Almost a year has now passed since the striking and sobering images of mountains of plastic, choking the world’s seas and oceans, were first broadcast onto our television screens in Sir David Attenborough’s peerless Blue Planet II. In the intervening months, public awareness of, and anger towards, humankind’s disproportionately heavy footprint on the planet has rightly skyrocketed.
Whether it is the rampant felling of tropical rainforests to make way for cattle ranching, the unrelenting poaching of charismatic megafauna to be turned into trinkets or ‘medicine’, or the emptying of the world’s oceans of fish (only to replace them with plastic bottles and netting), ecosystems around the world are under threat – in many instances like never before.
It is with this sombre reality in mind that Bright Blue publishes Conservation nation: protecting and restoring the natural world - an extensive, though by no means exhaustive, collection of essays, each written by experts in their fields on some of the most pressing issues facing both domestic and global nature.
Yet, rather than getting bogged down purely on the depressing realities of the oft degraded state of habitats the world over, Conservation nation seeks to present credible and actionable policy solutions which could be adopted by the current UK Government to better protect and restore the natural world, for which we are all custodians of.
The ambition of some of the proposals put forward by individual essay authors is admirable. Domestically, we see demands for a more environmentally harmonious agricultural policy, and calls for a transition towards an ecologically sustainable quota-based system of fisheries management, once Britain leaves the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy respectively.
Further afield, numerous contributors emphasise the role which the UK Government could play on the international scene – for example, driving up environmental standards in the new free trade agreements which Britain can hope to be signing after Brexit, and using its privileged position and soft power to influence the World Trade Organisation to ban fishing subsidies which contribute to the degradation of marine habitats.
Another crucial objective of the essay collection is to exemplify the need and scope for the Government to radically rethink how it approaches the natural conservation agenda. Whilst the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP’s own Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will quite obviously be a critical actor in the fight for a more environmentally resilient world, so too will the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP’s Department for International Development, amongst others. Indeed, one of the most striking things which the collection demonstrates is just how many different government departments and agencies come into contact with the natural world in some way or another. For the conservation of nature to be genuinely successful, collaboration across the entirety of government will be of paramount importance – no single minister or department can be expected to shoulder the task alone.
As previously mentioned, this essay collection does not claim to be a comprehensive account of every environmental challenge with which the world is currently faced. Rather, it is to be viewed as another call to arms for nature conservation (particularly within conservative circles), a foundation for further policy formulation which Bright Blue will be conducting over the coming months, and a bid to move nature conservation away from being a relatively niche issue addressed by one or two departments of state, to one that is embraced and advanced systematically across the whole of government.
Eamonn Ives is a Researcher at Bright Blue and co-editor of Conservation nation, which can be found here.