The former environment minister warned that it would be a “terrible mistake” for the new government to abandon nature conservation for economic growth.
MP George Eustice said the “body language” of the new government was unsettling the wildlife community, and he urged the government to commit to green growth that creates jobs and improves the environment.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, he said: “We can only achieve sustainable growth if we protect our planet.
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“You always need strict protection for vulnerable or endangered species. And you always need strict protection for certain habitats.
“You can’t turn a blind eye and say: none of this matters.”
RSPB, Wildlife Trust, National Trust and other environmental charities are alarmed at the government’s lack of commitment to nature in its growth plans.
They worry that regulations to protect flora and fauna and set air and water quality standards may disappear or be diluted.
During his tenure, Mr Eustice said he developed an agricultural policy that inspired farmers to improve nature, including the use of herbs, a mix of grasses and flowering plants that are beneficial to soil, livestock and wildlife.
“Abandoning this would be a terrible mistake,” he said.
“The way to get growth is to have healthy soil, a healthy environment, and really adopt some of the regenerative farming techniques that our policies encourage.
“If you drop that and go back to that 1970s vision of heavy pesticide use and unsustainable farming, then I think you’re at a disadvantage both economically and naturally.”
The UK is one of the countries with the most scarce natural resources in the world. According to the RSPB, 41% of plant and animal species are in decline and 15% are at risk of extinction.
Mr Eustice added that some environmental regulations based on EU directives were “clunky” and did not do a good job of protecting nature.
But they should be simplified, not scrapped.
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He said: “I hope we don’t see a return to people talking about salamanders and bats being the problem because they’re not.
“It’s not that nature is going to be a barrier to growth. It’s that some of the processes that have been established are more cumbersome than they need to be.”
The government says it is committed to reversing the natural decline by 2030.