The axe that was due to fall on Somerset County Council’s ecology, nature conservation and countryside staff has been temporarily stopped mid-swing.
Following the release of Somerset County Council’s Mid Term Financial Plan (MTFP) which proposed swinging cuts which would have had serious implications for our natural environment, The Somerset Local Nature Partnership has been calling for a reconsideration of the plan.
The Somerset Local Nature Partnership (SLNP), represents a wide range of organisations and individuals, including Somerset Wildlife Trust and RSPB. Thanks to the efforts of our members and the public in writing to their County Councillors and emailing our office in their droves, a series of amendments were made to the MTFP which significantly reduce the scale of environmental cuts. These changes were tabled by the Council and endorsed by the Cabinet members during their meeting on Wednesday 6th February. Furthermore in a statement to the public and Councillors at the meeting, Councillor David Hall who has political responsibility for the environment services, made a commitment to work with Somerset Wildlife Trust and other organisations to develop and deliver a vision and strategy for our county’s natural environment.
Key nature conservation staff retained
The amendments to the MTFP will see key nature conservation staff retained, which will enable Somerset County Council to deliver its statutory services and continue to work with partner organisations on the development of new initiatives for nature. Somerset Wildlife Trust will now work with the Council during 2013 to create a clear plan for the Council to continue delivering natural environment services.
This positive outcome has been the result of strong, sustained public support for our work from our members and Somerset’s residents. The number of letters, calls, emails and tweets we and Somerset’s elected members have received asking the Council to reconsider their proposals attests to the strength of feeling Somerset citizens have for their natural world. It was thanks to the efforts of everyone who wrote, called and emailed their Councillors, chatted about the cuts with friends and neighbours, or spread the news via social media, that Somerset County Council were willing discuss and consider a better way forward.
Whilst we are pleased with this initial outcome, there is still work to do. We need to address the key issue underlying the original proposals: the lack of understanding and appreciation for nature’s role in keeping Somerset a healthy, vibrant, successful and special place to live, work and play. Somerset’s natural environment benefits society, and supports and generates economic activity in this rural part of England. It is critical that we don’t take this for granted and abandon nature now. For this reason we will work with Council leaders to plan better action for nature. We will also maintain our campaigning efforts and ensure that nature is embedded at the heart of planning and decision making in the County for the benefit of our economy, our health, and our environment.
Write to your Councillor before Feb 20
All of Somerset’s County Councillors will meet on 20th February to ratify the MTFP, and therefore there is still an opportunity to influence what happens for nature from here on in. We are asking our members and the public to write to their County Councillor a second time, asking them to think about what the natural environment means for our county and communities, and to pledge their support for nature at the Council meeting on the 20th. With the backing of all our County Councillors we can really start to get nature where it belongs at the heart of thinking about Somerset.
Thank you for standing up for nature with us - your voice has made a difference.
You can read more about our campaign on the news pages.
Photo: Wild daffodil © Bob Hastie