All posts by Tony Bloor

Environment Agency “invested £1.3bn on the environment in 2017-18”

Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management accounts for almost two-thirds of EA spending

Annual Report measures Environment Agency performance

July 25th 2018

The Environment Agency published its annual report this month, together with its financial accounts for the 2017-18 financial year. [1] The annual report reveals that the Environment Agency’s total expenditure for the financial year ending 31 March 2018 was £1,315.2m, roughly the same as the previous year’s expenditure. Defra funding accounts for 65% of this total expenditure, with 35% coming largely from fees and charges. Breaking down the expenditure by business area, the figures show that the Agency spent £826.5m of the £1.3bn total on Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (known as FCERM), whilst the remainder (£488.7m) is attributed to “environment and business.” The latter includes a multitude of activities such as regulation of industry (environmental permits, licensing, enforcement and so on), monitoring (including water quality), investigations under the Water Framework Directive, and incident management. Over a third of the FCERM spending falls into the category of capital expenditure associated with flood and coastal erosion risk management (£298.1m).

The Environment Agency is a non-departmental public body which was created under the 1995 Environment Act. Under Section 45 of the 1995 Act, the Agency is legally obliged to prepare a statement of accounts for each financial year in the form set out by a direction from the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. Although the Agency is independent of the Government, it carries out functions on behalf of Defra, its sponsoring department, and helps to develop Defra’s strategic objectives. Defra monitors the Agency’s performance and oversees the environmental policy that determines its operational framework. The Environment Agency is consequently the leading public body for protecting and improving the environment in England.

“Creating a better place for people and wildlife”

The Agency describes its vision as “the creation of a better place for people and wildlife,” and its three main areas of activity as flood and coastal erosion risk management; water, land and biodiversity; and regulation of industry. The Agency employs around 10,000 full-time staff and works with government, local councils, businesses, local communities, and groups such as the Rivers Trust. Local offices work closely with local communities to improve the environment and encourage sustainable development.

The Agency is currently working to achieve the goals set out in an Action Plan, titled Creating a better place: our ambition to 2020, and defines those objectives as: a cleaner, healthier environment which benefits people and the economy; a nation better protected against natural threats and hazards with strong response and recovery capabilities; and higher visibility, stronger partnerships, and local choices. [2] The Agency says three principles inform all of its choices: putting people and wildlife first (in line with its vision of creating a better place for people and wildlife); 80/20: “focusing on the 20% of things that make 80% of the difference;” and supporting local priorities, recognising that “every place and community has its own needs.”

New challenges

The Agency says that its Action Plan recognises the challenges of budget pressures, more extreme weather, and a growing population, and that these challenges require the Agency to innovate, “focus on the things which make the biggest difference,” and work more closely with its partners. The Agency’s CEO Sir James Bevan says in the annual report that the purpose of the Agency has not changed since it was first established in 1996: namely, to protect and enhance the environment and promote sustainable development. However, he continues:

“But the context in which we operate has changed dramatically. Climate change, the single biggest factor affecting our environment, is now better understood and starting to bite. Our country is more developed and more populous, putting greater pressure on the natural world. There is greater public awareness of the environment, and higher public expectation of us and the rest of the public sector. The 2016 referendum has brought a new challenge: to ensure that the UK’s exit from the European Union delivers a cleaner and greener country and a better environment.”

The CEO says that the Environment Agency was closely involved in shaping the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan, and delivering the plan is now one of the Agency’s main responsibilities. [3]

The latest challenge: Defra transformation “continues to pose risks and opportunities”

The annual report reveals that the Agency’s CEO and its Chair, Emma Howard Boyd, meet regularly with the Secretary of State and other Defra ministers. The topics discussed in those ministerial meetings have included the 25 Year Environment Plan; flood risk management and related issues; the future management of navigation waterways; illegal waste and the targeting of major problem sites; the UK’s anticipated departure from the EU; and supporting economic growth through prompt responses to planning enquiries and permissions for shale gas exploration and large infrastructure projects; specifically, HS2, Hinckley Point nuclear power station, Crossrail, and the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

Another major topic of those discussions has been the transformation of Defra, which has meant changes to the Agency’s structure. The annual report reveals that in the last financial year, the Environment Agency transferred the responsibility for most of its corporate services functions to Defra. This involved the permanent transfer of around 1,000 staff to Defra under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2016. The transfer is “part of a wider Defra group transformation programme initiated in response to Defra’s spending review settlement for 2015 to 2020.” The annual report says that the transfer, which took place on 1st November 2017, presented logistical and procedural challenges, requiring significant preparatory work to make the transition successful, and to ensure that “the Environment Agency continues to receive the services it requires to effectively discharge its responsibilities, operational requirements, and statutory duties, including as a Category One responder to incidents.”

The report says that one consequence of the transfer is that “some risks to the Environment Agency are now managed on our behalf by Defra. This has required us to develop new relationships between those who own risks on behalf of the Environment Agency and those who are managing them.” In a governance statement, the report says:

“The scale of the Defra group transformation continues to pose a variety of risks and opportunities for our day-to-day business. These include: failing to realise financial and non-financial benefits; not managing our people’s capacity for change and thereby adversely affecting morale; and not pacing change to ensure we maximise opportunities to learn and work better together with more consistent shared systems and processes. We continue to oversee the planning, scheduling, and delivery of change to manage risks and dependencies, maximise opportunities, and ensure that employees and employee relations groups are engaged appropriately… A partnership agreement between Defra and the Environment Agency has been established to guide working relationships and the delivery of services post-transfer… As plans are developed for transforming Defra Corporate Services to reduce expenditure and improve efficiency, the Environment Agency will be consulted and these agreements will allow the services to be monitored and ensure that any negative impacts are minimised.”

The governance statement says that the transformation “may also affect transferred staff and increase turnover.” The Agency says it is working with colleagues in Defra “to mitigate any potential loss of corporate knowledge, effectiveness and efficiency,” including the possible re-employment of staff to continue doing corporate services work in the Agency. In particular, it wants to ensure that the staff who have been transferred “continue to feel part of the ‘Environment Agency team.'” The statement says that similar messages from the leadership of Defra Corporate Services are emphasising the importance of transferred staff continuing to prioritise Environment Agency activity as well as activity for the Defra group.

The Agency completes the transition to Open Data

The Agency says that during the 2017-18 financial year, it completed its plan to remove all charges for the commercial re-use of Environment Agency data. This means that since April 2018 users have been able to use the Agency’s data for free with minimal licence restrictions. The annual report states:

“The removal of charges is part of the Open Data commitment we made in 2014 to publish more freely available data. Since 2015 we have progressively removed charges from almost 100 datasets including LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). LIDAR provides high resolution maps of data that can be used for a variety of purposes such as geo-spatial environmental management. Our datasets have been downloaded over a million times since being published. We have seen free of charge data benefit communities, for example by the Pang Valley Flood Forum and by the Red Cross in its emergency mobile telephone application alerting users to localised emergencies. We also witnessed surprising uses of our open data, for example archaeologists using our LIDAR data to find lost Roman roads.”

