I’ve long believed that conservatism and conservation are two sides of the same coin – the belief in the importance of preserving our environmental heritage and ensuring its renewal.
And this week marked two important steps in efforts to safeguard the natural world. Fresh from the ban on plastic microbeads and launching the consultation on a plastic bottle deposit return scheme, Michael Gove did something I have long proposed: argued for taxpayer-funded farm subsidies to be linked to improved environmental and animal welfare standards. I think it’s important that the financial muscle of the State is used to incentivize farmers to promote biodiversity on their land and give animals better lives.
Second, Parliament marked another key milestone in the campaign to crack down on the ivory trade. This is a cause close to my heart. Poaching has seen the African elephant population fall by 110,000 over the past decade. It’s fueled by the illegal ivory trade, estimated to be worth up to £17 billion a year. Over 36,000 ivory items were exported from the UK between 2010 and 2015, more than three times that of the next biggest exporter, the US. And only a few years ago, a house here in Cheltenham was searched and two men were arrested for the sale and export of elephant ivory.
Now, I’ve met in Parliament with Boris Johnson, William Hague and officials from the Chinese Embassy to celebrate a critical landmark for wild elephant conservation: the total ban on the commercial processing and sale of ivory in China. This really is a significant move by the world’s largest ivory importer.
The work is not complete. We need to keep working on building a truly global consensus. And we need to take the fight to the poachers, with measures like the training by the British military of an elite force of anti-poachers in African countries.
But we are starting to turn the tide.