One of the less easily understood mechanisms of the Houses of Parliament is the role that that select committees play in scrutinising policy development and implementation.
Environmental Audit Committee inquiry
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is unusual in that it does not specialise in a single Government department but instead looks at the environmental impact of all Government departments. The EAC’s immediate response to the referendum decision was to hold an inquiry into “the future of the natural environment after the EU referendum”. The Trust submitted evidence.
As might be expected from one of the first inquiries after the Referendum, the inquiry is quite broad and its recommendations are equally broad. Nonetheless, there are some interesting points raised. The Committee has led its conclusions with the need for a new Environmental Protection Act. While this is eye-catching, the underlying messages about timing and the extent of the impact of leaving the EU are perhaps the areas where we have the most interest.
- Over 70% if the land area of the UK is in some form of agricultural use.
- Total UK income from EU agriculture budget last year was £3.5 billion.
- EU farm subsidies currently make up to around 50-60% of total UK farm incomes.
- More than 80% of delivery of the UK’s biodiversity strategies is funded through agri-environment spending.
- According to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, approximately a third of the over 800 pieces of EU environmental legislation will be difficult to transpose into UK law.
Leaving the EU
Leaving the EU will lead to the most important changes in land management policy for 40 years, and the committee wants to ensure that there is a clear direction of travel for both environmental legislation and land management policy. They want to see the same level of protection or better for our natural resources, and to ensure that environmental commitments are not used as a bargaining chip or sacrificed in trade negotiations. But the timing is the interesting aspect – they want to see clarity on all this before Article 50 is triggered!
There are also interesting questions about devolution. Both agriculture and environment are devolved issues, with decisions being made at an individual country level yet the trade negotiations and commitments will be undertaken at a UK level.
25 year plan
Our eyes are already on the proposed ‘25 year plans’ for the Environment and for Farming in England. The EAC recommends better coordination of these two plans as part of a combined negotiating strategy. But they also want to see both plan frameworks published - and consulted on - before Article 50 is triggered. The Secretary of State in her speech at the Oxford Farming Conference today committed to producing green papers on each plan for consultation but no date was given.
Both ‘25 year plans’ provide an opportunity to develop new, sustainable land management policy and a crucial chance to secure a future for the UK’s woods and trees. We have been working behind the scenes for some time, along with Wildlife and Countryside Link coalition members, to share our views and our vision, and we hope you will join us in taking part once it’s clear how the public can get involved.
In the meantime - even if the UK adopts EU-based legislation which currently protects the species which depend on these precious habitats - ancient woodland still has no specific protection in its own right.
Together, we can help give it the protection it deserves.
Please add your support to our ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign. And as the Secretary of State said “We can go even further to care for our stunning habitats and landscapes”