'Nature is 5-0 down – we must fight back' says AONB boss
A CONSERVATIONIST has made an impassioned call for local government to “up its game” to combat a disastrous declines in nature.
Chris Woodley-Stewart sounded a stark warning to councillors who are considering declaring an “ecological emergency” in the region.
He told a Durham County Council meeting: “Were this a football match, we would be 5-0 down. We can and must fight back.”
Mr Woodley-Stewart, director of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership, pointed to the “astronomical” loss in wildlife and “catastrophic” declines in nature.
He said well-known species were slowly “slipping away”.
He told the county council environment scrutiny committee:“There’s been a failure globally, nationally and regionally and a lack of leadership on an epic scale.”
He challenged Durham County Council to be “national leaders” in biodiversity.
“There is unquestionably a catastrophic decline in nature that will come and bite us hard on the backside sooner rather than later.
“We are in a terrible state and everybody thinks so.”
However, he stressed he wanted to balance the “doom and gloom” with inspiring examples of what wildlife trusts and conservation groups have done to tackle the situation.
He said: “There’d be no point in discussing the idea of an ecological emergency, talking to you about decline, if we couldn’t do anything about it.”
He highlighted the improvement of 16,000 hectares of peatland and other projects, such as restoring 12 miles of unique Durham coastline, planting 200,000 trees, tackling river water quality and work on grassland, wetland and hay meadows.
The Durham Wildlife Trust had helped restore forestry and save a species of butterfly from extinction.
The Tees Swale project – “arguably the biggest nature conservation project in the country” – covered 850sq km and was working with 300 farmers, he said.
Mr Woodley-Stewart added: “It is a battle. I absolutely accept that.”
Committee vice-chairman Cllr Jonathan Elmer said a cross-council review was proposed, with an “ecological recovery map” acting as a blueprint on what needs to be done.
Cllr Dan Nicholls added: “You don’t need to convince me that we need to declare an emergency. We absolutely do. What’s in nature’s best interests is almost always in our best interests as well.”
Cllr Chris Lines suggested the crisis could be built into neighbourhood budgets.
He said: “We need hope. It’s a tricky balance to strike.
“It’s vital that we don’t dilute the urgency and the alarm in any declaration but we need to affirm to residents that we really can claw back the 5-0 deficit.”
Cllr Eddy Adam said funding needed to be built in or “these things that we’re talking about here today will not be achieved”.
Councillors were in favour of declaring an ecological emergency.
The committee agreed to send an interim report to the council cabinet in April, then a full report in June.