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Maidstone council rejects bid to follow Northern Ireland and grant rights to nature in constitution

A council has rejected calls to become the first local authority in England to enshrine the rights of nature in its constitution.

Since becoming Maidstone's first Green party councillor in May, Cllr Stuart Jeffery has made repeated attempts to 'green' the borough council's approach to environmental issues and pollution.

Cllr Stuart Jeffery
Cllr Stuart Jeffery

But his latest motion, while gathering the sympathy of many colleagues, proved a step too far for them.

Cllr Jeffery submitted a motion that the council should recognise that nature itself has rights and that council should make its decisions with regard to those rights.

He said: "There has been a welcome focus (from the council) on climate change, but less on biodiversity.

"We should acknowledge in our constitution that nature has rights."

He said two councils in Northern Ireland had already done so, but Maidstone council could take the ground-breaking step of becoming the first council in England to take such a measure.

The Heath Fritillary is one of Britain's most threatened butterfly species
The Heath Fritillary is one of Britain's most threatened butterfly species

He was supported by Cllr Janetta Sams (Ind) who said that nature was "a unique self-regulating system that was being put at risk by humanity."

Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem) agreed that "It is an undoubted fact that humanity has had a pretty negative effect approach to nature.

"We have slashed and burned our way across the planet."

But while he found the motion "well intentioned", he said that granting nature "rights" would lead to endless legal disputes about what those rights were and "a lot of public money being spent."

He said: "We do need to think more about what we can actually do to help biodiversity, but this motion will actually get in the way of our doing more."

Cllr Louise Brice
Cllr Louise Brice

Cllr Annabelle Blackmore (Con) also described the motion as "well intentioned" but said the council already had an effective biodiversity plan.

Cllr Steve Munford (Ind) said the motion would do more damage than good.

While Cllr Louise Brice (Con) said: "Many of us have worked for nature for many years. This motion is about creating a legal personhood for nature, which is without precedent."

But Cllr Tom Sams (Ind) said: "I am disappointed with all this negativity. We have an opportunity to take a stand for nature - or we can bury our heads in the sand."

The motion was defeated, with just five votes in favour, 30 against and seven abstentions.

Cllr Jeffery said he was "a little disappointed."

Cllr Janetta Sams seconded the motion
Cllr Janetta Sams seconded the motion

He said: "This appalling stance taken by Conservatives and Lib Dems clearly demonstrated their attitude to nature and its rights, and their inability to take difficult decisions in the face of ecological collapse.

"My motion did not mean that human rights would be overridden by the rights of nature, just that nature has rights too and that these must be taken into account when we make decisions.

"It was ground-breaking and would have required councillors to put effort into delivering it. Sadly they decided that this was too difficult for them.

“Nature has the right to exist and to thrive, something that has been increasingly ignored over the centuries. We must put that right as soon as we can.”

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