The Agency’s commitment to make more data freely available for public use was reported in our news story towards the end of 2014, “Environment Agency’s Open Data Initiative will make more data freely available for public use”.

“A cleaner, healthier environment”

In her foreword to the annual report, the Chair of the Environment Agency Emma Howard Boyd says that the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan pledges to deliver the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, “and to make sure all policies, programmes and investment decisions take into account the possible extent of climate change this century.” She says that the Environment Agency is already moving towards many of the UN’s goals. In particular, Goal 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, is reflected in the Agency’s work on enhancing watercourses and reducing pollution; Goal 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, is reflected in the Agency’s work on flood protection; and Goal 15, Life on Land, is reflected in the Agency’s work on habitat creation.

The Environment Agency’s current Action Plan includes performance criteria that measure the Agency’s success in achieving those goals. The annual report describes five categories of performance measures, which include four measures for a cleaner, healthier environment, and three measures for a nation better protected against floods. Under the category of “a cleaner, healthier environment, benefiting people and the economy,” the Agency lists the following four measures of success:

1 “The water environment is healthier.”
2 “We protect people, the environment and wildlife by reducing serious pollution incidents.”
3 “We create new habitats.”
4 “We reduce the number of high-risk illegal waste sites.”

On the water environment, the Agency had a target of enhancing 1,500km of England’s watercourses in 2017-18 and succeeded in exceeding the target by enhancing 2,038km. The Agency says this includes work done with and by catchment partners and other stakeholders. The work has been concentrated on locations identified for improvement in updated River Basin Management Plans, which set out measures to restore and enhance river habitats. The annual report says that the Agency has been working with partners in improving water quality and biodiversity through a range of work programmes, including advice to farmers and landowners on a range of issues; for instance, the reduction of pollution run-off into waterways through the countryside stewardship and other schemes. The Agency has also been working to reduce the impact of invasive species, “such as floating pennywort and Himalayan balsam on the Upper Witham River in Lincolnshire.” The Agency says this work has prevented deterioration and maintained the quality of the water environment, whilst “improvements by water companies have reduced pollution in many catchments across the country.” The Agency has set another challenging target for 2018-19 of enhancing 2,000km of watercourses, in order to move towards the goal of enhancing at least 8,000km by 2021.

On pollution, the Agency reports that the number of serious and significant pollution incidents (known as Category 1 and Category 2 incidents) in 2017-2018 fell to 402 from 477 in 2016-17, which represent its lowest pollution levels since 2011. The fall was achieved “by targeting sectors showing the poorest performance for pollution incidents, and using this information to prioritise where to allocate our resources. We then used pollution incident reduction plans to manage the primary causes of pollution for individual pollution sectors.” The top three regulatory sectors, which accounted for 40% of all Category 1 and 2 incidents in 2017-18, were water companies, illegal waste sites, and agriculture, but the total number of pollution incidents for the top three sectors saw a 28% reduction when compared to the previous year. The Agency says that this “top sector approach” has reduced incident numbers in all of the prioritised sectors apart from agriculture, which saw a 13% increase in pollution incidents in 2017-2018. To address the issue of agricultural pollution, the Agency has been working with Defra on a set of new rules for farmers, which came into force in April. [4]

The challenge of plastic pollution

The annual report also includes a special mention of plastic pollution. The Agency says that “plastics in our rivers and oceans has been described as the greatest environmental challenge of our time.” Following Sir David Attenborough’s highlighting of the issue in the BBC’s Blue Planet series, the Agency has established a team to focus on reducing plastic pollution and improving sustainability as part of the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan. The Agency says that plastic pollution is a threat to our natural environment which cannot be tackled in isolation. By working together, however, “we can reduce the amount which enters our land, rivers and the sea, and protect wildlife for future generations.” The team will bring together charities, community groups, academics, and representatives from industry and water companies, and will work on the issue holistically. The areas of work will include: reducing plastics reaching land, waterways and shorelines; promoting better environmental practices in business and a reduction in plastic waste from the start of the manufacturing process; increasing local engagement to change public behaviour and encourage more community action to tackle pollution; and monitoring and research into the ways plastics enter and affect the environment.

Habitat creation

The third performance measure in the “cleaner, healthier environment” category is the creation of habitats. The Agency reports that it exceeded its target of creating 530 hectares of new priority habitats in 2017-18 by delivering 619 hectares. It defines priority habitats as “those most threatened, and requiring conservation action under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.” As well as river restoration and maintenance projects, the work of habitat creation is also an integral part of flood risk management projects (see ‘Natural Flood Management’ below). The Agency says that “habitat creation projects reduce soil erosion and provide recreation and climate change adaptation in addition to their primary role.” One such project is the Pennine Peat Partnership, involving work with water companies to reduce downstream flood risk by slowing the flow, whilst also filtering the water which reduces the amount of chemical treatment needed for the water companies. The project has created 125 hectares of blanket bog, which will help to increase biodiversity and to store carbon to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Illegal waste sites

The fourth performance measure in the “cleaner, healthier environment” category is the number of high-risk illegal waste sites. On this measure, the annual report reveals that the Agency failed to meet its targets. The report states:

“It remains a priority to reduce the impact of waste crime on local communities and ensure a level playing field for legitimate businesses. However, in spite of our efforts we have been finding more illegal waste sites than we are able to close down. The total active high-risk illegal waste sites rose slightly to 259, up from 253 in 2016-17. Whilst we have not hit our target for this year, we stopped a large number of waste sites from operating and we have a good prosecution record. In 2017-18 we made 93 successful waste crime prosecutions resulting in 17 prison sentences. Total fines were in excess of £380k, with some of the highest fines for individuals being issued. To ensure we hit our target for next year, we have been given new powers to help enforce against illegal waste activity and further reviews of legislation are anticipated. The Government has also provided more funding to tackle this serious problem and we shall continue to work with the legitimate waste industry and with other enforcement bodies, particularly HMRC, to tackle the problem.”

More details of the Government’s response to waste crime are given in the governance statement. The report says that a consultation has been carried out on proposals to raise the barriers of entry to the waste permitting system and to reform the exemption system. As well as new regulations that give the Agency stronger powers of enforcement, the Government announced additional funding of £30m to tackle waste crime in its November 2017 budget, “which extends current funding for two years beyond April 2020 and adds an additional £5m for each of the four years starting April 2018.”

In her foreword to the annual report, EA Chair Emma Howard Boyd says: “Unfortunately, environmental crime persists despite the work of the courts implementing the sentencing guidelines. We closed 57 high risk illegal waste sites in the first three months of 2018 and in March we were given new powers to lock up sites and force rogue operators to clean up all waste. I have publicly called for higher fines for pollution incidents and stronger sentences as a greater deterrent to waste crime.”

