/PA)
The RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust have criticised the Government over some of its proposed policies (Alamy/PA)

The National Trust has criticised the Government for going in the “opposite direction” to supporting the environment with policies laid out in the mini-budget.

The charity joins several organisations which have criticised the Government over its planned policy announced by Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng on Friday.

This includes proposals for 38 investment zones – areas in England where the Government will loosen planning rules in order to release more land for commercial and housing developments.

Conservationists have expressed concern that there are no provisions in the policy to safeguard environmental assessments in the planning process.

Hilary McGrady, director general of the National Trust, said on Sunday that the investment zones “represent a free-for-all for nature and heritage”.

“We are at a crucial moment for our natural environment,” she said. “Nature is in decline and we need bold action on climate change.”

Ms McGrady said the concerns are also shared by the public as “poll upon poll” show support for further ambition on net zero and nature.

“Rather than ramp up action to support our environment, this Government appears however to be heading in the opposite direction,” she said.

“Environmental protections are dismissed as ‘burdens’, whilst investment and growth are pitted against nature and climate action.

“The new investment zones represent a free-for-all for nature and heritage, yet we know that green spaces and beauty are vital to attract investment and for a good quality of life.”

Ms McGrady also criticised rumoured plans to return to EU-style land subsidies, saying it would “fatally undermine improvements to the nature, soil and water upon which sustainable food production depends.

It comes after the RSPB accused the Government of launching an “attack on nature” with its mini-budget and the proposed investment zones.

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) chief executive Beccy Speight also expressed concern that the Government does not plan to keep EU laws protecting wildlife, rivers, clean air and food standards after unveiling its Retained EU Law Bill.

Another point of concern for the RSPB is the suggestion that environment land management schemes, introduced to ensure the natural environment is protected on farmlands, will be rolled back, Ms Speight 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 said.

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

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, also called the mini-budget a “catastrophe” for the environment.

“Environmental organisations were concerned that vital nature protections would be lost through Brexit but we were told all would be fine,” he said.

“Instead we have a catastrophe.

“Farming reform was supposed to be the silver lining but now the Government looks set to renege on that too.”

Replying to the conservation organisations on Twitter, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) dismissed claims the Government is attacking nature.

“We have a plan for economic growth. It is not true to claim we are attacking nature nor going back on our commitments,” it tweeted.

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

On concerns over the environmental land management schemes, a Defra spokesman added: “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 spokesman added: “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.

“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.”