Monday 5th July 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Roger Gale Portrait Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con) [V]
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My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) remarked on the fact that we see far fewer hedgehogs dead on the roads now. Perversely, that is not a good sign; it is a bad sign, because the reason is that there are so many fewer hedgehogs than there used to be. It is hard to find one now, and yet when I was a lad, we could go out every night into the garden and there would be one, two or three hedgehogs snuffling around. The change has been absolutely dramatic.

I understand that the Government want to wait for the findings of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee review before taking any action, but we cannot wait much longer. The People’s Trust for Endangered Species has indicated clearly that the hedgehog is vulnerable to extinction. Hedgehogs are on the red list for British mammals. This is an animal that, as my right hon. Friend said, we used to have almost as many of as there were people in the United Kingdom. Now their number has dwindled to insignificance.

The Government say in their policy papers that they want

“to recover our threatened native species”.

One of the reasons for not accepting today’s recommendation is that—to quote from the Government comment—

“it would not address the main threat of habitat loss”.

No, it would not, and that is the main threat. It is because of current Government planning policy that habitat loss is worsening. The national planning policy framework states that policies

“should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment”.

That is hogwash—possibly hedgehogwash. We are not enhancing our natural and local environments or our agricultural environment. Every time that farm fields are built over, hedgerows go, headlands go and the fields themselves with crops in go. Those are the habitats not just for hedgehogs, but for literally thousands of birds, mammals, butterflies and insects—the insects upon which hedgehogs feed. It is because of that loss of habitat that we have lost so many hedgehogs. The hedgerows, the meadowlands and the rough pasture that we are told hedgehogs in the wild live on are going. That is why the numbers are decreasing so dramatically in rural areas.

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister is in her place to answer the debate, but I rather wish that we had a Planning Minister sitting listening to this as well, and perhaps responding. We have to get to grips with the fact that we are building over agricultural land. “We are protecting the green belt,” we are told. Yes, we are protecting the green belt, but agricultural land is being built over in the south of England in particular to an extent that is positively dangerous to food production and our wildlife. That has got to stop.