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The next First Minister of Wales needs to show stronger leadership to reverse the decline in nature, according to leading environment organisations.

According to WWF Cymru, Wildlife Trusts Wales and RSPB Cymru, the low priority given to protecting our environment has led to nature being lost – posing a threat to people and wildlife.

Since 1970, 56% of species in the UK have declined. Analysis shows that none of Wales’ natural systems – from coasts to mountains - are truly healthy enough to face threats such as climate change, and 1 in 14 species is at risk of disappearing. The State of Nature 2016 report revealed that Wales is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

The organisations are calling on the next First Minister, due to be sworn in by the Assembly next month, to put Welsh nature ‘at the core of Government’ and set strong targets for nature’s recovery. The new First Minister’s government also needs to recognise that investing in the environment’s health is essential for the prosperity of future generations.

The three groups say that the results of a public survey back up their case.

A poll, commissioned by WWF Cymru and carried out by nfpSynergy earlier this year, shows that:

  • Only 12% of those surveyed agreed that ‘Welsh Government is currently doing enough to protect and restore nature’, with 39% disagreeing.
  • Only 20% agreed that ‘The Welsh Government’s actions put Wales ahead of the rest of the UK in terms of protecting and restoring nature’, with 24% disagreeing.
  • Significantly more people (35%) disagreed that ‘Economic growth in Wales should be the top priority even if the environment suffers’ than those agreeing (26%).

The three organisations say that with strong environmental and sustainable development laws already in place, Carwyn Jones’ successor can show leadership, both across the UK and internationally, but only by making tangible changes.

They have set out a series of asks for the new First Minister, including:

  • Legal targets for nature’s recovery - putting these into law in the same way as Wales’ climate change targets
  • A re-vamped Nature Recovery Action Plan to protect and restore key sites for wildlife
  • Nature in our neighbourhoods – tackle poor health and inequality with green roofs, new parks and more green spaces
  • Investing more in nature, including payments to farmers and other land managers for work that improves the environment, such as restoring meadows and peat bogs.

Rachel Sharp, Chief Executive Officer at Wildlife Trusts Wales, said:

“This is a critical time for nature, every day matters due to the scale and pace of loss. In 2020 Wales will once again fail to reach its international commitment to stop the loss of biodiversity. So, over the next 3 years we will need a clear vision and decisive leadership that will invest time, effort and money, to create a sustainable future. A future that is happier and healthier as nature provides us with space to recharge from our modern lives. But also, a safer future as nature can hold back flood waters and clean our air and water. We all stand to benefit and so committing to natures recovery should be a priority for any new First Minister. “

Sharon Thompson, Head of Policy and Advocacy at RSPB Cymru added:

 “Regardless of our future relationship with the EU, protecting and restoring nature is still an urgent requirement. It is vital that the new First Minister builds on existing environmental standards rather than letting them slip and oversees the establishment of a strong, independent and well-resourced environmental watchdog to ensure these principles and laws are upheld.”

Conservationists say the fragile state of Welsh nature forms part of a global crisis. The recent Living Planet Report revealed that population sizes of wildlife decreased by 60% globally between 1970 and 2014. 

Anne Meikle, Director of WWF Cymru said:

“If we want our children and grandchildren to breathe clean air, see wildflowers and bees and have a safe climate, the time to act is now. The global crisis facing nature needs to be at the top of our next First Minister’s to-do list, with a significant ramping-up of action. We have passed good environmental laws in Wales but, as the public survey results show, these laws have not yet translated into action that has hit home with the public. This is despite the huge potential for Wales to be an international leader on protecting and restoring nature.”

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS:

  1. “Between 1970 and 2013, 56% of species declined, with 40% showing strong or moderate declines.”  https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/documents/conservation-projects/state-of-nature/state-of-nature-uk-report-2016.pdf
  2. “According to the Well-being of Wales report, none of Wales’s ecosystems are fully resilient. SoNaRR highlights that this could limit the ability of ecosystems to provide services and benefits which society relies upon…” https://seneddresearch.blog/2017/10/25/how-resilient-is-wales-findings-from-the-welsh-governments-well-being-of-wales-report/
  3. Of the 5,221 species in Wales that were  assessed using modern Red List criteria,  354 (7%) are thought to be at risk of extinction  from Great Britain. This includes 10% of plants,  5% of invertebrates and 6% of fungi and lichens. https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/documents/conservation-projects/state-of-nature/stateofnature2016_wales_english.pdf
  4. National measures of the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII) provide us with one  way to assess the extent of the loss of nature due to  human activities going back centuries2. It has been  suggested that BII values below 90% indicate that ecosystems may have fallen below the point at which  they can reliably meet society’s needs. Therefore the value  for Wales – 82.8% – gives great cause for concern; of the 218 countries for which BII values have been calculated, Wales is ranked 49th from the bottom. This puts Wales  in the lowest fifth of all the countries analysed. https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/documents/conservation-projects/state-of-nature/stateofnature2016_wales_english.pdf
  5. Source: Celtic Charity Awareness Monitor, May-Jun 18, nfpSynergy, Base: 1,000 adults 16+, Wales
  6. Living Planet Report 2018: https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/living-planet-report-2018