Monday 20 March 2023

manifesto for nature and people

I’m Rob Carlyle. This is a personal manifesto drawn from a lifetime’s passion for wildlife.

During lockdown, I would walk each day along our lane and engage (at an appropriate social distance) with other walkers. They would frequently comment with pleasure on the amount of bird song they could hear.

I was more aware of what was missing. During my lifetime we have lost turtle doves, willow warblers, cuckoos, corn buntings, tree sparrows, wood  warblers in spring or summer song… No house martins or swifts in the sky… To name a few…

This is termed ‘shifting baseline syndrome’

‘humans have a poor conception of how much of the natural world has been degraded by our actions, because our “baseline” shifts with every generation.’

The world my generation inherited was already nature-depleted. We know that the world we are passing on to succeeding generations is threadbare, with nature hanging on by its fingertips. Climate crisis, pollution, land use, invasive alien species are all having a serious effect.

We also know that access to nature and green spaces improves our own well-being and health, and probably, therefore, contributes to our productivity.

Nature recovery does not fit comfortably within a single portfolio. A ‘joined-up’ approach to food production, land use, the water industry, waste production and disposal, environmental and recreational interests and many more is needed.

All photos are my own and taken in our own large garden unless otherwise said.

This is my manifesto. 

It is time for immediate action, placing climate change and nature recovery as national priorities #1.

Rob Carlyle

March 2023

“The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air”.  Sir David Attenborough 

This Government has committed to protecting 30% of England for nature by 2030, but has a huge way to go - just 3% of the country is properly protected for nature.

The UK government is failing to keep its promises to improve England’s environment as wildlife declines at an “eye-watering” rate, according to its own watchdog:

  Species abundance is in “inexorable” decline, despite a pledge to halt the decline of wildlife by 2030.

  Of 23 environmental targets examined, the government was demonstrably on track on none of them.

  On 14 of the targets, it was judged to be clearly off-track.

  The government is failing even to collect data on many key areas.

  Only 38% of sites of special scientific interest are in “favourable condition”, with “negligible” progress on this over the past

  Farming policy has failed to focus on the environment.

  No joined-up approach across government.

  Only limited progress in improving air quality, and moves to reduce emissions, partly in response to the Covid-19 lockdowns.

  Concerns over plans to scrap EU laws that could reduce environmental protections.

"It's surely our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth."     Sir David Attenborough 

The scale of the issues nature recovery and climate change face is huge and requires considerable shifts in attitudes and practices.  The massive problems ahead of us can only be achieved with a broad national consensus embracing cross-party agreement and a farming sector that ‘buys in’ to the new agenda within a funding framework that gives long-term certainty.  Making the transition from a nitrogen-and diesel-heavy agriculture must be supported and led by an informed and knowledgable government. 

The broad consensus should also include the environmental charities and groups, the services and companies that link farm and consumer, the education and training sectors… and the population of the UK.

Solutions must be found for those who farm and those who wish to see nature recovery. 

I believe that there is a will to reach agreement on achievable but challenging goals within a long-term plan.

“Food is one of life's greatest joys yet we've reached this really sad point where we're turning food into the enemy, and something to be afraid of”     Jamie Oliver

Our goal must be for everyone to have access to wholesome, nutrient-dense, sustainably and locally-sourced food produced on nature-friendly UK farms.

While imported food supports developing nations, we must also be deeply aware of the carbon footprint of our food.  We must recalibrate UK food production so that UK food is produced to the highest possible standards and that we are less-reliant on foreign imports. Trade agreements that give access to low-welfare, intensive food undermine this.


✔️  Cancel foreign trade agreements that undermine our goal of providing consumers with wholesome, nutrient-dense, sustainably and locally-sourced food produced on nature-friendly UK farms.

✔️ Promote and provide support for the community farming movement.✔️ The notion of ‘stacking enterprises’ on a farm is growing: small-scale businesses working in partnership with farms. Large-scale farming has to change and this is one way it could look. 

✔️ Increase public access to allotment plots for growing food in every borough across the UK.

✔️ Incentives for growing biofuels must be replaced - with food and biodiversity becoming the priorities.

