A History of NGOs in Britain

Timeline (Environmental sector, 19th-20th Centuries)

(chronology relates to the UK, unless otherwise specified)

1900 | 1935 | 1950 | 1962 | 1968 | 1971 | 1973 | 1976 | 1982 | 1987 | 1989 | 1991| 1996 | 2003


-          1824: Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals formed (later RSPCA)

-          1853: Smoke Nuisance Abatement Act

-          1859:

o   Darwin’s On the Origins of the Species published

o   Oil drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania (birth of the modern oil industry)

-          1863: Alkali Act

-          1864: George Perkin Marsh’s Man and Nature published, USA

-          1865: Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society formed

-          1869:  Sea Birds Preservation Act introduces close season for 33 species, April to Aug: extended by various Acts for the preservation for wild birds in the 1870s, 80s, 90s and 1900s.

-          1871: Darwin’s The Descent of Man published.

-          1872: Yellowstone becomes world’s first national park, USA

-          1884: Freedom to roam bill introduced in parliament (the bill fails but the campaign, which was to last for over 100 years, had begun)

-          1891: Society for the Protection of Birds (later RSPB) formed

-          1895: National Trust formed


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-          1900:

o   World Population is about 1.7 billion

o   Convention for the Preservation of Wild Animals, Birds and Fish in Africa

-          1903: Society for the Preservation of the Wild Fauna of the Empire (Later Flora and Fauna International)

-          1909: First Ammonia synthesis (leading to the Haber-Bosch process for production of nitrogen fertilizers)

-          1912: Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves (later Wildlife Trusts) formed

-          1913: Consultative Commission for the International Protection of Nature established

-          1922: International Committee (later, Council) for Bird Preservation (ICBP) established (now BirdLife International)

-          1926: CPRE formed, followed by CPRW and APRS (Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland)

-          1928: Royal Commission on Transport established

-          1929:

o   CPRE launches campaign for National Parks; Addison Committee established, reporting favourably in 1932

o   Pedestrian’s Association for Road Safety formed

-          1931-36: building of the Hoover Dam (USA)

-          1932:

o   mass trespasses on Kinder Scout in the Peak District; from 1932 onwards: UK Groups of leisure activity enthusiasts and nature conservationists, including the Youth Hostels’ Association (YHA), the Council for the Preservation for Rural England (CPRE) and the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) rally together to lobby the Government for measures to protect, and allow access to the countryside, for the benefit of the nation.

o   Introduction of the first sulfa drugs (Sulfonamide), the first antibiotics;

-          1934: International Office for the Protection of Nature (IOPN) established


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-          1935:

o   Peak in 'Dust Bowl' (USA)

o   Ramblers' association formed

-          1936: CPRE, Ramblers, YHA, Council for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) form a voluntary sector Standing Committee on National Parks (SCNP) which argues the case for National Parks and urges the Government to act" (see short 6 minutes film from CPRE in 1938 lobbying for the creation of national parks).

-          1938: Pennine Way Association formed

-          1939: Access to Mountains Act

-          1942-5: mass use of penicillin to cure allied soldiers wounded during the war.

-          1943: Publication of The Living Soil by Evelyn Barbara Balfour (founder of the Soil Association)

-          1945:  "White Paper on National Parks, produced as part of the Labour Party’s planned post-war reconstruction. The government sets up a committee under Sir Arthur Hobhouse, to prepare for National Park legislation, whilst the SCNP and Ramblers’ Association keep up public pressure for National Parks" (source: National Parks).

-          1946: International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling

-          1948:  

o   International Union for the Preservation (1956, Conservation) of Nature (IUPN), established (first international organisation for the protection of Nature)

o   Fairfiel Osborn publishes Our Plundered Planet


-          1949:

o   Aldo Leopold, A Sand Country Almanac, published in the USA (this book contributed to environmental awareness).

o   UN Scientific Conference on the Conservation and Utilisation of Resources

o   1949 is a landmark year as the UK government passes an Act of Parliament to establish National Parks to preserve and enhance their natural beauty and provide recreational opportunities for the public. Lewis Silkin, Minister for Town and Country Planning, describes it as “... the most exciting Act of the post-war Parliament.” (source: National Parks)


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-          1950: World population rise to 2,5 billions.