Capital spending on flood protection

The second category of performance measures concerns flood protection. First, we look at the Environment Agency’s spending on flood and coastal erosion risk management, as revealed by the figures in the annual report. The Agency says that the Government has made a long-term financial commitment to flood protection via the Agency’s six-year capital programme, designed to reduce the likelihood and the impact of major flooding. Also, the Agency was allocated an additional £76m of funding in the 2017 autumn budget, “of which £36m is for bringing new schemes into the capital programme and £40m is for flood defence schemes that help support economic regeneration in deprived communities.” The accounts reveal where the funding for flood protection has been spent in 2017-18. As regards capital expenditure, the Agency spent a total of £298.1m on capital works in 2017-18, compared to £291.4m in 2016-2017. The accounts list nine types of capital works, and the expenditure breaks down as follows, with the figures in brackets indicating the 2016-17 spend:

• £9.2m [£11.3m] on beach replenishment, which involves “sand and shingle replacement on beaches to retain the integrity of a coastal defence.”
• £14.7m [£19.4m] on culverts and channel improvements, involving “work on repairing or replacing culverts under land, roads and properties, and channel improvements that assist the flow of watercourses.”
• £44.6m £[43.5m] on embankments (“the creation, improvement, or heightening of embankments to reduce the risk of water escaping from a river channel”).
• £35.3m [£39.7m] on the Agency’s flood risk management strategy (“long-term flood risk management options for fluvial catchments out of which individual flood risk projects are developed”).
• £3.8m [£4.3m] on flood mapping (“the production of multi-layered maps which provide information on flooding from groundwater, rivers and the sea. Flood maps also have information on flood risk management assets and the areas benefiting from those assets.”)
• £2.6m [£2.5m] on piling: “This relates to the installation of piles (normally steel) along riverbanks to strengthen them and secure the adjacent land, and prevent landslips into the river causing obstructions. These works are largely below ground.”
• £157.5m [£130.1m] on restoration and refurbishment: “This involves carrying out works to ensure that flood risk management assets are in the appropriate condition and restored to that condition.”
• £2.3m [£1.9m] on rock groynes and sea walls: “Rock groynes and sea walls are built as part of sea and coastal flood risk management assets and are often used in conjunction with beach replenishment activity to prevent sea flooding. The responsibility for maintenance often resides with the local council.”
• £28.1m [£38.7m] “other” (the details are not specified).

In addition, the Agency awarded £77.2m of capital grants to local authorities and Internal Drainage Boards, and £20.0m was spent on reservoir operating arrangements, with the largest payments payable to Northumbrian Water (in relation to Kielder reservoir) and Severn Trent Water (in relation to Lake Clywedog and Lake Vyrnwy reservoirs).

“A nation better protected against floods”

Returning to the Agency’s performance measures, there are three measures of success under the general category of flood protection:

1 “We reduce the risk of flooding for more households.”
2 “We maintain our flood and coastal risk management assets at or above the target condition.”
3 “We have a first class incident response capability,” as measured by a) the number of staff who are trained and ready to respond to incidents; and b) the percentage of staff who feel confident in the role.

On flood risk reduction, the Agency says it has completed a number of flood risk management projects in 2017-18, resulting in better protection for 45,864 homes. The Agency reports that 142,850 homes have now received better protection since the start of a six-year capital programme in April 2015, and it expects to achieve a six-year target of better protection for 300,000 households by March 2021. Some “notable examples” of completed projects include the Anchorsholme coast protection scheme, which has reduced flood risk to 4,800 properties in Blackpool and also provided “increased protection to vital infrastructure and safeguarded Blackpool’s iconic seafront tramway.” [5] A second example is the Salford flood alleviation scheme, which “has seen the development of a flood basin and reduced flood risk for 1,400 homes, as well as providing a recreation area with a nature reserve.” A third example is the Sheffield Lower Don Valley scheme, which is “the first in the UK to have business owners contributing to the costs of flood protection. It has led to the reduction of flood risk for around 500 businesses and 600 homes as well as helping to safeguard around 5,000 jobs. All of these projects were completed in partnership with the local authorities.”

The Agency’s Flood Warning Service

The annual report includes an update on the Agency’s flood warning service, which it says continues to grow, “sharing information with customers before flooding so that people have time to prepare and take action.”

“The flood warning service is now able to reach more people, in a shorter timeframe, in the event of severe weather. Improvements in technology have helped this and at the end of March 2018 over 1.4 million customers were registered for the service in England. We want to make those at risk of flooding more resilient, and to achieve this we have refreshed our five-year flood incident management plan. The Plan describes the activities carried out to help individuals and communities prepare, respond to, and recover from flooding. We have already made significant progress towards implementing the plan. By focusing on objectives to increase the quality and availability of information, our customers are better placed to understand the risks and respond to impending flooding.”

In a governance statement, the Agency says that 1.4 million people have now signed up to its flood warning service, an increase from 1.2 million in the previous year. The increase is attributed “largely to mobile phone companies coming on board with our Flood Warnings Direct service for their customers in flood risk areas and the impact of our 2017-18 Flood Action Campaign, ‘Prepare, Act, Survive,’ which informed people what they should do if they live in an area at risk of flooding.” The campaign resulted in 67,000 new registrations to Floodline Warnings Direct, over 32,000 visits to the Agency’s ‘Floods Destroy’ campaign website and an estimated social media reach of 4.6 million. The Agency says it is also continuing to work on “implementation of the National Flood Risk Review measures in partnership with other government agencies.”

Natural Flood Management

The annual report highlights the importance of natural flood management (NFM) in managing flood risk and coastal erosion. The report states that NFM “protects, restores, or emulates the natural function of floodplains and the coast. NFM can offer a wide range of benefits in addition to reducing flood risk and coastal erosion: it can create important wildlife habitats, improve the local environment, and create recreation opportunities.”

The Agency reports that, in July 2017, the Government announced funding for 60 projects in a £15m NFM programme. Four criteria were adopted to select the projects: firstly, the project would need to reduce flood and/or coastal erosion risk; secondly, it would improve habitats and increase biodiversity; thirdly, it would contribute to research and development, thereby reducing the evidence gap for NFM; and fourthly, it would promote partnership working. The Agency says that the programme started in the 2017-18 period and will continue until 2021, with monitoring arrangements put in place in order for a greater understanding of the flood risk and environmental benefits of the programme.

Further funding for NFM projects has been made available in the form of £3.4m of research funding allocated to the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for spending on research projects. The Agency says it collaborated with Defra in designing the call for research proposals. The funds have been awarded to three proposals: one on the Upper Thames, proposed by Reading University; a second in Cumbria, proposed by Lancaster University; and a third in the Peak District, proposed by Manchester University. The Agency says that the research will improve understanding of the effectiveness of different NFM measures for a range of flood risk scenarios.

In October 2017, the Environment Agency published the ‘Evidence base for working with natural processes to reduce flood risk,’ which compiles existing research into a directory for flood and coastal risk managers. The Agency says “this easily accessible directory will help to ensure that potential NFM measures can be assessed and used where they are effective.”

