The chair of the Tory environment select committee has been urged to resign due to their connections with a lobby group.
The chair of the environment select committee from the Conservative party has been advised to step down after it was uncovered by the Guardian that he is also the chair of a group that supports nature policies that have been deemed “destructive and dangerous” by opponents.
Sir Robert Goodwill, who chairs the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) select committee (Efra), is tasked with holding the environment secretary to account on nature and environmental targets. He became chair of the committee after his predecessor, Neil Parish, resigned after a pornography scandal.
Unfortunately, Goodwill has taken on the role of chairman for a newly formed conservative organization called Conservative Friends of the Countryside. This group is advocating for various policies, such as preventing the reintroduction of beavers, maintaining the practice of burning peatlands, allowing the use of neonicotinoid pesticides that harm bees, and opposing a ban on importing hunting trophies from endangered species.
After Boris Johnson resigned as prime minister, the government has reduced its efforts towards nature conservation, such as releasing beavers and discontinuing the badger cull, due to pressure from MPs. The recent ban on burning vegetation on deep peat, which is crucial for storing carbon in the UK, has been met with criticism for containing too many exceptions. This is because landowners and MPs influenced its weakening.
The Conservative Friends of the Countryside group is made up of various members, such as Sir Bill Wiggin, who represents North Herefordshire in Parliament. Sir Bill has publicly opposed restrictions on foxhunting, labeling them as a form of “class conflict.” Another member is Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who represents the Cotswolds and is known for his advocacy of shooting sports. He also serves as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for shooting and conservation.
Amanda Anderson, a rural public relations expert, and George Bowyer, former leader of the Fitzwilliam Hunt and chair of Vote-OK, a group advocating for the repeal of the foxhunting ban, are also members of the committee. Anderson has been a vocal advocate against the prohibition of peatland burning.
Caroline Lucas, Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion representing the Green Party, demanded that Goodwill step down from either the group or the committee.
The Guardian was informed by her that this particular group is not so much supporters of rural areas as they are supporters of the wealthy hunting, shooting, and landowning class. The group’s harmful and risky set of proposals will harm farming, jeopardize animal welfare, and contaminate our environment.
I am shocked that the leader of the Efra committee, whose responsibility is to examine the progress of ministers and the government in enhancing our environment, is connected to destructive policies. If he refuses to distance himself from this group, he should not be a part of the select committee.
Certain environmentally-conscious members of the Conservative party are disagreeing with the goals of a recently formed coalition. Lorraine Platt, founder of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, stated: “Our organization does not endorse initiatives that involve halting the release of beavers, continuing peat burning, or allowing imports of trophy hunting, as we believe these actions have the potential to harm rather than preserve our natural world and its creatures.”
“We endorse the 2019 manifesto of the Conservative government, which contains numerous groundbreaking initiatives for animal welfare and also calls for a ban on importing trophies from hunting.”
The organization has faced criticism from charities focused on nature. Beccy Speight, CEO of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, stated that decision makers in Westminster must not ignore the large number of nature enthusiasts in the UK who are demanding immediate action to address this decline, as well as the scientific evidence presented by their own advisors advocating for stronger environmental protections. These efforts are necessary to meet the government’s legal targets to stop declines and work towards restoring our natural world.
Goodwill clarified that there is no problem with simultaneously leading the select committee and the campaign group, stating that his committee is comprised of members from various political parties. He also noted that unlike being in the cabinet, where there is a shared responsibility, individuals on the committee may hold differing opinions.
He stated that the group’s goal was to enhance the environment using their years of hands-on experience in managing rural areas. The focus is on being an ally to the countryside, rather than an adversary, and avoiding any unintentional harm caused by government policies. The Greens may not always comprehend the proper methods of managing the countryside in a way that benefits endangered species.
According to Goodwill, setting fire to the plant life on peat creates a crucial environment for endangered birds and helps prevent the spread of wildfires that can damage the deep layers of peat, which serve as a significant source of carbon storage. He also expressed support for the release of beavers, but emphasized the importance of having a management plan in place to address potential flooding and provide compensation for farmers affected by beaver activity.
He expressed concern that individuals may release beavers that could potentially escape, and there is no strategy in place to manage any issues that may arise as a result.