Hundreds of parents call for Sheffield Council to protect the environment

Almost 1,000 parents have petitioned Sheffield Council asking it to declare an ecological emergency to run alongside its pledge to tackle climate change.

Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 7:00 am

Sheffield Green Parents are calling for an ecological or biodiversity emergency and presented a petition with 974 names to a full council meeting.

Anna Parkin, a mum of three young children, told the meeting that the parents cared deeply about the environment and worried about the future of the planet for their children and future generations.

“We’ve carried out a peaceful protest where hundreds of families marched for climate change and we’ve set up an initiative called Kids Plant Trees to plant thousands of trees across the city. We needed to do something tangible to feel like we were making a difference,” he said.

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Sheffield Green Parents are calling for an ecological or biodiversity emergency. Picture Scott Merrylees

“We worked closely with the council’s community forestry team to deliver five free community planting events for lockdown last March. How amazing when hundreds of families turn up to get their hands dirty to improve Sheffield green spaces and plant 3,300 trees.

“It is not easy to understand biodiversity loss, or the complex solutions to combat it, especially when you’re a sleep deprived parent, but the evidence is clear and extensive that nature is in global decline.”

Anna said it was a “long and arduous task” but Sheffield Green Parents had teamed up with 13 other organisations and initiatives including Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, Sheffield Greenpeace, the Diocese of Sheffield and Friends of the Earth.

She added: “There is goodwill across the city to work collaboratively with you, we hope businesses, charities, schools, universities, churches and individuals who understand the issues we face will all contribute.

A recent climate change protest in Sheffield

“By publicly declaring an emergency today, you would lead the way. On another crucial note, we know mental health across the city has been impacted by the pandemic. We’ve seen how nature has come to our rescue. Now let’s come to its rescue.”

Coun Mark Jones, Cabinet member for climate change, said he did not want to declare an emergency there and then.

He said: “Whilst declaring an ecological emergency may make us feel better. I believe it doesn’t help getting to where we need to be.

“It should not be for the council to decide the terms of what the ecological emergency looks like, and how it should be dealt with. It needs a fuller collaborative approach with real actions.

“This is too big an issue to simply give a yes no response to today. I can’t just pay lip service on this.

“I make this firm commitment to keep working together with you and I will share with you the work I have been already doing over a couple of months.

“This isn’t something that can be done on a Sunday afternoon or anything like that. This is an ongoing process that needs to be done with you and others, I hope that we can bring together a citywide voice and deliver on our ambitions for the ecology and ecosystem that we need to sustain us here in Sheffield.”

Coun Jones said he would hold a meeting to discuss a draft ecological response for the city, which so far was an “imperfect plan”.

He said the climate emergency had not gone away during the pandemic and “the clock was still ticking”.

“Labour has called for green economic recovery, to protect jobs and communities as well as our planet and the environments and ecosystems that that planet sustains,” he added.

“Labour councillors recognise the immense challenges facing nature and our wildlife and this is too important to get wrong. To do anything rather than focused, concerted and collaborative approaches would actually do more harm than good.

“This remains a constant concern for me. What we need now is real ambition. This is not just about the council but there is much the council can do across the public realm to make spaces for nature and enhance our urban human habitats.”

He said the council recognised the global, national and regional loss of biodiversity and the significant impact it has on the people of Sheffield and the wider environment.

Coun Jones said: “We are not waiting to do things but are delivering now. We are making parks and open spaces more hospitable to a range of native plants and animals as part of the urban nature project.

“Through planning and regional development, we are looking to embed biodiversity gain within our planning system. We are delivering nature conservation strategies and natural recovery networks all to help benefit and understand our ecology.

“We are reviewing the council’s use of herbicides, trials are constantly ongoing on physical and chemical means to remove disruptive plants from our highways while trying to find better ways of dealing with plants in parks Sheffield city.”

Coun Jones said the council was also looking at how land could be used for increasing biodiversity, how the green belt could be further protected and flood management.

He added: “We all have part to play in tackling the climate emergency and the biodiversity emergency. I hope I’ve outlined some of the things that the council are leading on where we cannot do this alone.

“By taking action together, we can make significant gains to help nature flourish and in doing so we all benefit from the well being that living close to nature can bring in showing the city’s ecology can thrive is incredibly important and needs so much more than just words.”

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.