Just a few weeks ago I praised Environment Secretary Owen Paterson in this column for being brave in making a decision about the badger cull.
Only time will tell whether it was a correct decision, but I’m afraid Mr Paterson’s stock has taken a tumble in my estimation.
Firstly, at the height of the recent storms, when large parts of the country were suffering from or under the threat of floods, Mr Paterson apparently endorsed the Environment Agency’s plan to axe 15 per cent of its workforce to save money.
Not good timing, to say the least.
It’s been reported that 550 jobs directly related to flooding and flood prevention will go – at a time when the UK is experiencing flooding more and more regularly. And it’s a problem that could get worse with climate change continuing to be an unknown quantity in terms of its effects on our weather.
This is in addition to the problems caused by continued development on flood plains and the concreting over of our landscape.
The savings made by those job cuts could literally be swamped by the cost of flood damage to our homes and infrastructure.
Think again, Mr Paterson.
Secondly, the secretary of state last week came out with the outrageous proposition that developers could be allowed to build on (the few remaining) areas of ancient woodland if they planted trees elsewhere.
The clue is in the name – ancient woodland. Planting trees elsewhere, no matter how many, could not replace these unique, diverse ecosystems. They are not just trees, but a rich tapestry of plants, animals, birds and insects that, even given hundreds of years, may not be replicated elsewhere.
Mr Paterson’s complacency towards our natural environment is in extreme contrast to the planning system’s over-zealous attitude in conserving old buildings. It was not so long ago that one poor Bury St Edmunds householder was threatened with jail if he didn’t remove a strip of plastic fascia on his Grade II listed home.
You’d think that the Environment Secretary would be championing the cause of our natural landscape and heritage, but Mr Paterson’s priorities obviously lie elsewhere.