It can be a struggle for councillors to get motions passed on their respective councils, but the difficulties for the Forest of Dean Green Party’s Biodiversity Emergency motion began just in getting the motion heard at all.
It was deferred from the December Full Council meeting, which unfortunately fell during the general election, after the returning officer decided that debating might become political. At the next opportunity, last week (20 February), it came after the budget on the agenda, so the chances of ever getting to it were slim.
A few hardy members of the public who came to support it, including two little girls, sat through over two hours of debate on the budget, awaiting the moment for the motion to be heard. Unfortunately, the little girls had to go home to bed just before that moment came!
Of course, we were criticised for crying ‘emergency’. But in the last few years the scale of collapse in biodiversity has been well documented. Particularly dire for us as a species is the reduction in insects, especially pollinators. As Cllr Sid Phelps pointed out at the meeting, we rely on biodiversity in the natural world for food and in other ways and its demise is ultimately our own.
One in seven UK species is now at risk of extinction. Since the 1930s, 97 per cent of the UK’s ancient wildflower meadows have been destroyed. There’s been a 76 per cent decline in flying insects since 1990 and pollinators, such as bees, are particularly struggling.
Of course, climate change is adding further pressure on biodiversity and loss of biodiversity is helping to drive climate change, so the two are inextricably linked.
Predictably opposition members attacked the motion, in the same breath accusing it of trying to do too much and not trying to do enough. Not wanting to be seen to be against biodiversity, they proposed an amendment that would have removed most of the action points. After this had been narrowly defeated, the motion was carried by a good majority.
Forest of Dean District Council has now agreed that it will:
Incorporate protection, promotion and connection of biodiversity into the council’s priorities and identify biodiversity in the key performance indicators of the Corporate Plan;
Critically evaluate the ecological impacts of all strategic policies or major decisions at full council;
Draw up a coherent habitat connectivity framework for the district with partners to support habitat restoration, connectivity and climate change resilience and will use the framework in decision making to drive its implementation wherever possible;
Follow the principles of sustainable development and ensure that council projects or initiatives deliver net biodiversity gains;
Actively promote the safeguarding and improvement of the natural environment;
Ensure biodiversity mitigation proposals are joined up, effective and deliver net biodiversity gains;
Monitor progress in achieving a net gain in biodiversity and in connecting wildlife habitats; and
Work with other councils and organisations (both within the District, UK and internationally) to determine and implement best practice methods.
Like most local authorities, Forest of Dean District Council is facing a ‘financial challenge’. The motion was carefully worked out not to commit scarce resources and therefore detail and timeframes were not included. Now work begins to devise an action plan. Engaging with the local community will be key to getting the most benefit from the resources available.
Connecting wildlife habitats is a key aim. The District Council, with its district-wide remit, is ideally placed to draw up the ‘coherent habitat connectivity framework’ mentioned. We have been accused of pulling off a PR stunt. But, like the climate, this really is an emergency.
Nicky Packer is a Green Party councillor for the Newnham ward on Forest of Dean District Council.