Sunday, 23 July 2017

Could Micheal Gove save conservation in the UK?

A little under a year ago I reported on this blog my response to a letter I sent to our new Secretary of the Environment Andrea Leadsom. Twelve months have passed and we now have a new Secretary Michael Gove. I have to admit to rolling my eyes when hearing about his appointment. I work in education and so am familiar with his work, I have also, however, been assured of his razor intellect and ability to focus on important issues.

Farming is Mr Gove's First Target


I had the feeling his appointment was nothing but a political move in order to get a possible ally or enemy into the cabinet to prop up a post election unstable government. I saw him as a stop gap and so decided not to write to him this time. This week, however, I have readjusted my view, could Gove actually achieve something for nature conservation?

Mr Gove made his first speech this week and some of what he said filled me with encouragement. I have talked about my apprehension about the loss of environmental protection during Brexit as well as my hope that this will be a new chance for improvement and this speech seems to suggest that the government might also think this way.

His speech outlined his plans for a ‘green brexit’ and he extolled the virtues farming in partnership with conservation and even commented on his ‘deep regret’ that America has pulled out of the Paris Climate Change Agreements.

The key thrust of Gove’s speech which he reiterated on Radio 4’s Today programme was a need to shift the emphasis of the subsidy programme to farmers. These subsidies come from the EU Common Agricultural Policy. Over the years this scheme has come under fire, yes it helped create some protection for the environment but it also led to problems with the execution of the subsidies where in fact many landowners could be compensated for doing very little.

Gove’s new plans suggest a more rigorous approach to ensure that pays to protect. This harks back to the old adage of the ‘polluter pays principle’. I m not against farming, they truly are the guardians of our countryside but as a total industry, they can be lacking. Farming is a hard job but by offering proper financial incentives to effective measures would be very beneficial. This is the perfect time to restructure the payment structures to link subsidies to the burgeoning field of ecosystem services and whilst I am yet to be fully sold on the commodification of the ecosystem a more focused system can only be good.


Mr Gove’s tenacious nature also bodes well, he pushed through reforms to standards in teaching against the large teaching unions and so his ability to get things done cannot be questioned the actual question is what do we want him to get done? As nature conservationists or concerned parties, we need to get in at the ground form so that other lobbies don’t change the path. Perhaps it is time for us all to write to Mr Gove and encourage him to pursue this ‘green brexit’ vision and to do so with the backing of the science behind.