“Essentially, all life depends upon t

e soil... There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.”
  Charles E. Kellogg, USDA Yearbook of Agriculture, 1938  

I have been a passionate organic gardener since 1978 when I first read Lawrence D. Hills. In his books I learned that first and foremost must be the health of the soil. The practical no-dig gardening guidance of Charles Dowding improved our practice. Reading ‘Dirt: The erosion of civilisations’ by Professor David R. Montgomery and ‘Finding the mother tree’ by Professor Suzanne Simard has only further confirmed this.

As a gardener I choose plants that best suit my conditions. ‘Agricultural methods must be based on emulating natural systems rather than controlling or replacing them’. Wes Jackson 

We must take action to conserve and improve our soils.


✔️ We must conserve and improve our soils to improve mycology, hydrology and invertebrate life and therefore fully-support farms wishing to transition to regenerative, no-plough (no-till) systems.

In so doing, we will reduce the run-off of soils into our watercourses and seas and enhance carbon sequestration in our soils.

✔️ Use of all peat-based gardening and horticultural products must be ended. 

✔️ All councils must have a statutory responsibility to have effective compost kitchen & garden waste schemes.

✔️Management of landscapes by burning must end.

✔️An agreement must be reached between government, farmers, academics and ecologists on how soil conservation and improvement can be measured and farmers rewarded for soil improvement. 

“There is not a single river in England that is not polluted — not one. And people have known about this stuff for decades. We’ve got three decades of lack of political oversight and a complete failure of the regulators.”

Feargal Sharkey 

The degradation of our waterways has become a national scandal. I have written to my MP, Severn Trent, The Environment Agency, the Secretary of State for DEFRA over several years about the inadequacies of our current water and sewage policies. To no avail.


✔️Move all water companies to a locally-accountable, mutual model of governance.

✔️The Environment Agency must be repurposed to effectively monitor and enforce water quality so that water quality is consistently deemed ‘good’. 

✔️The pay of senior managers of water companies must be closely tied to their success in providing reliable, wholesome drinking water, managing sewage processing, preventing flood damage and delivering clean rivers.

✔️Sewage discharges into watercourses must end.

✔️ Barriers to fish migration will be removed and creating conditions upstream for successful breeding will be prioritised.

✔️ I would like to see the conversion of poor-quality land to wetlands increased by 25%.

✔️ All water abstraction to be monitored and charged.

✔️ Water companies must be given a statutory duty to support the re-forestation of valleys and the provision of bands between watercourses and fields to reduce pollutants entering watercourses.✔️ Natural flood management interventions must be accelerated including provision of wetlands, ponds, hedges and woodland.

✔️ Funding will encourage farmers to plant mixed hedges and, once established, cut them on a three year cycle - which will maximise the value of hedges to wildlife.

✔️ The UN has warned that spills of manure and other pollution into waterways are adding to the global rise of superbugs,. There will be increased monitoring and fines for pollution of watercourses by intensive animal units. 

✔️ Fines for applying slurry or manures to fields when there is a significant risk of run off  will be increased.

✔️ 100 extra ‘marine nature reserves’ will be created within the lifetime of this parliament.

✔️There will be increased monitoring (and sanctions where necessary) of salmon and other fish farms of fish health, parasites, escape & pollutants.

✔️ Fully commit to all targets within the UN Ocean Conference Global Ocean Treaty.

The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our fore fathers but on loan from our children. So we have to handover to them at least as it was handed over to us. Mahatma Gandhi

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the WHO, has now classed air pollution in the same category as tobacco smoke, UV radiation and plutonium.

It said air pollution had been known to cause heart and lung diseases, but evidence had now emerged that it was also causing cancer.

40,000 excess deaths each year in the UK due to fine particle or nitrous oxide pollution.

Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health.

And the effects of air pollution are as serious for plants and fungi.


✔️Agree and make statutory an immediate plan to reduce nitrogen and other air-borne pollutants to save lives and conserve nature.

“It is that range of biodiversity that we must care for - the whole thing - rather than just one or two stars.” 

