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It's Up To Us

The Environment Bill

I'm currently watching the House of Lords debate amendments to the delayed Environment Bill. There are impressive and well informed people speaking, and the House continues to defeat the government on amendment after amendment. It's working very hard to try to get the Bill passed ahead of COP26, and to try to extend its scope and stiffen its resolve. Right now they're insisting on a statutory tree strategy, which would be great to see.

The government itself is represented by Zak Goldsmith who - regardless of your political views - absolutely knows his potatoes in this area, but I'm sure knows he's on the wrong side of these arguments.  

The Lords' success in amending the Bill seems to have led it to being kicked into the long grass. According to the Daily Telegraph - so it must be true - Downing Street doesn't like what it sees. The Lords' objections broadly fit into these categories:

  • Strengthening the power and independence of the new Office for Environmental Protection.
  • Restoring discretion to the courts to allow them to stop environmental damage.
  • Introducing statutory requirements - e.g. targets on pollution etc.

I don't hold much hope that these are going to be resolved. Essentially the Lords don't trust the government to follow through on their commitments. I can't imagine why. The long awaited and much delayed Environment Bill is increasingly looking like it will be toothless and unambitious.

This is as odd as it is depressing. Although there's a lot of other stuff going on, what with the hype ahead of this world beating etc Bill and COP26 you might expect the government to be as enthusiastic about it as the House of Lords is. What's more, this kind of thing is polling excitingly well among younger voters. 

You can draw your own conclusions.

The Environment Bill is one of three major elements of government environmental policy under the spotlight at the moment.  

ELMS

Today the National Audit Office issued a damning report on the progress of ELMS - that is, the Environment Land Management Scheme. I've written about this before. It's the Govian scheme to replace the EU's disastrous Common Agricultural Policy. Looks great on paper, but is clearly completely unworkable in the current framework... as the National Audit Office agrees. It's incredibly complex and there just aren't the resources to action it. Nor are there likely to be any time soon.

Biodiversity Net Gain

The other area running into *ahem* local difficulties is Biodiversity Net Gain, a key concept behind new planning requirements. This was never going to work. The concept is that if you destroy natural stuff in the coiurse of building a housing estate you have to replace it with something of at least equvalent value. I kind of get the idea of Natural Capital, but it's predicated on the idea that you can accurately "measure" nature. It's nonsense, of course. If you bulldoze 10 acres of ancient woodland how many trees do you have to plant to compensate for it? And how do you value different habitats? Apparently scrub is of no value at all, according to the score sheets. The whole scheme is woefully short of expert input to compound its problems - another of my hobby horses. Like ELMS, it will need huge amounts of informed initial and ongoing input - at a time when only around 20% local councils have an ecologist on their books. 

It's Up To Us

 So... all this adds up to confirming a growing conviction that we shouldn't be looking to central government to sort this out. The kind of solutions on the table are too expensive and too complex to work. Perhaps local government iniatives might be the answer in the long run, but in the meantime it's up to us, as consumers, gardeners and landowners.