Flood risk management assets

The second performance measure in the flood risk category is asset management. The Agency reports that it achieved a national target “by maintaining 97.7% of flood risk management assets at the required condition for high consequence systems.” Flood risk management assets include embankments, storage areas, flood gates and sluices, whilst a high consequence system is defined as a group of flood risk management assets in a location where there would be significant impacts to people and property if the assets failed. The Agency says it increased the number of assets above the required condition by over 1,600 in 2017-18, which is a result of increased funding in asset management and “directly allocating this funding to where it has the greatest benefit, such as assets that are below the required condition.” Assets identified as being below the required condition indicate that work is required, but “does not mean that they have structurally failed or that their performance in a flood is compromised. If the performance of an asset is reduced, we will take action to ensure that flood risk is effectively managed until the asset is repaired or replaced.” The annual report states that the Agency has 40km of temporary flood barriers and 250 high-volume pumps available for deployment during flooding incidents: “these temporary measures work in tandem with the more permanent structures that have been or are under construction or may be used where more permanent measures are not practicable.”

Response capability

The third measure in the flood risk category is response capability. The annual report says that the Agency is continuing to embed a new incident response capability framework, following a ‘Major Incident Ready’ initiative in 2016. The measurement of its success is given by, firstly, the number of staff who are trained and ready to respond to incidents; and, secondly, the percentage of staff who feel confident in the role. The Agency reports that 6,568 staff are now trained and ready to respond to incidents, exceeding its target of 6,500. [6] Additionally, the Agency trained around 1,200 soldiers “before this winter to be able to support flood response if needed and joint exercises were undertaken.” The incident response staff includes 700 flood support officers, and the Agency says that “during the most severe storm this winter, Storm Brian, we protected 1,250 properties in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, through our actions and defences.”

However, in a sample of incident staff surveyed in 2017, only 69% felt confident responding to an incident, which failed to meet the Agency’s target of 80%. As a result, the Agency says it has taken steps to improve capability and confidence by introducing a new capability standard for incident staff to ensure they are fully trained and capable of responding. In addition, the Agency issued new guidance in November 2017 to clarify its role in responding to surface water flooding, groundwater flooding, and reservoir failures.

As well as flooding events, the Agency says that in 2017-18 it also responded to “serious chemical incidents, very large fish kills, animal disease outbreaks, major fires, and numerous other environmental incidents.” It is currently working with industry and water companies to reduce the number and severity of environmental incidents, and has set an ambitious incident reduction target for the current year “which will be the lowest in decades.” The Agency reports that it has also prepared for an approaching drought.

“Value for money” and responses to planning consultations

The annual report includes three other categories of performance measures. The first concerns “value for money” criteria, as measured by efficiency in financial management and by a prompt response to planning application consultations (i.e., within 21 days). On the efficiency measure, the Agency says “we report this measure by monitoring the percentage of our budget that we have invested,” on the assumption that expenditure is a proxy for the delivery of environmental outcomes. The Agency says the higher the percentage of budget invested, the more it can achieve for the environment. It reports that it invested £1.3bn on the environment in 2017-18, “with expenditure on both our grant-in-aid and charge-funded activities closely matching our available funding.” The result of regular reviews in the last financial year meant that the figure represents an investment of 99.8% of the Agency’s full-year budget.

On planning application consultations, the Agency says it responded to 95.4% of planning consultations within 21 days, exceeding its target which was set at 95%. The percentage represents a small drop of 0.2% from last year, but the Agency says “this is set against an increase in demand for our service and reduced resources.” Prompt responses have been helped by the Agency’s offering a pre-application advice service. This has meant that potential issues can be worked through with developers before planning applications are submitted, which reduces the amount of time needed for consultation at statutory stages. The Agency says that, at application stage, it prioritises commenting on planning proposals where the risks to the environment, or the opportunities for enhancement, are the greatest.

Other performance measures

A further category of performance measures is labelled somewhat vaguely as “an organisation continually striving to be the best, focused on outcomes and constantly challenging itself.” However, the measure of performance here is more concrete, which is a reduction in the Agency’s carbon footprint. In her foreword to the annual report, Environment Agency Chair associates this measure with Goal 13 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, ‘Climate Action.’ “Making the country more resilient to storms, floods and droughts is our priority,” she writes, “but we are also involved in climate mitigation.” On this measure, the Agency reports that in 2017-18 it reduced its carbon footprint by 45% to 32,450 tonnes against a 2006-07 baseline year, compared to a target of 43%. The reduction was achieved through energy efficient measures such as boiler replacements, the closure of old buildings, and the gradual replacement of its fleet with low-carbon alternatives.

The final category of performance measures is mainly concerned with diversity in the workforce, as measured by the proportion of Agency staff who are from a black, Asian, or minority ethnic background, and by the proportion of its executive managers who are female. The Agency is currently not meeting its targets on either measure. On the former, the Agency says that because it has relatively low external recruitment levels, only 3.8% of its workforce are from minority backgrounds, set against the demanding target of 14%, “which reflects the minority proportion of the working population of England, rather than a lower one reflecting the mix of the Agency’s locations across England.” On the latter measure, the Agency says the proportion of its executive managers who are female has increased from 32% three years ago to 34%, but this is set against a target of 50%.

Overall, the Environment Agency has met or exceeded the majority of the targets it set itself for 2017-18. However, the development of plans mentioned above “for transforming Defra Corporate Services to reduce expenditure and improve efficiency” raises the spectre of departmental spending cuts in the drive for efficiency savings. The issues prompted by the Defra transformation, together with the Government’s preoccupation with an EU departure, all raise the question whether the next twelve months will be just as successful.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: The beach and promenade at South Shore, Blackpool. © Copyright Steve Daniels and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The Environment Agency has announced that the coastal protection scheme for the Anchorsholme area of Blackpool was completed in the 2017-18 financial year, one of a number of notable flood protection schemes to be completed in the last year. Blackpool Council first adopted a Coast Protection Strategy in 1995, and the Anchorsholme scheme represents the final stage of the strategy. The photograph was taken on Monday, 9th November 2009. See Note [5] below.

Notes

[1] The Environment Agency’s annual report is available as a PDF document from the GOV.UK website. Follow the link on the web page titled “Environment Agency annual report and accounts 2017 to 2018”. The annual report and accounts were published on the 12th of July 2018. For the corporate highlights, see the GOV.UK news story “The Environment Agency publishes Annual Report 2017 to 2018”.

[2] The Environment Agency’s Action Plan, developed in the 2014-15 financial year, includes more than 1,400 flood defence schemes. It came with the Chancellor’s announcement in the autumn of 2014 that £2.3 billion would be allocated to flood defences to be implemented over the next six years, in response to the increasing incidence of extreme weather and winter floods. See the ENA news story published on January 14th 2015, titled “Environment Agency looks forward”. Later that month, the Environment Agency warned that 7,000 homes will be lost to coastal erosion in the next 100 years. For more details of that, and news of some of the flood schemes announced by the Agency in 2015, use the search facility on this website using the term ‘Environment Agency’.

[3] On the 25 year plan, see the ENA article “UK Government publishes its 25 year plan for the environment”.

