The former environment secretary has warned it would be a “terrible mistake” for the new government to scrap protections for nature in a dash for economic growth.
George Eustice MP said “the body language” of the new administration has unsettled wildlife groups, and he urged the government to commit to green growth that creates jobs and improves the environment.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, he said: “We will only have sustainable growth if we’re looking after our planet.
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“You are always going to need to have strict protections for species that are vulnerable or endangered. And you’re always going to need to have some strict protections for certain habitats.
“You can’t just turn a blind eye and say: These don’t matter.”
The RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust and other environmental charities are alarmed by the government’s lack of commitment to nature in its growth plans.
They fear regulations that protect plants and animals, and set standards for air and water quality, could disappear or be watered down.
Mr Eustice said while he was in office he had developed an agricultural policy that incentivised farmers to enhance nature, including the use of herbal leys, a mixture of grass and flowering plants that are good for soil, livestock, and wildlife.
“It would be a terrible mistake to abandon that,” he said.
“The way you get growth is by having healthy soils, a healthy environment, and actually embracing some of those regenerative agricultural techniques that our policy was all about encouraging.
“If you abandon that and go back to the sort of 1970s vision of heavy use of pesticides and unsustainable cropping of land, then I think you’re in a bad position both for the resilience of farming financially but also for nature.”
The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. According to the RSPB, 41% of plant and animal species are in decline and 15% are at risk of extinction.
Mr Eustice added that some environmental regulations based on EU directives were “clunky” and didn’t do a proper job in protecting nature.
But they should be simplified, not scrapped.
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He said: “I hope we’re not going to see a reversion to people talking about newts and bats being the problem, because they’re not.
“It is not about nature being the barrier to growth. It’s some of the processes that were set up that were more cumbersome than they needed to be.”
The government said it was committed to reversing the decline in nature by 2030.