The Guardian’s environment correspondent today wrote an opinion piece covering our Environment, Agriculture and Fisheries Bills.
We do not agree with her premise that our bills are a threat to our wildlife and natural environment.
Now we have left the EU, we can transform British agriculture to reward farmers for enhancing the environment, tackling climate change and protecting our wildlife for future generations.
We’re clear we will continue to lead the world on the environment and our three landmark Bills will be the cornerstone of the work.
Our Agriculture Bill will replace the Common Agricultural Policy, which the Guardian recognises was “disastrous for wildlife and nature”, with a new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme to properly reward farmers for their work to provide ‘public goods’, such as cleaner air and water.
We are now developing ELM with farmers and land managers on the ground so we can harness their ideas. The Guardian also claims erroneously that birds will be at risk. But they are already protected by UK law, the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
The Environment Bill is a vital piece of legislation, setting targets in the four priority areas. This includes a duty to set an ambitious, legally-binding target for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the most damaging pollutant to human health.
The Guardian acknowledges these targets need time for expert input. This expert input is needed to scrutinise and test the targets, so we get this right, rather than rushing to set targets quickly.
Alongside long-term targets, the article does not mention the Bill obliges government to set five-yearly interim targets and to report annually on whether the natural environment has improved. The new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will also provide its own independent annual scrutiny of progress.
Criticism of the OEP’s independence ignores the fact across all the OEP’s work, ministers will not be able to set its programme of activity or improperly influence its decision-making. Furthermore, ministers will be required to protect the OEP’s independence.
The OEP will have the power to undertake its own investigations at its own instigation and will be able to take central Government and public bodies to court for any serious breach of environmental law, if necessary. Our own courts would then be able to issue penalties as they see fit, e.g. fines.
The Environment Bill will also deliver legally binding, long-term water quality target. The Guardian questions the power to update the list of harmful substances. But this this allows us to tackle the most harmful substances in our water based on the latest science.
The Guardian recognises the Fisheries Bill commits the UK to sustainable fishing and setting legally binding plans to achieve Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) for all fish stocks.
But not that we are seeking a fairer share of quota, as a proportion of the existing sustainable catch, not an increase in fishing pressure on fish stocks.
As well as powers to implement new deals negotiated with the EU and other coastal states, set quotas, fishing opportunities and days at sea, the Bill includes new measures for Devolved Governments and a single set of UK-wide fisheries objectives to ensure that fish stocks, and the marine environment, are better protected.