-          1951: First National Parks in the UK (Peak District). By the end of the decade another 9 National Park have been established: Lake District, Snowdonia, Dartmoor, Pembrokeshire Coast, North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Exmoor, Northumberland and Brecon Beacons National Parks have been established. (source: National Parks)

-          1952:

o   "Great Smog" in London kills 4,000 to 10,000: triggers Beaver Committee on Air Pollution, and leads to 1956 Clean Air Act.

o   The Sea Around Us, a documentary based on Rachel Carson's book of the same title, wins an Oscar for Best Documentary.

-          1954: Protection of Birds Act, instituting ‘Black List’ system of presumed protection.

-          1955: USA: Air Pollution Control Act (first Clean Air Act, although the Act was not binding)

-          1956:

o   'Clean Air Act'; contributes to the improvement of London air, the abatement of pollution, and a switch to different fuels (from coal to oil and gas)

o   The Silent World (French: Le Monde du Silence) film by Jacques-Yves Cousteau is released (the film later won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and the Palme d'Or at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival)

-          1957: Windscale fire (UK)

-          1958:

o   Council for Nature formed as umbrella body for conservation sector; closed 1980.

o   Britain’s first stretch of motorway opened, Preston Bypass (now part of M6), by Prime Minister

-          1961 : WWF formed, initially conceived as a way of raising funds for the IUCN


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-          1962:

o   Publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, warning against the unwanted effects of the insecticide DDT. The book becomes a best-seller and is considered one of the books which launched the environmental movement. As a result of the book, DDT is banned in the USA in 1972.

o   Height of Thalidomide scandal (a drug given to women to relieve morning sickness which caused numerous birth defects before being withdrawn)

-          1963:

o   Treaty banning Nuclear Weapon Tests In The Atmosphere, In Outer Space And Under Water (Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT))

o   UK: Creation of the voluntary sector 'Standing Committee on National Parks' (SCNP) (becomes Council for National Parks (CNP) in 1977)

o   Department of Transport’s Buchanan Report, Traffic in Towns

o   Conference: The Countryside in 1970: I

o   Richard Beeching publishes The Reshaping of British Railways

o   USA: First broadcast of the Flipper TV series

o   USA: Clean Air Act of 1963

-          1964: World Without Sun (in French: Le Monde sans Soleil) by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, wins the Academy Award for Documentary Feature. The film raised awareness about the need for ocean conservation.

-          1965: Conference: The Countryside in 1970: II

-          1966:

o   Aberfan disaster

o   Conservation Society formed, merging with the Environment Council in 1992

-          1967: Sinking of the Torrey Canyon off the coast of France and the UK (oil spillage, leads to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 1969, www.rcep.org.uk);


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-          1968:

o   Intergovernmental Conference of Experts on the Scientific Basis for Rational Use and Conservation of the Resources of the Biosphere

o   Countryside Act (covering England and Wales) (1967 for Scotland)

o   So Human an Animal (René Dubos)

o   Ehrlich Population Bomb published in the USA

o   official recognition by the Japanese government of the cause of Minamata disease (Mercury poisoning of water by a Japanese chemical company)

-          1969:

o   Santa Barbara oil spill (started January 28)

o   "Earthrise", the first picture of planet earth taken from space, appear for the first time in print.

o   founding of Friends of the Earth in the United States by David Brower

o   July: Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. First men on the moon on July 20.

-          1970:

o   Completion of the Aswan High Dam

o   Friends of the Earth’s Environmental Handbook published in the US; UK version follows in 1971

o   European Conservation Year

o   April 22: First Earth Day. 20 millions Americans take part (in 1990, 200 millions people took part in 140 countries)

o   Conference: The Countryside in 1970: III

o   Labour government publishes white paper on The Protection of the Environment: The Fight Against Pollution

o   Norman Borlaug awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to the Green Revolution.

o   Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society is published in the USA.


