Monday 5th July 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg (in the Chair)
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I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to the normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will also be suspensions between each debate. I remind Members participating physically and virtually that they must arrive for the start of debates in Westminster Hall and Members are expected to remain for the entire debate.

I also remind Members participating virtually that they must leave their camera on for the duration of the debate, and that they will be visible at all times, both to each other and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks’ email address, which is Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and as they leave the room. I should also like to remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall.

Members who are not on the call list but wish to intervene can do so only from the horseshoe. I remind Members that those on the call list have priority for spaces on the horseshoe. Those wishing to intervene should not prevent a Member from the call list from speaking.

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Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Twigg. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) on speaking so eloquently on behalf of the petitioners. A remarkable number of people signed the petition, started by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. That shows how much people in the UK really care about hedgehogs and protecting the nature around us. As I went to the Library to print out my speech, I was accosted by one of the staff who found out it was about hedgehogs; she insisted on showing me a photograph of the hedgehogs in her garden.

The issue is everywhere. In fact, the hedgehog has been voted Britain’s most popular wild mammal in several surveys over the years. As we heard, since 2000 hedgehog numbers in the UK have declined by half in rural areas and by a third in urban ones. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the main reasons for the decline are the destruction of their shelters and habitats, increased levels of traffic, poorly planned roads and the use of pesticides. Those are all things that we can and should work to prevent. The hedgehog has been listed as vulnerable to extinction in the UK, conceivably within the next decade if nothing is done to reverse the decline.

I recently visited Sandra Lowe, who lives in Woodside in my constituency. Sandra operates a hedgehog rescue called Hope for Hedgehogs. When people bring hedgehogs to her, she works tirelessly to ensure that they are properly treated. She works with local vets to ensure they get the right medication and does everything that she can to keep them. For the little ones, that involves getting up three times during the night to feed them the appropriate food. It certainly is a labour of love, and thankfully there are people who will help her with that. Sandra funds the endeavour entirely by herself, and she says it costs around £50 for each hedgehog to be treated and released. The organisation is entirely self-funded, which is why I am supporting her efforts to obtain funding to create a hog hospital, so that she can treat hedgehogs properly.

A lot of people, such as Sandra, are doing amazing work to help protect hedgehogs, but it is not enough to rely on the work of volunteers. The Government must commit to protecting our wildlife. Most of all, we know that Sandra and all the other volunteers want to see the prevention of injury, damage and deaths of hedgehogs as the priority. That is the important thing. Real consideration for nature and wildlife must be at the core of our planning decisions and many other decisions.

I and many others, including the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, are concerned by the proposed changes to the status of many of our widespread species in the United Kingdom, including hedgehogs. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee review will provide recommendations to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As far as I understand it from Sandra and others, the upcoming review seeks to change the eligibility criteria of the hedgehog, currently listed on schedule 6, if that is the recommendation. Sandra tells me the review proposes that statutory nature conservation bodies will retain protected status only for species that are in imminent danger of extinction in Great Britain. That is clearly too low a bar to set, and I hope the Government will be much more ambitious. The effect of the proposed changes could be that rather than increasing protection for hedgehogs, as called for in the petition, their current lower level of protection could be removed. Sandra tells me that she has concerns about the impact of the quinquennial review, so I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me and Sandra that there will be increased protection and no diminution of it.

The Government’s national planning policy framework has a chapter on conserving and enhancing the natural environment. It opens by setting out how planning policies and decisions should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment. Priority species are defined in the NPPF as those included in England’s biodiversity list, which is published by the Secretary of State under section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. As I have set out, the list currently includes hedgehogs.

With some narrow exemptions, the Environment Bill of 2021-22 contains provisions intended to make it mandatory for housing and development to achieve at least a 10% net gain in value for biodiversity, and a requirement that habitats for wildlife must be left in a measurably better state than before the development. Many of us know that although we can see the words on the page when it comes to planning policy guidance, we need to see the impact on the ground. We are seeing too many hedgerows lost as well as other biodiversity losses, even now. In today’s debate, we are calling on the Government to increase the protection offered to the hedgehog under the Wildlife and Countryside Act by moving it to schedule 5 as a first step in helping to protect our precious wildlife.

Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg (in the Chair)
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Just to let Members know, I intend for the Opposition spokesperson and the Minister to start winding up at no later than 5.40 pm. Given the great deal of interest and the number of speakers, please keep your contributions to around four and a half minutes, which will ensure that everybody gets in. I ask for your indulgence in that.

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Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg (in the Chair)
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I remind Members to wear masks while in this room, if they are not speaking, please.