First thoughts on today’s 25 year Environment Plan? Confirmation of the direction of travel we have seen since the Natural Environment White Paper of 2011: The Natural Choice: securing the Value of Nature
The headline points for farmers and land managers:
- An environmental net gain principle for development, housing and infrastructure;
- A new Environmental Land Management system;
- New farming rules for water;
- More efficient fertiliser use;
- Crop protection while reducing pesticide impacts;
- Better information on soil health
- Peatland restoration and an end to the use of peat in horticulture by 2030;
- A new Northern Forest (recently announced separately);
- Larger scale woodland creation and the appointment of a national Tree Champion (a heart of oak presumably);
- More use of natural flood management;
- More sustainable drainage systems;
- Flood risk properties to be made more resilient;
- Opportunities for the reintroduction of native species;
- Improved biosecurity to protect and conserve nature;
- Potentially more National Parks and AONBs;
- New approaches to water abstraction, greater efficiency in water use, less personal use of water;
- Environmental therapies through mental health services;
- More green infrastructure and more trees in towns and cities;
- 2019 Year of Green Action;
- Reducing food supply chain emissions and waste;
- Improved management of ‘residual’ waste and wastewater;
- Fly tipping crackdown;
- Reduced chemical contamination in water.
Other measures are aimed at the marine environment and promote the UK as a global leader in the environment. A new independent body is proposed to hold the government to account. This will be supported by an annual report, the development of new metrics, better local planning, a Green Business Council and more effective partnerships.
Landowners, farmers, estate managers and their advisers must take a close interest in the emerging policy. Public funding is likely to be focussed exclusively on the provision of public goods – a clear signal for the future of government agricultural support. The supporting documents also make clear that the ‘polluter pays’ principle will continue and is likely to be strengthened, so environmental outcomes will be achieved by a combination of stick and carrot with the regulatory bar rising ever higher.
While the 25 year plan will provide new opportunities and approaches it will also require us to re-examine traditional practices. This may be uncomfortable, particularly given our post-Brexit economic uncertainty and the plan’s commitment to maintain environmental regulation at a minimum of existing EU levels, with Theresa May’s introduction saying: “When the UK leaves the EU, control of important areas of environmental policy will return to these shores. We will use this opportunity to strengthen and enhance the protections our countryside, rivers, coastline and wildlife habitats enjoy, and develop new methods of agricultural and fisheries support which put the environment first”.
Regrettably the plan does not take us much further forward on the development of private sector opportunities. In a section towards the end of the report headed Catalysing private investment we are told that the business case for natural capital investment will be sharpened by measuring the benefits of natural capital improvement (put at a cost:benefit ratio of 1:3 to 1:9 elsewhere in the report) and that, “the government will take steps to encourage private sector investment wherever possible, targeting public funds at projects that provide purely public goods”. In other words if you want it you’re going to have to pay for it. Perhaps still a little early for the age of the eco-entrepreneur?