'Sheffield Council's nature emergency declaration shows parties can co-operate'

Following a strong campaign organised by the Wildlife Trusts, Friends of the Earth, The Diocese of Sheffield, Owlthorpe Fields Action Group and Sheffield Green Parents, Sheffield City Council unanimously declared a Nature Emergency at the last full council meeting.

Thursday, 1st July 2021, 12:00 am
Cllr Peter Garbutt proposing the motion.

They have recognised our country is one of the most nature-depleted in the world. All parties on the council backed the Green Party motion. The council committed to developing a comprehensive Nature Emergency Action Plan for Sheffield in association with partner organisations. This will feed into the local plan ensuring developers take far more care with our environment and hopefully preventing schemes that destroy our natural environment.

Coun Peter Garbutt proposed the motion. He informed the council that according to the World Wildlife Fund we rank 12th from bottom out of 200 countries in how depleted our nature is. He said over a quarter of our animal species are at risk. Over 300,000 hedgehogs are killed every year.

Experts believe there are only about 30 remaining wildcats. Many other creatures are on the red list of animals facing extinction such as water voles and grey long eared bats. Invertebrates, fish and birds are suffering too. Their habitats are all under pressure. The pressure comes from farming practices where intensive use of land degrades the soils and farmers who kill creatures like badgers in the belief that they harm their livestock. It comes from fox hunting and grouse shooting, where it isn’t just the grouse that get killed but mountain hares, raptors and anything else that interferes with their sport. From golf courses, impeccably manicured for the sport but very disruptive of natural habitats.

Gras verges at Coisley Hill in Sheffield

It comes from our planning system, which pretends, via the biodiversity net gain legislation, to care about our precious and vulnerable species but which almost invariably ends up driven by the build, build, build imperative from on high, removing vital habitats. It comes with our obsession for neatness which brings poisonous glyphosate to our streets and to noisy mowers cutting our roadside verges to within an inch of death every three or four weeks. They also ensure our parks are relatively sterile expanses of lawn. So from the carelessness of our throwaway society where individuals who drop their single use plastic bottles, wrappings, cigarette butts, vape paraphernalia and even their dog poo bags on the streets or chuck them into the shrubbery, where the commons of land, water and air are regarded as little more than dumps.

Peter asked: “How can we promote our Outdoor City whilst ignoring the harms our outdoors is suffering? To reverse the decline we must first recognise the problem. This declaration is that first step.”

We can look forward to Sheffield’s green spaces, parks, riversides and verges becoming havens and corridors for wildlife. Changed mowing regimes and reduced use of chemicals, air pollution reduction and sympathetic planting choices will all help stop the decline of insects and pollinators. The council aims for 100 per cent of waterways to have water quality that supports healthy wildlife by 2030. Council understanding that good design of the built environment can help anchor wildlife in urban spaces will have to be addressed fully.

The council have recognise the climate and nature emergencies are intrinsically linked and by building a better world to deal with the Climate and Ecological Emergency we will also be building a better society. They have at last formally committed Sheffield to be carbon neutral by 2030. The council will be advising Sheffield businesses to help them understand how their procurement decisions impact ecology.

Looking after our local area.

Since the election many have been sceptical about how the new red/green Cooperative Executive would work, indeed I have even been the victim of online bullying from someone disgusted that I have defended cooperation with Labour. But this motion shows the new cabinet can cooperate and make dramatic improvements.