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-          1971:

o   Foundation of Greenpeace in Canada.

o   May 10: FOE grabs attention with its bottle-drop outside Cadbury-Schweppes’ London HQ

o   UNESCO launches its Man and the Biosphere programme (still ongoing)

o   Ramscar Convention (Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat) drawn up, first global treaty on nature conservation: very limited impact

o   Population Bomb published in the UK

-          1972:

o   UN Conference on the Human Environment (First UN conference on the Environment, a.k.a. Stockholm Conference)

o   First Green parties formed in Tasmania and New Zealand (New Zealand Values Party)

o   Limits to Growth (report by the Club of Rome) published

o   Blueprint for Survival published

o   John Maddox, editor of Nature, publishes The Doomsday Syndrome

o   DoE publishes Fifty Million Volunteers

o   Ward & Dubos’ Only One Earth published – pioneering text of what is now ‘sustainable development’


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-          1973:

o   Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

o   Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)

o   Small is Beautiful (E.F. Schumacher) published

o   Soylent Green movie released, loosely based upon Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room!

o   Thomas R Shepherd Jr. & Melvin Grayson publish The Doomsday Lobby (criticize in particular Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, labelled 'the book that killed')

o   Petr Beckmann publishes Eco-Hysterics and the Technophobes (harsh criticism of the environmental movement and in particular the Limits to Growth report)

o   People’s Party (1975: Ecology Party, 1985: Green Party) formed, the first of its kind in Europe

o   EEC’s first Environmental Action Programme launched (The Sixth runs 2002-2012)

o   Socialist Environmental Resource Association (SERA) formed

-          1974:

o   Ren?Dumont, first ecology candidate at a French presidential election. Scores about 1% of the votes.

o   Control of Pollution Act focuses on water authorities and river pollution: implementation patchy

o   Ernest Callenbach’s novel Ecotopia published

o   FoE publishes Mick Hamer’s Wheels within Wheels, analysing the power of the road lobby

-          1975: European Architectural Heritage Year


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-          1976:

o   Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Environment, first ‘bioregional’ environmental agreement

o   Seveso disaster (10 July) (dioxin pollution, Italy)

-          1977:

o   Transport White Paper, Transport Policy, Cmd 6836

o   Conservative Ecology Group formed

o   Liberal Ecology Group formed

-          1979:

o   Three Mile Island nuclear accident (28 March)

o   Liberal party assembly declares that ‘economic growth as conventionally defined [is] neither indefinitely possible nor desirable’

o   Gaia published (Lovelock)

o   1979: Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)

o   First green MP elected to a national parliament (Daniel Brelaz, Switzerland)

-          1980:

o   Publication of The Global 2000 Report to the President commissioned by President Carter, issued by the State Dept. and the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality. This publication received little attention in the USA but became the Bible of the German green environmental movement.

o   In Belgium the French speaking Ecolo formed; it gained 5% of the votes and five deputies in 1981.

o   Die Gr?en formed, West Germany

o   IUCN launches the World Conservation Strategy

-          1981:

o   Wildlife and Countryside Act (UK)

o   Waldsterben (Forest dieback) reports in the media in Germany.


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-          1982:

o   UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

o   UK: Liberal party produce their first environmental policy document

-          1983:

o   The German green party, Die Grunen, attracts over two million votes (5.6%) and gained 27 seats out of 497 in the federal Parliament

o   Serpill Report (which argued for the further rationalisation of the railways)

-          1984:

o   Bhopal disaster (India): 8 000 dead within the first two weeks, perhaps 30,000 dead in total (probably the worse ecological disaster of the 20th century).

o   Green parties of Benelux, UK, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland met in Liege, Belgium and formed the European Coordination of Green Parties (transformed in 1993 into the European Federation of Green Parties)

o   Foundation of the Green Committees of Correspondence (CoCs) the first 'Green party' in the USA