[4] On the new rules for farmers, see the ENA article “New rules for farmers ‘will help to protect the water environment'”.

[5] The coast protection scheme for the Anchorsholme area of Blackpool forms part of the Fylde Peninsula Coastal Programme, which also includes a flood protection scheme for the Rossall area of Fleetwood. See the ENA article published in October 2015, titled “Blackpool’s twenty-year coastal defence strategy nears completion”. The Environment Agency was expecting to complete the Anchorsholme project by the end of 2015 and the Rossall project by the end of 2017. However, work on the Anchorsholme project has been subject to a number of delays. In December 2014, BBC News reported that the foundation area for a new promenade had collapsed during the initial construction work by the contractors Balfour Beatty, though the contractors still expected to complete the work by the end of 2015. In July 2017, Blackpool Council reported that the work needed constant maintenance but was expected to be completed by the end of 2017. Finally, on the day of the official opening in October 2017, it became apparent that the sea defences needed further repairs owing to damage caused by recent storms, as reported by BBC News, but not in the news story on the contractors’ website.

[6] In a governance statement, the figure is given as “6,626 staff fully trained and ready to respond to flooding and other incidents, against a target of 6,500, including corporate services staff now employed by Defra,” which suggests that 58 incident staff are now employed by Defra.

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New report describes The Wildlife Trusts’ vision of a Wilder Britain

The Wildlife Trusts call for the creation of a Nature Recovery Network

A Nature Recovery Network should be supported by a new Environment Act

June 13th 2018

The Wildlife Trusts have published a report for the Westminster Government “at a time when Britain stands on the brink of its biggest ever shake-up of environmental rules.” [1] As reported in previous articles, the Government has held two significant consultations in recent months – one on the future of farming policy following the UK’s anticipated departure from the EU, and one on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework. [2] In response to those consultations, The Wildlife Trusts launched their report at an event for MPs at Westminster. The report describes The Wildlife Trusts’ vision of a wilder Britain and how to achieve it. The vision includes the creation of a Nature Recovery Network, supported by legislation in the form of a new Environment Act. In a news story, The Wildlife Trusts said:

“The Wildlife Trusts’ new report shows how a Nature Recovery Network can be established by mapping out important places for wildlife which need to be protected as well as key areas where habitats should be restored. The Wildlife Trusts believe new laws are needed, including an Environment Act, to ensure this happens. Local Authorities should be required by law to produce local Nature Recovery Maps to achieve the new Government targets to increase the extent and quality of natural habitats, and turn nature’s recovery from an aspiration to a reality.” [3]

The news story goes on to say that The Wildlife Trusts’ report comes at a critical time for wildlife:

“It coincides with the final week of two key government consultations which present a rare opportunity – the first in living memory – to influence the future of both national farming and planning policy and how these impact on nature in England. Precious wild places and the species that depend on them have suffered steep declines over the past 70 years; intensive farming and urbanisation have been significant causes. Now the public has a chance to call for change, so that planning rules, farming support, and regulation work together towards the recovery of nature and wildlife. The Wildlife Trusts are urging people to respond to both consultations.”

Stephanie Hilbourne, Wildlife Trusts CEO, said substantial improvements were needed to farming and planning policies in order to help nature’s recovery, and an ambitious Environment Act was needed to put nature’s recovery on to a statutory footing.

Local Wildlife Sites and National Planning Policy

As mentioned in a previous article, the development of a ‘Nature Recovery Network’ is one of the Government’s aims in its 25 Year Plan for the Environment. [4] The Wildlife Trusts argue that to take this forward “Nature Recovery Maps should be at the foundation of future farming and planning policy, guiding habitat creation by farmers and housing developers to ensure it achieves government targets for wildlife’s recovery.” The news story also points out that policy protection for Local Wildlife Sites – “important havens for wildlife that are supposed to be recognised in planning policy” – has been dropped from the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). As reported in a previous article, the proposed changes to the NPPF focus on measures to boost house-building. [5] However, The Wildlife Trusts argue that dropping protection for Local Wildlife Sites is a backward step that would undo basic protection for 42,000 of these special places for wildlife. [6]

In their response to the consultation on the proposed changes, The Wildlife Trusts point out that about 36 square miles of land are used by new developments every year; hence “the outcome of this consultation is hugely important for wildlife.” The Wildlife Trusts want to see rules that protect wildlife and secure recognition of Local Wildlife Sites, which lose protection under the current proposals. Three further policy requirements are highlighted: firstly, planning policy should require wildlife habitats to be integrated into new developments; secondly, all developments should result in a ‘net biodiversity gain,’ meaning developers would be expected to make improvements for wild species and habitats; and thirdly, local planning strategies should require all new developments to contribute to a national Nature Recovery Network.

As for farming policy, the changes that The Wildlife Trusts would like to see here seem to coincide with the draft proposals set out by Defra. [7] The Wildlife Trusts say that they want to see rules that reward farmers and land managers for the benefits they provide for society, “like clean water, healthy soils and a wildlife-rich countryside.” Secondly, they want the Common Agricultural Policy replaced with a system that supports public benefits and environmental outcomes for society; and thirdly, they want to see changes to the culture of regulation, “making it easier for farmers to help nature without being weighed down by unnecessary paperwork, inspections and bureaucracy.”

Disconnected Nature

Moving on to the report, Towards a Wilder Britain begins by describing a vision of a “green, healthy, and happy” Britain in 2040, where “nature is normal.” The vision includes sketches of green developments, wilder cities, a buzzing countryside, sustainable fisheries, returning whales, fertile soils, and restored uplands. This is followed by a description of the “depleted, fragmented, and fragile” Britain of 2018, where 250,000 miles of road divide the landscape, creating a barrier for many species; plastics, pesticides, and atmospheric pollution are causing problems for wildlife; hedges in arable areas are disappearing; parks are “green deserts;” and people in urban areas live in artificial surroundings. In short, people have become disconnected from nature, and nature has become disconnected from itself.

As an example of the “nature disconnected” problem, the report cites Askham Bog, an ancient bog on the outskirts of York, cited as “a familiar story.” The report says that Askham Bog was one of The Wildlife Trusts’ first nature reserves: “It is a unique place, thousands of years old, and teeming with specialised wildlife, but it faces problems that are common to nature reserves all over the country. It is already bordered by a golf course, a landfill site, a major road, and railway. Now it is at risk of being sealed off completely from the landscape around it. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust has fought off two applications to build on its last remaining boundary.” The report also includes a map that shows estimates of ‘biodiversity intactness’ across the UK. The report says that the UK index of 81% is the 29th lowest out of 218 countries assessed by researchers, who suggest that such biodiversity loss ‘might exceed planetary boundaries.’

The report quotes Sir John Lawton, who led a Government review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological networks, titled Making Space for Nature. Published in 2010, the report said: “There is compelling evidence that Local Wildlife Sites are generally too small and too isolated. We need more space for nature.”

