Have you noticed that ecology and economy have the same root? Eco is from Oikos, the Greek for ‘home’. Hence ecology is the study of home, and economics is the management of it. The two are inextricably linked. As political parties jostle for pre-election position, I want to know what they’re going to do about the real eco-nomy?
The RSPB recently launched a campaign to push environmental issues up the political agenda, asking us to ‘Vote for Bob’, a chirpy red squirrel. Bob isn’t really a squirrel. Bob is a lapwing. Bob is any native bird you care to mention. Bob is a badger. Bob is habitat. Bob is the planet. Bob wants you to use your vote in 2015 to show you care. By all means, support Bob, because your voice counts. But let’s not pretend that would be job done.
As any campaigner will tell you, nothing gets your view across better than direct communication – be it a letter, an email, or a personal challenge to the candidate on your doorstep. Prospective MPs don’t come to my door – we’re off the beaten track. But this time I’ll be seeking them out. We should all do so, because we all know things they don’t, and understand things they prefer to ignore.
The Infrastructure Bill passing the Lords this summer was ostensibly about planning. But it included other new legislation, some of it highly damaging to conservation, including reassigning any species ‘not ordinarily and naturally resident in or visiting the UK’ as nonnative. These include European beavers, whose controlled reintroduction the People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) among others has supported for years, and other extinct natives such as lynx. It also includes re-established and naturalised species on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act – red kites, large blue butterflies, capercaillie, common cranes, wild boar, little owls, white-tailed eagles, brown hares, cornflowers and corncockles, choughs, corncrakes – even barn owls. Native vs non-native is a hot topic in conservation circles, but it’s a question as artificial as national borders. Worryingly, a host of ecologically and culturally important species could find themselves unprotected – or even subject to legal eradication efforts. An outrageous prospect.
Environmental lawmaking should be about ecology, not economics. At its most asinine, the law can protect badgers with one arm, and shoot them (badly, as it turns out) with the other. It can flip the status of the common pheasant from non-native livestock at hatching to wild (read ‘native’ for purposes of the Infrastructure Bill) so that it can be set free with millions of others into specially managed woodland and, come 1st October, shot. If sheep broke into your garden and wrecked it, the farmer would be liable. If pheasants do the same, well sorry, they are ‘wild’ animals. However once dead, they deftly metamorphose into livestock again to smooth the sale and export pathways
for their meat. Those that escape the guns are also reclassified, just in time to be rounded up for breeding. This legal shapeshifting has nothing to do with ecology, and everything to do with stakeholder interests. Policy is powerful. It can, and will reassign the value placed on our wildlife – unless we make our informed opinions clear.
I’m not naïve enough to suggest politics hasn’t always been rife with vested interest. On the plus side, we have freedom to point this out, and social media gives us a previously unimaginable power to challenge. A government of any colour should also be green – so it’s not about who is elected, it’s about ensuring they all pay heed. I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone how to vote. But I do dream about ordinary people like me confronting policymakers with the evidence and insisting they act on it. I dream that we really are a nation of animal lovers and I dream that educated common sense will prevail in the future eco-nomics of our island home.
This article is published as a Frontline feature in the October 2014 edition of Wildlife World magazine, published by the People's Trust for Endangered Species http://ptes.org/
Find out how you can support Bob here https://www.voteforbob.co.uk/