The Government has a plan for economic growth through investment zones. It is not true to claim we are attacking nature nor going back on our commitments. We have legislated through the ground-breaking Environment Act and will continue to improve our regulations and wildlife laws in line with our ambitious vision. The Environment Act 2021 will deliver one of the most ambitious environmental programmes of any country on earth. Through the Act, the UK will clean up the country’s air, restore natural habitats, increase biodiversity, reduce waste and make better use of our resources. It will halt the decline of species by 2030, clean up our air and protect the health of our rivers, reform how we deal with waste and tackle deforestation overseas.
The Environment Act 2021, which was brought forward by this Government, requires this and all future Governments to set a new, historic legally binding target to be set to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030, as a core part of our commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. Through the Nature Recovery Green Paper, Ministers are exploring proposals to create a system which will better enable the delivery of that target, and which better reflects our domestic species and habitats.
I would like to assure you that none of the proposals outlined in the Green Paper reduces protections. The proposals seek to make it easier for everyone who engages with protected sites to understand our goals for our sites, reasons for protecting them, and how sites can be effectively managed to achieve nature recovery. The ambition is to create a system that better reflects the latest scientific evidence including the impacts of climate change, the domestic and international importance of our species and habitats, and our significant goals to recover nature, both on land and at sea.
I understand that the current process highlights where sites are in poor condition. Instead, Ministers want to find opportunities to create a system that better reflects the latest science and finds solutions to help drive nature recovery, maintain protections, and create more upfront certainty and clarity for all. The working group recommendations for a “clearer decision-making framework” and “strategic solutions” reflect this.
The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing the landscape and scenic beauty in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Specific strong protections are enshrined for protected areas or assets of particular importance within the framework, including Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Green Belt, irreplaceable habitats, and designated heritage assets.
Under proposed changes to the planning system, the process used to assess the potential environmental effects of relevant plans and major projects will be improved through a requirement to prepare Environmental Outcome Reports. This will put protecting our environment and pursuing environmental improvements at the forefront of assessments. This is in addition to changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, which has been updated with a new expectation that all new streets are tree-lined, alongside measures to improve biodiversity and access to nature through design.
You may also be interested to know that the Environment Act introduces mandatory net gain for biodiversity into the planning system. This will ensure that new houses are not built at the expense of nature and deliver thriving natural spaces for our communities. Planning for nature recovery will also be improved through Local Nature Recovery Strategies, while Nature Recovery Networks will be established to join up nature sites and create wildlife-rich places.
Environmental Land Management Scheme
As part of the Agricultural Transition Plan, I am aware that the Government is introducing three agricultural schemes to replace the arbitrary land-based subsidies we retained from the EU. Instead, the Government is introducing policies that work for farm businesses, food production and the environment, including the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery. I understand that Ministers aim for at least 70 per cent of farms to participate in these schemes, by making sure that all farm types can access the funding and support that works for them.
The Sustainable Farming Incentive will support sustainable approaches to farming that will benefit the environment alongside food production. This year, the initial offer is focused on soils, supporting farmers to build the health and fertility of their soil and reduce soil erosion which is essential for sustainable food production. This will help to bolster food security and the longer-term resilience of the sector. This scheme is now open for applications via the Rural Payments Agency.
Further, Local Nature Recovery will pay for locally-targeted actions to make space for nature in the farmed landscape and the wider countryside, alongside food production. I am aware that these could be done, for example, on parts of farms that are not suitable for production, less productive or difficult to work. I understand that this scheme is expected to be rolled out in 2024.
Finally, the Landscape Recovery scheme will support long-term, significant habitat restoration and land use change which will be essential for the UK’s climate ambitions. The application process for the first round of Landscape Recovery projects launched earlier this year and I understand that there have been positive applications from a range of partnerships, including farmers. There will be more details announced in the coming months.
the UK is committed to playing a leading role in developing an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework to be adopted at COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
As part of the global biodiversity framework, I know that the UK will be advocating for ambitious global targets to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. This includes targets to ensure at least 30 per cent of the global land and the ocean is protected, ecosystems are restored, species population sizes are recovering, and extinctions are halted by 2050.
Further, the UK’s Presidency of the United Nations Climate Summit (the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) placed nature at the heart of COP26. I know that the Government’s priority is to continue to ensure there is global recognition that biodiversity loss and climate change are inextricably linked, and that action on nature is vital for achieving the Paris goals. I am proud of the leadership shown by the UK in bringing parties together and building consensus through partnerships such as the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, which has now been endorsed by more than 90 political leaders. At the G7 Summit in 2021, Leaders agreed on the Nature Compact, setting out commitments to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.
Domestically, the Environment Act 2021 sets a new, historic legally binding target to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. This is a core part of the Ministers’ commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we found it and is supported by the powerful package of new policies and tools in the Act. Biodiversity net gain, Local Nature Recovery Strategies and a strengthened biodiversity duty on public authorities will work together to drive action, to create or restore rich habitats that enable wildlife to recover and thrive, while conservation covenants will help secure habitat for the long term.
Finally, the Government is investing over £750 million in the Nature for Climate Fund and is expanding on the 364,000 football pitches of priority habitat which has been created or restored since 2010 through the establishment of the Nature Recovery Network. This is all part of the programme of work to deliver our international commitments domestically under the 25-Year Environment Plan.