Bird Nesting Sites: Protection

Diana Johnson Excerpts
Monday 13th May 2019

(5 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Diana Johnson Portrait Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
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I think this is the first time that you have chaired a debate that I have taken part in, Ms McDonagh, so it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today.

It is good to see so many hon. Members here to discuss this important environmental issue. We have already heard some excellent speeches on the consequences of netting and the action required. I commend the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill), who set the scene well.

In a short speech, I will concentrate mainly on my constituent, Maggie Moran, who started the petition that is the reason we are all here this afternoon. Maggie and her family are in Parliament today. She started her petition in the early hours of the morning after a long shift at Hull Royal Infirmary, where she works. At first it was shared among friends; it went on to gain more than 300,000 signatures, national media coverage and a response from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which I understand has written to developers reminding them of their legal obligations.

Maggie was kind enough to write to me before the debate. I know that she has also spoken to the media and received a lot of media coverage, and has explained why this issue is so important to her. In her note to me, she talks powerfully of her upbringing and how her family instilled in her a deep love and respect for nature. She speaks fondly of holidays where she and her father calculated the age of hedgerows. As she reminds us, our hedgerows are ancient, beautiful, rich ecosystems. They are homes, breeding grounds, safe corridors and hibernation spots for birds, bats, dormice, reptiles, insects, hedgehogs and others. They play a major part in preventing soil loss and reducing flooding. I represent a constituency in east Yorkshire. The Humber estuary is prone to flooding and 95% of the city of Hull is below sea level, so flooding is an important issue for me and my constituents. Also, hedgerows help to reduce road noise, and they produce oxygen, which of course helps with the climate challenge. Hedgerows are not obstacles to be removed, but life support systems to be protected. As has been discussed in more depth today, netting puts those fragile ecosystems at risk. It can entrap birds, dormice, bats and hedgehogs, separating them from their nests and food, injuring them and even putting their lives at risk.

We must look seriously at ending the practice of netting, but we must also think beyond that. Last year in the UK, numbers of bats, hedgehogs, birds and insects continued to plummet. The UN report last week spoke powerfully of how nature’s decline will presage our own. Awareness is growing that to support society, we must change the rules to give nature room to thrive. The Government must look again at how the developments we need—houses, schools and hospitals—can be achieved without destroying nature. As Maggie said, we must look at prioritising brownfield land, which the Campaign to Protect Rural England has said can be used for more than 1 million homes on 18,000 sites. When greenfield is the only option, we should include original habitats, including hedgerows and trees, in the designs.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech; I hope her constituent appreciates what she is saying on her behalf. As parliamentary species champion for the swift, I am keen to ensure that in urban development we put swift bricks into houses, which provide those birds with a habitat,. That is a really easy step and councils such as, I think, Exeter have made it compulsory for new developments. Does she agree that that is an excellent way to provide a home for swifts?

Diana Johnson Portrait Diana Johnson
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My hon. Friend, who is a great champion of nature and the environment, makes an important point. If that practice could be spread far and wide, it would be an excellent measure.

I will conclude by saying that it was nice to meet Maggie’s children Nell and John today; they are seeing at first hand what campaigning can achieve. Maggie told me that she put together the petition and brought her children to Parliament today because she hopes they will witness the lesson that, if we speak out, we can create real change for the future. To use her words:

“I want them to see that…if they believe in a cause, and if they have conviction and are willing to speak out and work hard, then anything can be achieved”.

I am profoundly thankful to Maggie for raising this issue with us. I hope that this debate will prove her right and that action will be forthcoming to deal with netting of hedgerows.