The Senedd has declared a nature emergency in Wales and called on the government to set up an independent environmental governance body.

The move comes amid warnings the nation's wildlife is under increased pressure due to human activity and climate change.

As reported previously by The National, Wales ranked as one of the worst places globally for biodiversity loss, with the RSPB finding just 51 per cent of our animals and plants remain in the wild when compared with a 'pristine' state.

Meanwhile, last month Natural Resources Wales found 60 per cent of species within the nation's protected sites were in an "unfavourable" condition.

In the Senedd, Plaid Cymru MS Delyth Jewell said the natural world conjured up images of "abundance" but once parts of it are "chipped has an indelible impact on the whole".

The decline is already happening and the figures are increasingly gloomy. Some of the nation's most well-known and loved animals are disappearing before our very eyes. Hedgehogs – down 60 per cent since 1995; species of butterflies – down 52 per cent since the 1970s; the greenfinch – a 71 per cent decline in numbers.

The National Wales: A hedgehog in Caerleon. Picture: Richard Renshaw via South Wales Argus Camera ClubA hedgehog in Caerleon. Picture: Richard Renshaw via South Wales Argus Camera Club

Jewell said the loss of 73 species in Wales in the past 50 years meant the government had an "obligation" to reset Wales' biodiversity targets, with warnings one-in-six species here remains at risk of going extinct.

"Entire ecosystems are put at risk," she said. "Just as we contribute to its decline, so too do we suffer as a result."

Labour's Mike Hedges said the danger of continued destruction of nature was "a dystopian future" with "the only surviving mammals being pets, farm animals, and scavengers such as rats"; while his party colleague Jenny Rathbone and Welsh Conservative Mark Isherwood said birds species were affected, too.

Breeding numbers for the curlew and the swift are down by 44 per cent in the last decade, Isherwood said; while for the swift, breeding is down by three-quarters in the UK due to loss of nesting sites and lack of food resources, Rathbone added.

The National Wales: A curlew at Goldcliffe, Newport. Picture: Paul Coombes via South Wales Argus Camera ClubA curlew at Goldcliffe, Newport. Picture: Paul Coombes via South Wales Argus Camera Club

The effect of this loss of wildlife and the natural world is being felt most strongly among younger people, said Plaid's Sian Gwenllian. Not only has nature come under threat, but it is now less accessible for children than before, with Estyn research showing that the amount of time pupils spent learning outside is also in decline.

"Through nature restoration and providing more opportunities for children to access nature, we can provide a wide range of benefits to our children and young people, in terms of their education, their health, their well-being and, most importantly, we can offer hope for the future," Gwenllian said.

The Senedd decision means there will be a new organisation in Wales responsible for tackling biodiversity, but several members suggested the government had been slow to get to this point.

Conservative MS Janet Finch-Saunders said ministers had declared a climate emergency two years ago but a "series of failures" had followed, with the corresponding nature emergency "overlooked".

Plaid's Mabon ap Gwynfor said the protection of wildlife had too long been the sole responsibility of volunteers.

"They want government to act too," he said. "Where is the leadership coming from?"

Labour's Huw Irranca-Davies said it was "not enough any more to do small piecemeal fixes or pilots" but said the move should be seen as "support to the government to do the right thing," rather than a "threat".

Climate change minister Julie James agreed, saying the government was "very aware of the challenges we face". She outlined commitments to improving water quality, reducing pollution, and some woodland and peatland restoration schemes that are under way.

James noted the Senedd's concerns about biodiversity loss but said this was not a "counsel of despair".

"There are still things that we can and should do, but these are not easy things and they are not straightforward things," she told colleagues.

Tackling the 'nature emergency' can also bring wider benefits, said Plaid MS Luke Fletcher, and help develop a skills base in Wales for biodiversity and wildlife protection. He said the creation of a National Nature Service could create an estimated 7,000 green jobs nationwide.

But James Evans, a Conservative MS, said there were other economic impacts to consider. Areas of Wales that relied on outside visitors to natural sites would struggle if any government targets "come at the cost to the rural economy and people's jobs," he told the Senedd.

At voting time, the motion was passed by 40 votes to 13. The Welsh Parliament's decision now means the government will be called upon to "introduce legally binding requirement to reverse biodiversity loss through statutory targets".

The decision has been welcomed by WWF Cymru (World Wildlife Fund).

Alex Phillips, the charity's policy and advocacy officer, said the government now had to offer "a clear timetable for delivery".

"We hope the new government will use this debate to build momentum and include a clear commitment to legislate in the next 12 months in its forthcoming Legislative Statement," Phillips said. "Wales can set an example to the rest of the world in how we tackle the climate and nature crisis, the most urgent issue of our generation.”

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The National is running its first Environmental Awards to celebrate the best green practices and climate-action projects across Wales.

The awards will shine a spotlight on the individuals, companies and organisations doing outstanding work to protect the environment and tackle climate change.

Find more information on the criteria and how to nominate here

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