-          1985:

o   Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer

o   Transport Act (which paved the way for the deregulation of bus services)

-          1986:

o   In Austria, the first Greens entered Parliament in 1986

o   Tchernobyl disaster (26 Avril)

o   DoE publishes Conservation and Development: The British Approach

o   Meeting of religions leaders in Assisi, organised by the WWF, to discuss environmental issues (September)



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-          1987:

o   in Italy the list of the ecological movement - Lista Verdi - wins 13 MPs and two senators

o   Signature of the Montreal protocol banning the production of CFCs, responsible for the hole in the Ozone Layer.

o   World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (the Brundtland report), which introduces the phrase 'sustainable development' and 'sought to bring together the environmental agenda of the North with the developmental agenda of the South' (Carter, Neil. The politics of the environment: ideas, activism, policy. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 209).

o   HMG establishes Inspectorate of Pollution, integrating existing inspectorates for air pollution, radiochemicals and hazardous waste, and adding water pollution to the remit.

o   Council of Europe’s Year of the Countryside (1987-8)

o   EC’s European Year of the Environment (1987-8)

-          1988:

o   Karin B incident (toxin waste 'exported' to Nigeria illegally by Italian businessmen, repatriated to Italy by the Karin B ship)

o   June: Climate Scientist Jim Hansen declares to the US congress that the earth is warming and that human activities are responsible.

o   Creation of the IPCC

o   Phocine distemper virus (PDV) kills half of Britain's seal population

o   27 September: Margaret Thatcher speech to the Royal Society (mentions Climate Change, acid rain and ozone hole);

o   October: Margaret Thatcher’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference (mentions climate change, ozone layer, acid rain, etc. and says: "It's we Conservatives who are not merely friends of the Earth—we are its guardians and trustees for generations to come. (…) No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy—with a full repairing lease".

o   October: Environmental / Pollution concerns appear in IPSOS Mori polls 'The Most Important Issues Facing Britain Today', for the first time since the begining of  the survey in 1974. (responses in Mori polls are unprompted).

o   FOE (E, W, NI) launches its first direct mail campaign

o   FOE publishes The Heat Trap, a state-of-the-knowledge review of climate change

o   France: Antoine Waechter, candidate for the French green party, gathers 3,3 % of the votes at the French Presidential elections.  

o   December: Gorbachev addresses the UN General assembly, suggesting the UN should play a more important role for protecting the environment.   The address mentions the word ‘environment’ once and offers to complement the blue-helmeted armed forces serving under the United Nations with a "Green Helmet" force to react to natural catastrophes and environmental crises.


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-          1989:

o   January 1st: The Montreal Protocol enters into force (banning CFCs)

o   Department of Transport’s National Road Traffic Forecasts predict rises of 82-142% by 2025.

o   Department of Transport’s Roads to Prosperity White Paper

o   24 March: Exxon Valdez oil spill, Alaska

o   In New York, Teddy Goldsmith petitions the United Nations with three million signatures calling for an emergency debate on the fate of the rainforests

o   May: first meeting of the countries who have signed the Montreal Protocol in Helsinki: calls for a complete phase-out of CFCs and halons.

o   May: Shevardnadze calls for the creation of a “UN Center for Emergency Environmental Assistance,” commonly referred to as the “Green Helmets,” to be headed by a UN undersecretary-general.

o   Basle Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal

o   June: surge in the green vote at the European elections. The Green party in the UK obtained 15% of the vote (its highest score ever). In France, two green lists obtained over 11.5% of the vote (the highest score for the green vote in France until the 2009 European elections). In Germany and in Italy, the green vote gathers respectively 10% and 6% of the vote, the highest score so far in both countries.

o   Nov 8 1989: Margaret Thatcher speech about the Global Environment at the UN

o   1989 The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the ivory trade by placing elephants on its Appendix I list of sacrosanct creatures. The ban had immediate impact.

