NEIL PARISH IS THE CONSERVATIVE MP FOR TIVERTON AND HONITON

In the West Country, we have a deep-rooted connection to nature. The rich natural capital around us helps supply jobs, food and leisure. But nature is in decline, and this loss of biodiversity poses a real threat to our way of life. Urgent action is needed, both nationally and internationally, to grasp the nettle and help restore nature to a more sustainable footing.

Worryingly, increasing numbers of animal and plant species are disappearing from our countryside and coastal waters. According to DEFRA, woodland bird species, for example, have declined by 31% since 1970, while the habitats on which they thrive (including broadleaf woodland and hedgerows) have diminished by 18% since as recently as 2015.

The State of Nature Report 2019 indicates 2% of species within the UK have already gone extinct and an estimated 15% of Britain’s native species are currently under threat.

This loss of biodiversity not only endangers the viability of ecosystems, but has lasting repercussions for our climate, food supply and health. The decline is unsustainable, and the Prime Minister agrees. Last week, he announced the UK has now successfully protected more than 4.3 million square kilometres of the world’s ocean, preventing overfishing and pollution. This landmark helps propel us towards our global ambition to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. And at home, we want to protect 30% of our land too.

Neil Parish with stacks of his votes behind him

It won’t be easy, and as Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, I want to make sure these policies are practical, fair and effective, rather than just soundbites.

Take tree planting. The Government has committed to plant 30,000 hectares by 2025. Woodland creation is a key driver of nature renewal, as well as a great way to offset carbon emissions and tackle climate change. However, a nuanced approach is required. Local habitats are delicate entities and so is our society when it comes to land use. Our new Tree Planting and Woodlands inquiry will help shine a light on how best to reach these ambitious targets, which for many reasons, have historically been missed.

Not only must we ensure the right trees are planted in the right places, we need to stop deforestation too. Reforestation isn’t barking up the wrong tree, but on carbon, it is far less effective at reducing emissions than preventing trees being felled in the Amazon.

That’s why I am delighted, as part of the Government’s landmark Environment Bill, we are legislating to ban large UK companies from using products that come from unlawful deforestation, whether it is in Brazil or Borneo. The power of the UK consumer can help drive international change.

Next year, we are hosting the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. Implementable and measurable targets will need to be the focus of the climate conference, and the UK must continue to lead from the front. The restoration of nature cannot be kicked into the long grass. With international cooperation and localised planning, we can halt and reverse biodiversity loss. I look forward to working with the Government on this issue as we approach COP26.





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