Reconnecting Nature – A Nature Recovery Network

The report also includes a quote from Sir David Attenborough, who said, “Every space in Britain must be used to help wildlife.” Pursuing the theme of “making space for nature to meet the needs of wildlife and people,” the report calls for the creation of a Nature Recovery Network, characterised as “a joined-up network of habitats that allow wildlife and people to thrive in housing estates; on farms; in nature reserves; on road verges; along riverbanks; in parks and gardens; on office roofs; and in the hills.” The report explains the need for such a network as follows:

“Nature conservation in the last century succeeded in protecting some vital wildlife sites, but wildlife has still declined as a result of damage to the wider environment. Protected wildlife sites alone cannot meet the needs of wildlife or society. To achieve that, we also need to provide effective protection for the many other places in the landscape that are still rich in wildlife despite the many pressures they face. And we must invest time, effort, commitment and money into bringing wildlife back across a far wider area, stitching back together Britain’s tattered natural fabric of wild land. We need to create a Nature Recovery Network that extends into every part of our towns, cities and countryside, bringing wildlife and the benefits of a healthy natural world into every part of life. Letting flowers bloom along road verges, installing green roofs across city skylines, planting more street trees to give people shady walks in the summer, encouraging whole communities to garden for wild plants and animals. A network that brings wildlife into every neighbourhood would also provide fairer access to nature for people. Studies have shown the benefits of living close to nature, but many people are deprived of these benefits.”

A Vision of a Wilder Britain

The report paints a picture of a wilder Britain which shows how space can be transformed in ways that benefit wildlife and people. For instance, the UK’s road network could be transformed by green bridges that allow wildlife a safe passage from one space to another. [8] The report says that green bridges should be a part of transport infrastructure projects, whilst road verges could be better managed for wildlife by mowing later in the year. Urban areas, home to 80% of the UK’s population, could be transformed by new parks, street trees and plants, green roofs and green walls, all of which would provide greener neighbourhoods, increase biodiversity, help to reduce flood risk, reduce overheating from concrete and tarmac, and thereby provide health and wellbeing benefits to people, who would be more able to experience nature in their daily lives.

On public spaces, the report says that two thirds of amenity land consists of short-mown grass, and that such spaces could support eight times more wildlife if they were transformed into wildflower meadows. On farmland, the report says that 70% of land in the UK consists of farmland, “so creating and managing habitats for wildlife on farms is vital: hedges, ponds, ditches, field margins and trees all help to provide a network of habitats for farmland wildlife.” The report also says that there are about 430,000 hectares of gardens in the UK, which have huge potential to help pollinators such as bees if more wildflowers were planted: “a network of small patches could help bees thrive in urban areas.”

Turning the Vision into a Reality

The vision of a wilder Britain becomes clearer with further details of the Nature Recovery Network, and the steps that are needed to achieve it. The report describes those details as follows:

“A Nature Recovery Network is a joined-up system of places important for wild plants and animals, on land and at sea. It allows plants, animals, seeds, nutrients and water to move from place to place and enables the natural world to adapt to change. It provides plants and animals with places to live, feed and breed. It creates the corridors and areas of habitat they need to move to in response to climate change. It connects wild places and it brings wildlife into our lives. It can only do this effectively if, like our road network, it is treated as a joined-up whole. The Network would include nature reserves and Local Wildlife Sites, and parts of National Parks. It would also contain peat bogs, heaths, meadows and cliffs; road verges, parks, gardens, hedges and woods; and rivers, streams, ponds and lakes. At sea, it would include reefs and sandbanks, rocky shores and sea-grass beds, many of them designated as Marine Protected Areas – Britain’s ‘Blue Belt’.”

The report describes four stages in creating such a network. The first stage involves greater protection for the wildest places, which include nature reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and Local Wildlife Sites (“our core sources of wildlife”). At sea they include Marine Protected Areas. The report says that these places need to be protected from harm, improved through better management, and where possible increased in size. The second stage involves making connections between those wild places through wildlife corridors: “Smaller patches of habitat can act as stepping stones and corridors between bigger areas. This means creating and looking after features like hedges, ponds, streams, small woods and meadows, to provide habitat and make it easier for wildlife to move through the landscape.” The third stage involves consolidating the overall area for wildlife by requiring land management and development to strengthen the network and not weaken it. The report says the overall area of wildlife-friendly land will increase by looking after our wildest places and creating the habitat corridors between them. This overall area needs to be safeguarded to ensure that wildlife populations are less likely to decline. The fourth stage involves finding space for wildlife in the wider landscape, “characterised by nature-friendly development and farming.” This stage would include encouraging a wide range of people to increase the amount of wildlife habitat in places like farms, parks, retail parks, churchyards, road verges, gardens and golf courses, and would need high standards of basic regulation.

Regulation: A New Environment Act

The need for regulation brings us to what The Wildlife Trusts describe as the most important requirement to achieve the vision of a wilder Britain: a new Environment Act. The report says that a new Environment Act “would commit successive future governments to increasing the diversity and abundance of our wildlife and making it a bigger part of everyone’s daily lives; and to improving the health of our air, soils, rivers and seas.” The report continues:

“This Act would build on the foundations of existing wildlife laws. It would be about nature’s recovery and rebuilding society’s connection to the natural world. It will need to ensure that regulation, investment, public spending and practical action work effectively together. To achieve this, it must place a duty on Local Authorities to produce Local Nature Recovery Maps, setting out where and how nature’s recovery will be achieved. And it must require government departments and agencies to use these maps to guide and coordinate their efforts.”

The report says that a new Environment Act will need ambitious goals; strong principles (to ensure that the needs of the natural world are central to all government decision-making and that polluters pay for their polluting activities); clear standards (including measures that set out how governments and other organisations will be held to account); and independent institutions to monitor and review progress, oversee compliance with the law, and to ensure that everyone can challenge public decisions effectively when necessary.

Nature Recovery Maps

The report describes Nature Recovery Maps as a key tool in the regulatory process, and as a means of achieving a Nature Recovery Network:

“Building a Nature Recovery Network requires detailed information: where wildlife is abundant or scarce; where it should be in future; which places are most important; and where there is opportunity for positive change. The critical tool is a Local Nature Recovery Map. Government must require Local Authorities to publish these maps, which would identify areas where the greatest benefit for wildlife and people can be achieved. They would focus and coordinate effective action, funding and regulation.”

The report says that these Nature Recovery Maps should be developed locally with the full involvement of civil society and other stakeholders; evidence-based using the best available data and technology; long-term but reviewed regularly; part of a national network aligned with neighbouring Nature Recovery Maps to create a national Nature Recovery Network; and endorsed by statutory documents approved by the Secretary of State.

The maps would be used to ensure that key wildlife sites are strongly protected as the basis for nature’s recovery (“critically, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Local Wildlife Sites”) and that other sites are protected for future restoration. Local Nature Recovery Maps would also be used to ensure effective regulation of potentially damaging land management activities such as hedgerow removal or ploughing permanent pasture; and to ensure that new housing, industrial, commercial, and infrastructure developments receive consent only in the right places and has a net positive impact on the Network. Legislation would require local authorities to contribute to the implementation of the Network, and public and private funds should be channelled so that contributions from developers, for instance, are targeted for maximum wildlife benefit.

