Young environmentalists join National Trust in direct appeal to new Environment Secretary: ‘Act now before it’s too late’

Press release
Young environmentalists with Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust and Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State at Countryfile Live.
Published : 31 Jul 2019 Last update : 02 Aug 2019

The head of the National Trust is today joined by young environmentalists in making a direct appeal to the incoming Environment Secretary to set up an independent watchdog to protect the natural world for future generations.

In her first major public engagement since being appointed a week ago, Theresa Villiers will be quizzed on how the Government will tackle some of the biggest issues facing the next generation.

Climate change, reversing the drastic decline of wildlife, protecting and nurturing habitats as well as ensuring rivers and coastline are pollution-free are among the biggest concerns.

Currently, EU institutions hold the Government to account and can issue fines if commitments or standards are not being met.

This scrutiny disappears once we leave the bloc - prompting the Trust to call for a fully independent watchdog with the teeth to hold government to account to be set up as an urgent replacement.

The charity’s Director General Hilary McGrady will today share a stage with Ms Villiers at BBC Countryfile Live, where she will call for clarity on Government commitments.

Speaking before the event, Ms McGrady said: “Not all children and young people growing up today are lucky enough to have the access to open, green and nature-rich spaces that I had as a child.

“About 13 per cent of children don’t spend any of their free time outdoors.

“Another 17 per cent spend just a few hours every month playing outside.

“There are some places in this country where families dread the summer holidays because they don’t have access to decent outdoor places that are safe and healthy.

“Everyone needs access to nature as part of their basic wellbeing; and nature needs everyone to take care of it – we need real leadership from our government on the natural environment for the sake of today’s children and future generations.”

And in a direct challenge to the new Secretary of State, she will add: “The new Environment Bill and Agriculture Bills are the single most important pieces of legislation your department will draft for a generation.

“We welcomed the significant progress that was made by Michael Gove over the past three years, and the clear intent to put nature, the environment and our response to the climate emergency at the heart of Government policy. These signals have won overwhelming public support but I can’t recall any incoming Secretary of State enjoying a clearer public mandate and enthusiasm for action.

“And there is so much more to do if we are to reverse the catastrophic decline in nature. Action from the highest levels of Government needs to start now.

“Without the urgent passing into law of a new, ambitious Environment Act, and the complementary new Agricultural Act, the critical foundations for nature’s recovery will be lost.

“So that must be the number one priority for the new Secretary of State.

“The new Office for Environmental Protection – the much needed ‘watchdog’ for nature and the environment -  must also be established.  It should be able to robustly enforce the law and hold government to account, ensuring long-term progress is made.

“It needs the credibility, authority and resources to be able to meet these expectations. This means it needs to be truly independent and enjoy secure long-term budgets. People will expect it to speak honestly and robustly to those in power.”

Young environmentalists Bella Lack, 16, and Dara McAnulty, 15, will meet with Ms McGrady and Ms Villiers at Countryfile Live today.
Bella said: “Unless we take immediate and bold action, my generation will be handed a poison chalice of a planet, riddled with extinction and environmental catastrophes.

“Many young people feel as though our futures have been compromised by previous generations and so it is imperative that we pursue to its fullest extent every tangent, every avenue and every idea to heal our precious planet.”

Dara said: “It’s time to put politics aside and concentrate on healing our depleted natural world. Our future, our health and well-being and our economy all depend on it.

“Is it right and just that I have to wait until I am 46 to see a tangible change? The adults in power have grown up with 50% more wildlife, intact habitats and a more stable climate. Mine and future generations will never know this abundance. That is heartbreaking to me.”

Heading into its 125th anniversary year, The National Trust was set up to give people access to natural places and places of historic interest and, as part of the national and global effort, the organisation is making strong advances in protecting the natural world.

The Trust in 2015 committed to creating 25,000 hectares of new priority habitat by 2025 and is well on course to meet that target, having already restored more than 7,500 hectares.

The charity cares for more than 200 orchards and has committed to creating 68 more nationwide by 2025 as part of a programme to boost the number of wildlife rich areas.

It is also working hard to ensure young people have a say in our future and last year established heavily discounted junior memberships, which has already seen 37,505 under 18s sign up. 

The Green Academies Project is a scheme that enables young people to look after the places they live and is currently run out of five inner city areas including, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Newcastle and Wrexham.

Over the last three years it has involved more than 9000 children; more than 370 of whom are regular volunteers with the Trust.

“Caring for more than 500 properties, almost 800 miles of coastline and 248,000 hectares of land is a huge privilege,” said Ms McGrady.

“But with this comes a huge responsibility that we are determined to honour. And today we are calling on the Government to show leadership for the natural environment and reveal how committed it is to ensure it is protected for the future.”