Environment Secretary speaks at State of Nature report launch

Today Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom spoke at the State of Nature report launch.

The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP

Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, said:

Thank you very much and what a fantastic speech, that was so informative.

It is fantastic to be with so many people here today who have a real passion for our environment.

As we meet to discuss the State of Nature, it’s a great pleasure to have such a real force of nature with us.

So thank you so much, Sir David, for everything you have done to enthuse and inform.

From Life on Earth to the Blue Planet, millions have watched and learned from your unrivalled enthusiasm and knowledge and passion for our environment, so thank you for all that you do.

We certainly know the British people care deeply about our environment.

And as Environment Secretary, I want to be very clear - it is my ambition and it’s my department’s vision to be the first generation to leave our environment better than we found it since the industrial revolution.

That is quite an ambition and we are determined. Thank you for your offer of support and cooperation - gladly taken up. Please be in no doubt that our ambition is very big.

Connecting people with nature, developing a long-term plan for the environment is central to this vision, as is today’s State of Nature report, which sets out both the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

So I want to thank everyone who contributed to this report, from the experts and scientists to the volunteers who turn out in all weathers, to gather the data so vital to this report. We’re so grateful to you.

Turning to the report itself, it shows that action is now more vital than ever.

It brings some very serious issues to our attention, like the decline of pollinators and other insects – creatures that are vital to our ecosystems.

But I am also encouraged by some signs that historic rates of decline are slowing - with some species even making some pretty remarkable recoveries.

The report’s detailed case studies show how we can work together to make a genuine difference. It highlights some recent collaborations to restore grassland and woodland, and create more wetland – leading to the recovery of species like the lesser horseshoe bat.

But with three quarters of our landmass farmed, how we manage our farmland is key to tackling the challenges we see in this report.

It is clear our wildlife still feels the impact today from the significant changes we saw in the 1970s and 1980s in the way that land was managed and used.

But we are making progress. Investment and working in partnership is delivering improvements, with careful management helping to turn around the fortunes of birds like the tree sparrow, cirl bunting and stone curlew.

Farmers have reduced agricultural run-off and other pollution to ensure, for example, that our iconic chalk streams continue to provide their rare and valuable habitats. Much of this has been achieved through support from environmental schemes like Catchment Sensitive Farming.

We must now continue to work with farmers and environmental organisations, learning from their experience and their expertise, to secure further improvements to our habitats and wildlife.

And as many of you know, we want to develop an ambitious 25 year plan for the environment - far longer than most of the political timescales that we see. We want a truly long term vision that builds on some of these successes and sets the direction for future policy.

On Monday I held a round table with many organisations in this room today to discuss the opportunities as well as the challenges that lie ahead as we leave the EU.

It was a valuable discussion and I look forward to hearing more from all of you in the coming months – either by email, face-to-face or via the consultations we have planned.

To help build our 25 year plan, we will soon publish a framework setting out a new game-changing approach to managing the environment in to the future.

To get this right your help and involvement will be crucial so that we can protect and improve our environment for future generations.

Connecting people with the environment

The State of Nature report starkly sets out the scale of the challenge of connecting people with nature.

I personally have lovely memories of family holidays as a child in a narrow boat on the Midlands canal. We would leave our watches at home and tell the time by the sun or, perhaps more frequently, by how hungry we were.

It’s still a real thrill to be out on a river or a canal, some of our finest wildlife corridors, just watching nature drift by.

We need to make sure everyone has the chance to appreciate the wonders of nature, no matter where they come from.

It is pretty shocking to hear that in the past year one in nine children has never visited a green space. Yet we know two thirds of people live within 30 minutes of a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

We must protect our iconic landscapes, but also encourage people to appreciate and care about their environment.

I think our National Parks plan, launched earlier this year, is a good example of good practice. It outlines how we will protect and enhance these national treasures by encouraging volunteering, school trips and of course offering apprenticeships.

We’re also giving millions of schoolchildren across England the chance to learn about nature – working with the Woodland Trust also to give free trees to schools.

But our environment is not just limited to beautiful landscapes and coastlines – it’s everything we do when we leave our homes.

This summer we have seen how a Pokémon is just as likely to bring someone to a park as a school trip.

That is why we’re working to explore how to bring nature back into the daily lives of British people and our Pocket Parks initiative will provide much more green space for people to enjoy, even in our city centres.

Delivering locally and globally

To help communities connect with their local environment, we must give people more responsibility and a bigger role in decision making.

We want to put local communities at the heart of environmental decisions, making sure we take account of natural systems such as river catchments and landscapes, as well as strong local partnerships.

Given that the UK Overseas Territories are home to over 200 endangered species under our care, it is vital that we show leadership both at home and on the international stage.

Our Darwin Initiative has already supported nearly 1,000 vital projects to help us protect natural resources across the globe.

Starting with the Pitcairn and Ascension Islands, we are working to build a Blue Belt of Marine Protected Areas around our Overseas Territories, whose seas contain some of our rarest and most important species.

And I am determined that we will continue to show global leadership on issues such as tackling the illegal wildlife trade and of course, combatting climate change.

A bespoke regulatory framework

To do all of this, we must consider the most effective way to regulate our environment.

I think we have shown that we are determined to take action to protect the environment – announcing just recently our intention to ban the use of microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products.

And of course, the latest figures showing that the 5p plastic bag charge has already led to six billion fewer bags being handed out. That means fewer plastic bags littering our verges, impacting on wildlife or getting into our rivers and seas.

Following our decision to leave the EU, we now have a unique opportunity to develop a set of policies tailored to the needs of the UK, our species and our habitats.

Natural capital will lie at the heart of this and I was pleased to see it was given such prominence in your report.

Incentivising and financing improvements

We must also explore innovative ways of funding to encourage better decision making.

So by incorporating the value of natural capital into decisions, we can better protect our environment by using resources more efficiently.

We will soon be publishing the results of our ‘Payments for Ecosystems Services’ pilot projects.

These land and natural environment management schemes offer new ways of funding projects and are increasingly recognised as being essential for sustainable economic growth, prosperous communities and promoting peoples’ wellbeing.

Our work with the RSPB on an “Energy for Nature” scheme in Somerset is a good example. This project converts surplus biomass from wetland conservation to bio-energy products.

Instead of paying people to remove cut reeds or simply burning them, now they are being used to produce bio-energy, and helping to fund the management of the nature reserve.

I want to see more of this new thinking. I want to encourage enterprise whilst making it easier to fund environmental protection.

The decision to leave the EU also means, of course, that we have the opportunity to look again at the ways we work with farmers and landowners to improve our environment.

Providing data and tools

To make good decisions, we must have good data, so I am pleased to see the State of Nature report sharing this conclusion.

Over the last year, Defra has been at the vanguard of the open data revolution, publishing over 12,000 datasets for anyone to use and share.

New data and technology mean we can monitor the environment more effectively and provide real time benefits to the public.

This means communities can identify sites of special biodiversity on the land or in the sea; they can find the best beaches, the cleanest water; they can even test for the presence of Great Crested Newts.

I want us to maintain this forward-looking approach, using data and new technology to tackle old problems in innovative ways.


So, in conclusion, today’s report is an important reminder that we have achieved some things, but there is much still to do.

I’m so grateful to all of you who have contributed to the State of Nature Report.

We have truly ambitious plans to transform our approach to the environment and we now have a new opportunity to do just that.

But it is only through working together that we can make sure our environment is protected and improved for generations to come.

Thank you very much and good luck to us all.

Published 14 September 2016