The report says that farmers, foresters, land managers, developers, investors, public bodies and regulators all have a role to play in making the Network happen. As for the rest of us: “All of us can help by taking action for, and providing space for, wildlife where we live and work. On their own our actions can feel isolated or small, but linked together every garden, window box, field margin, street tree and riverbank makes a difference.”

The Aire Valley: A Case Study of “Public Money for Public Goods”

The report includes examples of four pioneer projects that demonstrate, each in their own way, how a Nature Recovery Network could be achieved in practice. The first is a case study of the Aire Valley in Yorkshire. This long-term study, carried out by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, looked at alternative ways of spending farm subsidies, using the “public money for public goods” model which has been taken up by Defra in its proposals for the future of farming. [9] The Trust carried out research using three upland farms in Yorkshire as case studies to show how current farm incomes would be maintained or increased. The report explains the background to the study:

“A long, thin river catchment, the Aire starts in the Yorkshire Dales, running through the heart of Leeds and out to the Humber estuary. Although it has some very high quality habitats, much of the catchment is now too wildlife-poor and fragmented to prevent local species extinctions. Changes of land use in the Aire catchment have made flooding more likely. The Aire also suffers from pollution, mainly urban and agricultural run-off, particularly in failing parts of the river identified by the Environment Agency.”

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust used data from a range of sources to model how current farm payments could be applied differently to achieve environmental outcomes. The datasets were used to create a series of ecological maps of the Aire Catchment, which showed the location of current habitats, the location of potential habitats, and other features which included current payments to farmers and land managers, water quality, flood risk, and public access to the uplands. The study showed that under a new system of public money for public goods, a huge range of environmental and social benefits could be provided for the same amount of money paid to land managers and farmers at present. The benefits included improved access to the countryside; reduced carbon emissions; a significant reduction in flood risk for Leeds, Castleford, and other areas; and an increase in habitat for wildlife, including new broadleaved woodland and upland heath.

Pioneer Project: “The Wildlife Trusts work across land and sea”

The second pioneer project is a Regional Sea Plan for the Irish Sea, based on The Wildlife Trusts’ report The Way Back to Living Seas, which sets out proposals for a new UK Marine Strategy and was published in 2017. [10] The report says that with all sea users involved in its development, “the plan would guide how we develop marine industry, how we fish within environmental limits, and how we regain a sea full of wildlife.” The Wildlife Trusts explain that a national Marine Strategy provides an overarching plan, which is then made concrete in Regional Sea Plans and a nationwide network of Marine Protected Areas: “with these in place, national plans would give us the opportunity to manage our seas in a joined-up way.”

Pioneer Project: Lincolnshire’s verges

The third pioneer project is a six-year study by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust of Lincolnshire’s road verges, which demonstrates the nature recovery potential of the 800 square miles or thereabouts of the verges bordering the UK’s roads. The report says that between 2009 and 2015 the Trust trained and coordinated volunteers to search 4,800 miles of the county’s verges for wildflowers. The information obtained as a result led to 159 new Local Wildlife Sites being designated, and better protection for 150 miles of verges, amounting to 200 hectares of grassland rich in wildflowers, many of which can only be found elsewhere in nature reserves. The report says that by working with local people with local knowledge, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has formed a conservation strategy to bring back the county’s vanishing wildflowers, and trials are now in place with the County Council to fund road verge management for biodiversity.

Pioneer Project: Wildlife-friendly housing development

The fourth pioneer project is a wildlife-friendly housing development at Kidbrooke in London, the result of a partnership between London Wildlife Trust and Berkeley Homes. The report says that Kidbrooke Village will provide more than 4,800 new homes and 35 hectares of varied, semi-natural open space for its residents. The centre of the site is Kidbrooke Park, “which will be designed to be a green corridor for people and wildlife, a natural area weaving between the new houses.” The design includes play areas bordered by species-rich grassland, heather and copses of trees, a chalk stream meandering beside open lawns, and a reed-fringed wetland nestled between high-rise buildings. The reports says that “these green spaces will provide habitat for birds, bees and other wildlife as well as helping with local flood mitigation and water management… These new habitats will also connect to a wider network of green infrastructure beyond the site.”

The Wildlife Trusts argue that if our towns and cities are to be great places for wildlife and people, “we will need the right development, in the right place, done in the right way,” and that Nature Recovery Maps will be an essential guide to help investors and developers make the right decisions.

Environment Secretary announces National Park review

The creation of a Nature Recovery Network received some encouraging news shortly after The Wildlife Trusts’ report was published, with the announcement by Environment Secretary Michael Gove that he would be launching a review of England’s National Parks. [11] The review will consider whether to expand the network of National Parks as well as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Writing in the Telegraph, the Environment Secretary said: “The creation of National Parks almost 70 years ago changed the way we view our precious landscapes, helping us all access and enjoy our natural world. We want to make sure they are not only conserved, but enhanced for the next generation. Are we properly supporting all those who live in, work in, or want to visit these magnificent places? Should we indeed be extending our areas of designated land?” [12]

As reported by BBC News, the Environment Secretary said that the UK’s population growth, combined with changes in technology and a decline in some habitats, meant it was time to look afresh at these landscapes, and he stressed that the goal of the review was not to diminish the protection of natural areas, but to strengthen it in the face of present-day challenges. [13] Journalist and former government aide Julian Glover has been appointed to carry out the review. Michael Gove said Julian Glover is a “passionate advocate for the countryside” and he wanted him “explicitly to consider how we can extend and improve the protection we give to other precious landscapes.” Julian Glover said: “Our protected landscapes are England’s finest gems and we owe a huge debt to past generations who had the wisdom to preserve them. The system they created has been a strength, but it faces challenges too. It is an honour to be asked to find ways to secure them for the future. I can’t wait to get started and learn from everyone who shares an interest in making England’s landscapes beautiful, diverse, and successful.”

The announcement was welcomed by Margaret Paren, Chair of National Parks England, who said: “As we approach the 70th anniversary of our founding legislation, we look forward to a future where their beauty is enhanced, they are loved and accessible for everyone, and they continue to support thriving communities in these working landscapes.”

The review was also welcomed by Tony Juniper, the Executive Director for Advocacy and Campaigns for WWF-UK and formerly Director of Friends of the Earth, but he also took up The Wildlife Trusts’ call for a Nature Recovery Network, with the warning that we need to do more. “Nature will continue to be at risk unless we have a plan for its recovery enshrined in law through a new Environment Act that’s backed up by a strong watchdog with real powers of enforcement,” he said.

