• It exempts fracking companies from the trespass laws.
• It brings in a legal requirement for the government to maximise the economic recovery of petroleum from the UK’s continental shelf. This is directly at odds with another legal requirement – to minimise the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.
• It abandons the government’s commitment to make all new homes zero-carbon by 2016.
• It introduces the possibility (through clauses 21 and 22) of a backdoor route to selling off the public forest estate. When this was attempted before, it was thwarted by massive public protest.
• It further deregulates the town and country planning system, making life even harder for those who wish to protect natural beauty and public amenities.
• It promotes new road building, even though the total volume of road traffic has flatlined since 2002.
Enough vandalism? Not at all.There’s yet another clause aimed at suppressing the natural world, which has, so far, scarcely been discussed outside parliament.
If the infrastructure bill is passed in its current state, any animal species that “is not ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain in a wild state” will be classified as non-native and subject to potential “eradication or control”. What this is doing in an infrastructure bill is anyone’s guess.
At first wildlife groups believed it was just poor drafting, accidentally creating the impression that attempts to re-establish species which have become extinct here – such as short-haired bumblebees or red kites – would in future be stamped out. But the most recent Lords debate scotched that hope: it became clear that this a deliberate attempt to pre-empt democratic choice, in the face of rising public enthusiasm for the return of our lost and enchanting wildlife.
As Baroness Parminter, who argued unsuccessfully for changes to the bill, pointed out, it currently creates
a one-way system for biodiversity loss, as once an animal ceases to appear in the wild, it ceases to be native.
She also made the point that it is not only extinct species which from now on will be treated as non-native, but, as the bill now stands, any species listed in schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Among those in schedule 9 are six native species that have already been re-established in Britain (the capercaillie, the common crane, the red kite, the goshawk, the white-tailed eagle and the wild boar); two that are tentatively beginning to return (the night heron and the eagle owl); and four that have been here all along (the barn owl, the corncrake, the chough and the barnacle goose). All these, it seems, are now to be classified as non-native, and potentially subject to eradication or control.