Sir David Attenborough 

My children would collect the discarded shells from our house martins’ nest and watch as the young peered out at them from their mud nests. At that time up to forty birds would gather on our neighbours’ roof before migration. There are no house martins there now.


✔️ With the heft of a committed prime minister, a government cabinet minister post must be created to have oversight of English Nature and the Environment Agency, leading on biodiversity, habitat recreation, restoration and species recovery, bringing together nature organisations, land owners, local authorities and all other interested parties across departments.

✔️ Farmers will be incentivised to achieve a new ‘Wildlife Custodian’ marque, supported by food chain suppliers, major supermarkets and retailers.

✔️ Our priority must be to boost the biomass of invertebrates and we fully support The Wildlife Trust’s report ‘Reversing the Decline of Insects’.

✔️ The government will promote and support innovations within farming, for instance agroforestry, regenerative, organic and biodynamic farming.

✔️ Common land should be at the heart of delivering a vibrant green economy in iconic landscapes. Commons must be protected and increased.

✔️ There will be increased connectivity for wildlife by creating one thousand miles of ‘green corridors’ across the landscape for each year of this parliament.

✔️ Although tree planting will continue to be important in transforming landscapes for wildlife, alternative methods of reforestation e.g. natural regeneration will also be promoted and supported.

✔️ Provide funding to give all farms access to qualified ecologist advice.

✔️ Increase penalties and custodial sentences for those found in breach of the Hunting Act 2004 to include penalties for landowners on which hunting or raptor persecution take place.

✔️Immediately ban the  shooting of any birds on the UK amber or red lists.  

✔️Ban all use of lead shot immediately.

✔️ Phase out the release of game birds for shooting within the lifetime of the parliament.

✔️ Ban all sales of garden pesticides and weedkillers within one year.

The increased use of insecticides has led to catastrophic declines in insect numbers. This must be turned around from day one of a new government. 

✔️ We will phase out the use of aminopyralid herbicides within the lifetime of this parliament. This herbicide remains active in manure for several years, acting as a serious plant growth inhibitor.

✔️ The government will reaffirm its commitment to never using neonicotinoids. Banned in the EU, neonicotinoids act as a ‘nerve agent’ crippling insects. 

✔️ Fipronil and imidacloprid flea treatments for pets are highly toxic to water life; their sale will be phased out by the end of this parliament. These treatments escape into our watercourses when animals are bathed, seriously affecting aquatic life.

Highly-toxic pollutants known as “forever chemicals” known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (termed PFAS) don’t break down in the environment. Valued for their non-stick and detergent properties, they nevertheless build up in the body, and make their way into water, soils and sediments from a wide range of consumer products, firefighting foams, waste and industrial processes.

✔️ We will work to reduce these to zero in the UK but will immediately match the levels set in the US for drinking water.

✔️ New buildings will all include provision for bats and nesting birds.

✔️ An element of the reinstated

development aid budget will be used to support international habitat conservation at migratory ‘stopping points’ for UK birds.

✔️We will lead the international commitment made at COP26 to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 including fully implementing the recommendations of the Global Resource Initiative, introducing a legally binding target to end deforestation within UK agricultural and forestry commodity supply chains. 

Not all introduced species have been harmful. A highlight of our year is accompanying a licensed bird ringer to ring baby little owls. I have recently sited a nest box on a tree overlooking our pond in the hope that Mandarin ducks will be tempted to breed with us. 

But our garden sees the malign effects of alien species on a daily basis. 

A local garden recently culled ninety grey squirrels (introduced from North America) within a couple of months. Grey squirrels carry a pox that doesn’t affect them but that kills our native red squirrels. The last report of a red squirrel in Nottinghamshire was in the 1960s. 

We have recorded five Reeves (or Chinese) muntjac deer (each no bigger than a small dog) in the garden. In spite of their pretty appearance they are voracious feeders on flowers and have been described unkindly by some as ‘pig-hamsters’. Their population has soared to two million animals in the UK.

North American signal crayfish are posing an existential threat to our native white-clawed crayfish.

Our garden pond has become choked by introduced parrot’s feather pond weed. The only control is to don waders several times a year and pull it out by hand.


