How the Forest of Dean Council declared a biodiversity emergency
I was elected to the Forest of Dean District Council in May 2019. Although the Forest of Dean is home to many people who value wildlife, there is a prevailing view that any wildlife threatened by development ‘can go elsewhere’. I’ve noticed that city dwellers generally value wildlife more than those living in rural areas.
The council had declared a climate emergency in 2018 after a successful Green Party motion, despite there only being two Green councillors elected at the time. It suddenly struck me – why not declare a biodiversity emergency? It wasn’t something that I had heard of at the time.
The motion was going to be problematic as a few years earlier the council had given itself planning permission to build on its own land despite it being a habitat for rare, endangered and protected species. The local Wildlife Trust said about this council land: “There is no doubt that the Cinderford Northern Quarter is the most important site for wildlife ever to come forward for development in Gloucestershire.”
I had to settle for a motion without any timeline or budget commitment as anything more was unlikely to be supported. I decided that it would still be worthwhile, as it did include commitment to critically evaluate the ecological impacts of all strategic policies or major decisions at full council and ensure that council projects or initiatives deliver net biodiversity gains.
The motion was on the agenda for the December full council. Then Boris Johnson decided on a general election. The council’s monitoring officer deemed my motion to be ‘political’ and removed it from the agenda. February’s full council is the meeting when the council’s budget for the following year is agreed, and motions are not usually allowed. As mine was deferred, amazingly they did make an exception.
I was relying on our local green activists to attend in numbers to get the motion through. I knew that it had no chance without the assembled councillors feeling that they were being judged. I was not disappointed, as the public gallery was full. The motion was at the end of a very long meeting. A six year old boy who had sat through most of the meeting was devastated that he had to go home to bed before the motion was heard.
The motion was passed. This was just before Covid stopped public participation. If the motion hadn’t been allowed at the February meeting it wouldn’t have had the public present and would surely have failed.
I’m hoping that there will be more Greens elected to the council this May and the council will give the biodiversity declaration a budget and more specific actions. As everyone knows, getting stuff done relies mainly on having enough councillors in support. However, never underestimate the power of a full public gallery!
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Image credit: M J Richardson – Creative Commons