The Natural Capital Committee has reported its recommendations for a 25-year Environment Plan. There are five key sections to this important report:
- Vision, ambition and goals
- Investment needs
- Agricultural subsidies post-Brexit
Twelve goals are offered; these include:
- Breathable air that achieves international standards;
- Flood protection by various means including natural flood management to protect everybody against a 0.5% probability of flooding:
- All inland water to be of good status, and coastal waters all to be good for bathing;
- Greenhouse gas emissions conforming to international targets, including emissions from land-based activities
- Access to local greenspace and open recreation for all. The following goals are suggested:
- One hectare of local nature reserve per 1,000 people;
- Two hectares of natural greenspace within 300 m of every home;
- A 20 ha greenspace within 2 km of every home
- No suggestion is made that the effect of this has been modelled and compared with the current state of provision.
Turning to investments the report proposes 11 items and these include:
- 250,000 ha of woodland by 2040;
- All peat to be in favourable condition;
- Restoration of hydrological cycles including channel restoration and natural flood management measures;
- New National Parks (no suggestions as to where);
- Farm funding to be limited to public goods and high welfare standards;
- Working closely with Local Nature Partnerships;
- Developer contributions via planning etc to be pooled for natural capital investment;
- An enhanced capacity for citizen action and involvement;
- A Natural Capital Net Gain principle which would apply to planning, environmental regulation and public procurement wherever possible;
- Despite being referred to as investments, none of these are funded or compared with the status quo.
Five year milestones are proposed, which need to be supported by a natural capital risk register; accounting measures; cost benefit appraisal approaches and natural capital balance sheets. Pp 8 and 9 of the report make particular mention of the private sector in this respect but do not expand on this point.
It is proposed that there should be a State of the Environment Report by 2019 and that this should be updated regularly. For governance the committee propose that the 25 year Environment Plan should be placed on a statutory footing under the authority of a single organisation, with a separate independent body on the lines of the National Audit Office to report regularly on progress.
The final section is concerned with agricultural policy and is perhaps the vaguest part of the report. Much is made of the examples of market orientated projects like South West Water’s involvement in Upstream Thinking. Although the report claims that several water companies are involved in such schemes, this is the only example to be cited. There are indeed other examples and it is a shame that the report does not address more fully the challenges in developing new thinking in this area compared with its more defined focus in earlier sections.
Perhaps on the other hand however, this should be welcomed by those of us who have spent a lifetime involved in day to day management of rural estates and farms as an opportunity still to bring practical common sense and hard-earned local knowledge to further deliberations on these matters.
This provides the perfect opportunity to finish on an event being organised by the Ecosystem Knowledge Network with the Tatton Estate and the Country Land and Business Association on Natural Capital for Rural Estate Professionals at the end of October. The latest report from the Natural Capital Committee is an important step forward in defining our rural future – do come and join us to see how this might begin to look on the ground.