✔️Establish a commission to target harmful invasive species and to set clear targets for the reduction of their impact.

The Wildlife Trusts have highlighted concerns that HS2 Ltd had consistently been dismissive of the impacts on nature and was undervaluing the importance of wildlife habitats. The WWF has expressed huge concerns about the government plans to establish regulation-free investment zones.


✔️ Scrap HS2.

✔️ Halt all investment zone and freeport development until thoroughgoing ‘risk to nature’ assessments and plans are available for public scrutiny.

“I suppose, for me, the thing that is so galling about plastic pollution in particular is that it is so utterly unnecessary. The plastic in our oceans ought never to have got there in the first place – much of it perhaps ought not to have even been manufactured at all. And yet it is there, in unbelievable quantities, causing untold harm to marine wildlife.

“And, of course, once it’s in the sea, it doesn’t really break down properly – it remains there for decades or even centuries. So unless we get to grips with this quickly, we will soon find our oceans completely dominated by plastic. It’s a prospect that hardly bears thinking about.” 

Sir David Attenborough 

Alarming new evidence is emerging of the potential harm caused by pervasive plastic pollution, with significant levels of microscopic plastic particles discovered in many human organs and a new disease identified in seabirds.

On average people now consume around 5 grams of microplastics a week - ingested in food and drink and inhaled by breathing polluted air,’ Professor Philip Demokritou of Rutgers University told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington. 


✔️In its first 100 days, the new government should introduce a new ‘plastic tax’ in which the polluter pays. Plastic pollution will be reduced by 75% compared with 2024 levels by the end of the government’s term in office.

“Research shows really clearly that we need nature in our surroundings. We need trees in our streets, plants in our gardens and flowers on our balcony. We need nature as our neighbour all the time.  We have a responsibility as human beings to take care of nature in our cities. In return, the benefits to our health would be huge.”

Dr Cecil Konijnendijk, Professor of Urban Forestry at the University of British  Colombia

I grew up on what was described as Europe’s largest council estate. But I still had access to green spaces and grew to love nature. Our increasingly urbanised and congested conurbations are producing generations without access to nature. Like the impoverished environment they inhabit, they have become ‘denatured’. This must change.


✔️ We will immediately make provision, maintenance and support of green spaces a statutory duty on all local authorities.

✔️ Planning laws will change to statutorily include green spaces within all building developments. Existing green spaces

urban areas will receive special status to protect them from development.

✔️ We will redraw the aims and duties of our national parks to place biodiversity, habitat recreation and restoration and species recovery at the forefront of their work. National Parks to report annually on their progress.

✔️ We will draw up a national strategy whose aim is to raise awareness of the problems recreational disturbance creates for wildlife.

“If select committees’ informal methods of coercion prove ineffective, they are generally thought to lack any real ‘teeth’ to compel compliance” Institute for Government May 2020


✔️ We will convene an annual conference held under the auspices of the House of Commons Environment Audit Committee involving all key players so that our actions towards our key targets can be scrutinised and evaluated. 

✔️ There will be an annual ‘State of nature’ debate in parliament.

✔️ Both will be supported by tv and online programming. 


The Conservative party speaks for those with influence and money. The Labour Party speaks to its urban constituency. Eco-system collapse wasn’t mentioned in Keir Starmer’s ‘Five Missions for the next Labour government’. Neither party speaks for nature.

Hence my personal manifesto, putting nature and people at its heart.

My generation has failed. Our young people have an awareness of the twin crises of eco-system collapse and climate change that our generation fails to grasp. The government response to their protests is to ban their right to protest.

The scale of the problem is immense, requiring greater commitment than the international efforts that went into the recovery

after World War II. 

But, we are told, that the longest journey begins with a single step. Individuals, groups, communities through larger concerns and companies, onto government and international organisations can and should all take action.

We must make large scale and urgent change now.

Rob Carlyle

Rob is an eco-home self builder, lifelong gardener and amateur naturalist.  A former headteacher, he was chair of the Mansfield and Ashfield Members’ Group of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for ten years and is currently chair of the Friends of Bestwood Country Park.

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