Somerset Wildlife Trust is deeply concerned at proposals put forward by Somerset County Council (SCC) to cease all work on the natural environment, as part of addressing the budget crisis facing County Hall.
At last Monday’s (Nov 1) SCC Cabinet meeting, the Trust was unsuccessful in a plea to councillors to reconsider plans for axing spending on the natural environment. The Medium Term Financial Plan, which was unanimously signed off by the Cabinet members, includes a proposal to cease work not only on the natural environment, but also renewable energy and sustainable development within the Environment Directorate.
Somerset County Council’s budget for the natural environment is currently around £260,000, almost half that of any other county local authority in the South West. However, their Countryside Team has had success with securing conservation project funding from external sources. Environmental projects that Somerset County Council are currently working on in partnership with other organisations such as Somerset Wildlife Trust, include a £1 million European funded wetlands scheme, and a £250,000 coastal project paid for by Defra. Over recent years, the County Council’s Landscape and Biodiversity Grant Scheme has contributed to grass-roots conservation projects in Somerset communities, enabling people to benefit from a greener community.
Our Team Says
“We appreciate that in these difficult economic times, spending must be carefully reviewed, but Somerset’s environment is not an optional luxury,” said Lisa Schneidau, Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Director of Conservation. “Our wildlife-rich landscapes are important to Somerset’s economy and to local people’s health and well-being.”
Simon Nash, Chief Executive at the Trust continued: “Given that this coalition Government claims to be the greenest Government ever, we find 100 per cent local spending cuts on the natural environment confounding. It is hard to see how Somerset County Council will be able to fulfil even their basic legal obligations on biodiversity, let alone deliver the Government’s green agenda locally, when the Cabinet has unilaterally voted to eliminate work on protecting and restoring Somerset’s environment.
“In the Medium Term Financial Plan, the council states that maintenance is cheaper than repair they are referring to roads, but the same is absolutely true for the natural environment. We are asking the council to reconsider their approach to the environment and defend the wildlife-rich landscapes that are so important to Somerset’s economy and people’s health and well-being.
“Somerset Wildlife Trust’s 21,000 members would like a commitment from Somerset County Council that it takes its environmental responsibilities seriously, and that it is prepared to show some environmental leadership.”
The announced cuts to Somerset’s natural environment come a week after the close of the UN Biodiversity Summit in Nagoya, at which Governments from across the world discussed the substantial economic value of nature, and committed themselves to new targets for conserving and restoring the natural environment.