This long-awaited legislation is vital, as we leave the EU, to secure essential environmental protections and measures to tackle the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis.
Responding to the draft Bill, Debbie Tann, Chief Executive of Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said:
“The Wildlife Trusts, together with many other environmental organisations, have been pushing hard to secure the legislation that nature deserves. We and our members and supporters have been calling for a Nature Recovery Network to be at the heart of this Bill and we are pleased that Government has listened. There are other welcome commitments, including mandatory biodiversity net gain for new developments and measures to tackle unsustainable water abstraction.
“But there is still everything still to play for. The Bill must be strong enough to create change throughout Government, industry and society. It can’t be watered down and it has to be properly resourced. This is our once-in-a generation chance to transform the fortunes of wildlife and the natural environment.
“The biggest risk is that, with the on-going Brexit turmoil, this Bill could just sit on the shelf. Nature’s recovery cannot wait for calmer political waters and this must be a priority for all politicians to drive forward today.”
According to Debbie, the following gives an overview of some of the key commitments within the draft Bill:
• Governance – Our most special local wildlife sites: The New Forest, The Solent, the Rivers Itchen and Avon and Thames Basin Heaths are all given protection by European legislation. Indeed we have way over the national average of land in this category. So when we leave the EU we need a strong domestic body of law to give them as good or better protections if they are to be at the heart of securing nature’s recovery. But laws need teeth and the European Court of Justice had big ones! So the conservation bodies have been fighting for an effective regulator and the Bill sets out a plan for an Office for Environmental Protection which we welcome. We need to ask our MP’s to make sure this is properly resourced and governed.
Furthermore Government as a whole needs to own this full scope of the Bill’s content which the public are rallying behind like never before: Treasury, Housing, Business, Health departments all need to get behind the Environmental Principles set out in the Bill and work in the same direction. In our area this means a realistic and perhaps radical overhaul of how we view our land and natural resources, especially our approach to housing, economy and agriculture as well as water, fisheries and recreation. Holding this all together will be Environmental Improvement Plans which could be an effective way of providing accountability and scrutiny. We need to push for these plans to be at a meaningful scale so that we can challenge centralised targets such as impossible volumes of house building locally.
• Nature Recovery Network – We need to go beyond merely protecting existing wildlife havens to making much more space for nature. Locally we want the amount of land where wildlife takes priority to be tripled in the coming years. So we welcome commitment to a Nature Recovery Network enshrined in law because without it, most likely we will see wildlife plummeting locally as nationally. We are very pleased that the proposal for Local Nature Recovery Strategies has been included – something the Wildlife Trusts have been really pushing hard for. Our huge areas of farmland and even built-up areas need to be restored for nature and the environment so that wildlife recovery can take place, at the same time doing our bit to lock away carbon and clean and store precious water. The Trust and its partners locally have already defined what we want the Network to look like and we now want to see detailed commitment to securing and aligning resources to make the Strategies workable.
• Biodiversity Net Gain – We are delighted that the draft Bill contains mandated Biodiversity Net Gain – this would require that all new developments must not merely avoid harm to wildlife but go further to secure wildlife recovery through measurable gains. Where this is not possible within a development site gains must be meaningfully delivered offsite in Nature Recovery Areas. Developers are already getting behind this voluntarily and are finding that it can be good not only for wildlife but it can create more attractive places for people to live as well. We also want to see these principles replicated in our coastal and marine areas too and need to actively steer the debate in this direction.
• Water -The Act must play its part in ensuring that a clean and abundant supply of water, which is essential for our globally important chalk rivers and wetlands to remain healthy, is ensured through fairly yet robust regulation; once again Europe has been a major force here in cleaning-up our water bodies. We welcome the inclusion of Regional Water Plans so that water companies must work even more cooperatively and with long-term objectives, as well as reform of water abstraction so that licences are issued where needed and well managed. Nature plays a part in managing past and present water pollution and we are pushing for nature-based solutions to our local pollution burden. As water quantity and quality become increasingly uncertain due to climate change, the need of our rivers and wetlands must be put at the heart of legislation for water in the Act.
• Air Quality – The Act must also tackle our air pollution crisis, with Southampton and Portsmouth especially failing to meet healthy standards – local action in reducing the burning of fossil fuels in the increasingly frantic dash to and from work and pleasure is eroding our health, our quality of life, and damaging sensitive wildlife. And yet wildlife in the form of trees and green spaces is part of a nature-based solution to reducing the harmful effects. We want to see ambitious targets for reducing air pollution in our region, and recognition of the part nature plays in cleaning our air.
• Plastic Waste – Not only are our local seas bearing the burden of plastic waste –everything from huge pieces of floating polystyrene to invisible microplastics permeate our seas and, as we are finding out, our rivers and soils too. We are delighted that the Bill responds to the overwhelming public sentiment that we should end the production of single-use plastics which end up in our environment and cause untold impacts on our marine and aquatic wildlife.