October Top storiesEnvironment Bill
After a delay of over 200 days, the Environment Bill returns to the Commons on 3 November. We look forward to working with Greener UK to ensure the Bill fulfils its full potential. Over the next few weeks, as the Bill resumes its passage through Committee stage, we will be pressing for a number of key amendments to strengthen the Bill, including a state of nature target to commit the Government to act swiftly to reverse the decline of nature. A new Government amendment, giving Ministers power to advise the new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) on how it will be able to enforce environmental law, is of real concern. We will make a strong case for guaranteeing the OEP the independence it needs to effectively do its job as a green watchdog.
There is lots of work to do to shape the Bill to meet the needs of the environment, and to ensure it rises to the challenge of this critical moment for nature. All hands on deck!
The Agriculture Bill truly ping-ponged its way through Parliament in October. First, the Commons voted down amendments made in the Lords to protect UK environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards in law. Several prominent backbench Tory MPs rebelled against the Government to vote in favour of the amendments, but they were too few to overcome the Government’s 80-seat majority, with the key amendment falling 332 votes to 279.
Subsequently, the Lords voted back the very same amendments, which the Commons will consider again after recess in early November. Our briefing for Commons consideration of Lords amendments in lieu, produced in partnership with Greener UK, can be found here.
Other Link priority amendments, such as securing better join up between agricultural policy and environmental goals, also fell on return to the Commons.
As is often the case, progress from the Lords was undone in the Commons in this month – MPs, following Government recommendations, removed the commitment to sustainable fisheries management that Lords enshrined at the centre of the Bill. The Bill is now back with the Lords for consideration of Commons amendments, but sadly it looks like the fight for the inclusion of sustainable fisheries management has been lost. We will continue to highlight the impact that overfishing has on both the marine environment and coastal communities, and how action is urgently is needed. It is very welcome that the Government is calling for protection of 30% of global ocean by 2030 – however how can this be achieved if we can't tackle overfishing in domestic waters?
Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill
The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill was published this month by Phillip Dunne MP, proposing ambitious new measures to turn the tide on river pollution from untreated sewage and to improve water quality. The Bill was welcomed by Link, particularly following last month’s water quality data reveal that 0% of rivers, lakes and streams are classed as in good health in England.
The proposed measures include placing a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into our inland waters, to increase monitoring and reporting of sewage pollution, and to establish targets to increase the number of inland bathing waters classed as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.
The Bill will be going for its Second Reading on 13th November. We will continue to support the #EndSewagePollution coalition in their campaign to get 100 MPs to support the Bill, to push it through to a Third Reading.
With the consultation closing this week for the Government’s White Paper on 'Planning for the Future', we have been shedding light on how these proposed reforms could affect nature. Planning should not just be about mitigating harm to our natural world; it should play a positive role in nature’s recovery.
These reforms have some of the right components, such as more strategic planning, more capacity for governing bodies, better building design standards and improved access to data and digitisation, which could all help reduce delays and save money in a way that is compatible with nature’s recovery. However, the Government’s proposals in these areas not only fail to integrate its environmental improvement aims and mechanisms into the planning system to work towards nature’s recovery, the reforms also pose severe risk to the environment. By strengthening their proposals for the planning system, the Government has the opportunity to foster thriving and connected natural places and landscapes across England.
Going forward, we will continue to work with government, MPs and others to advocate for a greater integration of the 25 Year Environment Plan commitments, as well as linking the planning reforms with the government’s ambition to protect 30% of UK land and sea by 2030.
The Government’s response to its consultation on Freeports, published in October, is cause for concern. It commits to, among other things, using freeports as a ‘testbed’ for wider planning reforms such as zoning. Much of our coastline comprises vulnerable and distinctive habitats, including many legally protected sites. Any direct or indirect effects on those important habitats should continue to be subject to careful environmental assessment.
There is also a worrying conflation of the net zero potential of freeports with protection of biodiversity and the environment. It’s no use tackling one environmental issue at the expense of another – they must be considered in tandem.
Aside from a generic commitment that ‘high UK environmental standards will not be compromised’, the response provides very little detail as to how the myriad environmental risks freeports pose will be mitigated. In addition to the risks of weakened environmental protections in planning and development, freeports also operate ‘streamlined’ customs processes which bring with them inherent risks for biosecurity and the illegal wildlife trade. Link’s response to the consultation has more detail.
Nature Recovery Network Delivery Partnership
On 5 November, Natural England will launch the Nature Recovery Network Delivery Partnership. This partnership is a broad network of cross-sectoral organisations including NGOs, agencies and private businesses who are committed to delivering the Nature Recovery Network. Link will be represented by Ben McCarthy, National Trust, on the Delivery Partnership’s Management Group, which is led by Natural England and supported by Defra, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission.
UK Biodiversity Indicators
Earlier this month saw the release of Defra's updated UK Biodiversity Indicators report, which sets out the broad trends in the health of the country’s species and habitats. Following some deeply concerning conclusions in the Global Biodiversity Outlook and the RSPB’s ‘Lost decade for nature’ report back in September, the updated indicators paint a painfully familiar picture.
24 indicators, comprising a total of 52 measures were reported, covering both long-term and short term change. Out of the 52 measures recorded, 14 show long-term decline, including the abundance and distribution of priority species, and habitats and species of European importance. Link’s response to the news was covered by several news outlets, many of which also highlighted the lack of public spending dedicated to biodiversity in the UK.
Ahead of the Convention on Biological Diversity in China in 2021, the UK government has the opportunity to reverse these trends and lead by example on the global stage to set ambitious, legally-binding targets and renew investment to restore species and habitats.
This month saw the Prime Minister announce £160m as a first step in a 10-point plan for Green Recovery, following promises made to protect 30% of land for nature by 2030. Richard Benwell, CEO of Link, explores some key features to look out for in his field guide for green recovery, including the need for strong laws for nature, and provisions for ecosystem recovery on both land and sea.
Other blogs include Andrew Allen of Woodland Trust discussing the launch of the Big Climate Fightback, and Ian Nutt of Earth Trust writing on the need for accessible green spaces for all, with suggestions for how this can be achieved.
Other blogs, publications and press releases this month include:
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