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House of Commons Hansard
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21 February 2019
Volume 654

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8. What recent steps he has taken to tackle species decline. [909371]

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We have undertaken activities to improve biodiversity through nature conservation sites, where we are looking to restore and create wildlife-rich habitats and support species recovery. Internationally, we have various programmes to tackle species decline in our overseas territories, particularly supported by the Darwin Initiative, and last year we introduced what is effectively one of the toughest bans in the world on the sale of ivory, which we believe will do a lot to preserve species such as elephants and rhinoceroses.

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I thank the Minister for that answer, and I am sure she is as concerned as I am about the recent report on the decline in insect species. What action is being taken to address the increasing fragmentation of our landscape, which means that pollinator species are left isolated and unable to move between areas?

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I think it fair to say that the wildlife corridors we are seeking to extend—some projects, future environmental management pilots, are already under way—give us cause for hope. We have taken effective action —for example, with the restrictions on the neonicotinoids. We need to follow the science and the evidence, and do what it takes to keep pollinators alive and buzzing.

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Insect decline will be cataclysmic. Do we have a comprehensive plan?

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I have tried to outline the different activities we are already taking and what is being planned. The year 2020 will be key. We have the convention for biodiversity, and we are already in consultation with other countries around the world on how we can tackle this global challenge.

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Hon. Members are absolutely right to raise the issue of insect decline, but it is not just about insects. We know there have been huge declines in many birds and mammals, too. I am sure that like myself, Mr Speaker, as a child you enjoyed grubbing around for grass snakes and slowworms.

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Indeed.

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It is now much harder for new generations to do that. How will the draft environment Bill, which has been roundly condemned as toothless, ensure that this appalling ecological meltdown will be properly tackled?

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Alongside the draft clauses we presented on governance in the Bill, we also published a policy paper. I am sure the hon. Lady will recognise that several of the items outlined in it will help us towards tackling the issue. This will be about a shift away from the common agricultural policy, where farmers are in effect just being rewarded for land ownership, and moving towards paying for ecosystem services. I believe that that will benefit all the different species to which she refers.

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That is all very well, but another huge concern are the cuts to Natural England. Grants to Natural England have been cut by nearly half, and we now hear that there may well be further cuts of between £3.5 million and £8 million over the next year. How can that be justified?

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The hon. Lady will recognise that the Government took a view in 2010 that we had to balance the books after the record deficit from the last Labour Government. There was a realignment of what needed to be done on Government funding. I believe that Natural England has the resources it needs to undertake its role. Natural England will continue to focus on what is best for preserving the environment in England.