The first of many?

Laura White
Laura White

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good old rant in the Green Issues column. Many of you probably breathed a sigh of relief! There have been lots of other things going on, to be fair, and although Green Issues is always important, sometimes one’s brain only has so much space left to process things.

So, Brexit. We all wondered what that would look like. Would the Government get the deal they wanted? Would they get a deal at all? What would happen with the political promises to the public? A deal was struck at the last minute, and Mr Johnson gave in on the sticking point of fishing. He wanted a 75% reduction in foreign fishing vessels in our seas; he ended up with 25%. But the deal went through which must be better than no deal at all.

We’ve been out of the EU for about two weeks and, surprise surprise, reports are already coming through of the Government backtracking on their promises. The first to arise was the news that Mr Johnson had promised to ban supertrawlers from our seas. Supertrawlers are huge boats, more than 100 metres long, with nets that stretch out for up to a mile.

These nets catch indiscriminately and have been blamed for the deaths of many dolphins, seals and porpoises. They can catch hundreds of tonnes of marine life every day, leading to unsustainable levels
of stock and the destruction of huge areas of marine habitat.

Although the UK has special areas of the ocean that are protected, and plans to implement more areas in the coming months and years, it seems that these areas exist only on paper and it is now emerging that although our Government can ban certain types of fishing, it cannot ban the vessels. A few days ago, Mr Johnson said: “We will be able to ban these huge hoover trawlers that come in and hoover everything off the bottom of the sea.” However, it now appears that we can’t.

The Independent reported that Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard had said: “We shouldn’t have any supertrawlers in British waters at all. The Government voted against a Labour amendment to ban them from protected areas, even though they’re hugely environmentally damaging. They land all their catches abroad so there’s not UK PLC interest in them so why is the Government protecting them?”

Just two days ago, at time of writing, The Express reported that: “A Government source said: ‘Crucially, there is no formal definition of what a supertrawler is. Marine Protected Areas are set up to protect specific seabed habitats and species. MPAs usually aren’t a suitable conservation mechanism for the highly mobile fish that supertrawlers are catching. Measures that will work to protect those fish need to apply across their full range, such as quotas’.”

And if that isn’t bad enough, all the hard work, tears, sweat and energy that many hundreds of people have given up over the past few years has been swiped away in one foul move. Many have worked tirelessly (and in many countries continue to do so) to ban bee and insect killing pesticides. In 2018, a breakthrough occurred when the EU widened the ban on neonicotinoids – highly harmful pesticides that have been proven to have huge detrimental effects on pollinating insects. Our Government reassured us that once we had left the EU, that ban would continue to be upheld. Again, less than two weeks later, Defra have confirmed that they have authorised the use of these pesticides ‘for emergency use’ on sugar beet because of a virus that is harming the crop.

The Guardian reported: “Matt Shardlow, the chief executive of the invertebrate conservation group Buglife, said it was an ‘environmentally regressive’ decision that would destroy wildflowers and add to an ‘onslaught’ on insects.

‘In addition, no action is proposed to prevent the pollution of rivers with insecticides applied to sugar beet,” he said. “Nothing has changed scientifically since the decision to ban neonics from use on sugar beet in 2018. They are still going to harm the environment.”’

Defra have defended the decision, saying that emergency use is just that – a last minute, no more options tool and the pesticide will be limited to the sugar beet crop which is non-flowering and therefore the risk to flora in margins is minimised.

Seeing as Michael Gove has been quoted as saying (and I paraphrase here) that there really shouldn’t ever be any reason to use such destructive chemicals, and we ‘cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk’, I ask you; how many more political promises will end up in the slurry tank?

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