-          1990

o   September: British Government’s first Environment White Paper, This Common Inheritance, issued, Cmd 1200; Labour and the Liberals follow with similar statements

o   Shell fined £1m for oil leak into Mersey

o   1990: IPCC First Assessment report


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-          1991:

o   IUCN, UNEP and WWF launch Caring for the Earth – A Strategy for Sustainable Living (following up WCS)

o   Club of Rome publish The First Global Revolution

-          1992:

o   UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio Earth Summit) adoption of Agenda 21 which provides a blueprint for implementing sustainable development agreed at the 1992 Earth Summit (approved by 170 nations).

o   EC Environmental Information Regulation comes into force

o   1992: UN Framework convention on Climate Change

o   1992: UN Convention on Biological Diversity

-          1993: January: MV Braer oil spill, Shetlands

-          1994:

o   Jan: HMG. publishes strategies on sustainable development, climate change, biodiversity and sustainable forestry to meet its UNCED commitments

o   Labour party issues In Trust for Tomorrow

o   UN Convention to Combat Desertification

-          1995:

o   Brent Spar campaign opposing Greenpeace and Shell over the disposal of an oil platform in the North Sea

o   Finnish Green League becomes first Green party to join a national governing coalition

o   ‘Great transport debate’, HMG consultation exercise

o   Council of Europe’s European Nature Conservation Year

o   Second IPPC report


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-          1996:

o   Ralph Nader candidate to the US presidential elections for the Green Party

o   Transport: The Way Ahead, Cmd 3234, published for E&W (complemented the following year by Keeping Scotland Moving, Cmd 3565, green papers marking a shift away from Roads to Prosperity, and taking the lead of 1994 reports from RCEP and Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment (SACTRA).

o   Environment Agency results from merger of National Rivers Authority and HM Inspectorate of Pollution

o   Mad-Cow disease crisis triggered by the report, in March, that the disease could be transmitted to humans.

-          1997: December: Kyoto Protocol negotiated

-          1999: Labour govt. issues A Better Quality of Life

-          2000 :

o   World Population = 6 billion

o   Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

o   UK SDC established as NDPB, coming out of the UK Round Table on Sustainable Development, and the British Government Panel on Sustainable Development, headed by Jonathan Porritt.

o   Ralph Nader candidate for the American presidential elections for the Green Party

o   September: Fuels protests

o   Autumn 2000: wettest autumn since records began - widespread flooding across the UK


-          2001: Third IPCC report

-          2002:

o   World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002 (WSSD), to review progress in the years since the Rio Earth Summit (the summit was considered by many as a failure).

o   28 Days Later released, UK


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-          2003:

o   Heat wave in Europe causes the death of nearly 50,000 people.

o   LibDems issue A Better Environment, A Better Life

-          2004:

o   The Day After Tomorrow released

o   Wangari Muta Maathai (Kenyan environmentalist) awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace" (first environmentalist ever to receive the prize, if one excludes Norman Borlaug who received it in 1970).

-          2005:

o   Kyoto protocol comes into Force (16 February 2005)

o   Buncefield oil Depot fire - toxic cloud reaches northern Spain.


-          2006:

o   An Inconvenient Truth (winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature)

o   Cameron's 'Vote Blue, go Green' campaign at 2006 local elections.

o   30 October: Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change

-          2007:

       o   March: EC proposes carbon emission cuts of 20% by 2020 (20-20-20 targets)

o   Fourth IPCC assessment report, which states in its summary: "Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations."

o   Former US Vice-President Al Gore and the IPCC awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change" (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2007/index.html)

-          2008:

o   26 November: Climate Change Act  (http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2008/ukpga_20080027_en_1)

-          2009:

o   European elections: Green parties in France total nearly 20% of votes (highest score ever); Green party in the UK obtains 8,6% of the vote, second highest score after 1989 elections.

o   December: Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change

-          2010: First Green MP elected at a general election in Britain (Caroline Lucas, Brighton).


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