The results of the two recent consultations on farming and planning are expected to be announced later this year.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Green bridge over the A21, near Lamberhurst, Kent, giving access to Scotney Castle. © Copyright N Chadwick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The caption says that the A21 is a 63-mile major trunk road running from Lewisham in Greater London to Hastings, East Sussex. A Wikipedia link reveals that the Lamberhurst bypass was opened on 23 March 2005 and cost £18 million. The green bridge was included in the scheme. In a press release issued on 31st July 2015, Natural England said that the Scotney Castle green bridge “enabled the historic drive to the castle to be preserved, reduced the impact on the local landscape, and was soon being used by dormice” – see Note [8] below. The photograph was taken in 2011.

Notes

[1] Towards a Wilder Britain – Creating a Nature Recovery Network to bring back wildlife to every neighbourhood was published by The Wildlife Trusts on May 1st 2018. To download the full report, click here. For a summary, see the item “Nature Recovery Network” on The Wildlife Trusts website.

[2] For the consultation on the future of farming, see the ENA article “The future for farming: UK Government publishes proposals for a post-Brexit agricultural policy”. For the consultation on proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, see the ENA article “Revised National Planning Policy aims to boost house building”. Both consultations closed last month and the results are expected later this year.

[3] See the news story “New proposals for a wilder Britain – critical moment to reverse the decline of nature” on The Wildlife Trusts website.

[4] See the ENA article “UK Government publishes its 25 year plan for the environment” for details of the Government’s environment plan.

[5] See [2].

[6] See the ENA article “Wildlife Trusts Report – Local Wildlife Sites need greater protection”, which describes the state of Local Wildlife Sites as reported at the end of 2014. For a more recent report on the state of nature in the UK, see the ENA article “The State of Nature 2016 – New report examines the causes of wildlife decline in the UK”.

[7] The proposals for future farming policy would replace the Common Agricultural Policy with a system that “pays public money for public goods;” introduce an environmental land management system to replace the current system of basic payments which are largely determined by the amount of agricultural land that a farmer owns; and reform the culture of regulation whilst making it easier for farmers to apply for funding. See the ENA article “The future for farming: UK Government publishes proposals for a post-Brexit agricultural policy”.

[8] In a press release issued on 31st July 2015, titled “Green bridges: safer travel for wildlife”, Natural England announced the publication of a report on green bridges, undertaken by Land Use Consultants on behalf of Natural England. The press release said that the report, which looked at evidence from 56 examples across the world, was the first worldwide study of green bridges, also known as landscape bridges or wildlife overpasses. The scientific study found that green bridges could become an important part of the sustainability of future transport projects by integrating roads and railways into the surrounding landscape, and by providing benefits such as joining up wildlife habitats and connecting colonies, “as they are also used by wildlife as a home in their own right.” Green bridges create safe crossing points for wildlife movement (as well as people), and also benefit pollinators. Natural England said:

“Green bridges are usually planted with a variety of local trees or shrubs and other vegetation. They allow birds, mammals and insects to keep moving despite a road or railway blocking their path. Green bridges are common in Europe and North America, but only a few have been built in Britain… One of the most celebrated spans the A21 at Scotney Castle in Kent in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Completed in 2005 as part of a dual carriageway by-pass for Lamberhurst, it enabled the historic drive to the castle to be preserved, reduced the impact on the local landscape, and was soon being used by dormice.”

Earlier this year, Highways England issued a press release that showed photographs of a green bridge across the A556, near Mere in Cheshire, which was used in March 2017 as the site of an official opening ceremony of a new £192 million bypass. Initially planted with a mixture of hedging and plants, Highways England said “the extensive planting has given birth to a flourishing green border which is providing a safe passage across the road for badgers, voles and other small animals, insects and birds.” See “A556 green bridge is winter wonderland”.

[9] See [7].

[10] The Wildlife Trusts’ report The Way Back to Living Seas, which sets out proposals for a UK Marine Strategy, is available from The Wildlife Trusts’ website by following the link on their news item “The Way Back to Living Seas”.

[11] See the news story “England could have new national parks in Gove review” on the BBC website.

[12] See the Telegraph article “Our National Parks are a magnificent asset that needs protecting. How can we make them even better?” by Michael Gove.

[13] See [11] for the source of these quotations.

New rules for farmers “will help to protect the water environment”

New rules for farmers in England came into force last month

The rules are designed to prevent fertilisers and manure from seeping into watercourses

May 16th 2018

New rules for farmers came into force last month, designed to protect water quality and prevent soil erosion. The rules, which came into force on April 2nd 2018, apply to all farmers in England. The new rules were announced by the Government in a news story last November, which said that the rules would standardise good farming practices, help to protect the water environment, provide a new approach to regulation, and would also help farmers to save money through improved resource efficiency and resilience. [1]

In summary, the rules require farmers to match nutrients to crop and soil needs, and prevent fertilisers, manure, and soil from seeping into watercourses. The Government said the rules “were drawn up with farming and environment stakeholders to recognise and build on the good progress that a great many farmers have made in trying to tackle pollution.” The rules apply to farming and horticultural practices such as planting and harvesting; soil management, which includes ploughing and planting cover crops (“any crop with leaf cover that stops rain falling directly onto the soil”); using and storing manure or fertiliser; and managing livestock.

Assessing the risks of pollution

The Government has published guidance for farmers and landowners on what they must do “to manage manure, fertiliser, and soil to prevent runoff, erosion, and leaching.” [2] There are nine sets of rules. One is a general rule that requires farmers to assess the risks of pollution from the sorts of activities outlined above, taking into account a number of factors that can have an effect on soil erosion or increase the risk of runoff. The guidelines list five factors: distances to inland freshwaters, coastal waters, wetlands, springs, wells and boreholes; the angle of slopes; the presence and condition of land drains; the amount of ground cover; and the type of soil and its condition.

As for the other sets of rules, five are concerned with managing fertilisers and manures, two are concerned with managing soils, and one is concerned with managing livestock:

“The fertiliser rules require farmers to test their soils, then plan and apply their fertiliser or manure to improve soil nutrient levels and meet crop needs. They include minimum storage and spreading distances from water bodies. They also require the farmer to assess weather and soil conditions to reduce the risk of runoff and soil erosion. The remaining rules require farmers to manage livestock by protecting land within five metres of water and reducing livestock poaching [i.e., compacting soil by trampling]. In addition to these rules, farmers are encouraged to incorporate organic fertilisers into the soil within twelve hours of spreading to significantly reduce ammonia pollution.” [3]

Managing fertilisers and manure

The guidelines advise farmers to plan every application of fertiliser or manure, whether they are spread on the land surface, injected into the soil, or mixed with the soil surface layers. [4] Farmers are told to assess the pollution risks, as outlined above, assess the weather conditions and forecasts at the time of application, and match the quantity to crop or soil needs so that no more is used than is necessary. Farmers are also told to check the organic matter content and moisture level of the soil, and to check that their spreading equipment is calibrated and does not leak. Fertilisers or manure must not be used on waterlogged, flooded, or snow-covered soil, or on land where the soil has been frozen for more than 12 hours in the past 24 hours. Whenever they are applied, they should be worked into the soil within 12 hours or as soon as possible after the application.

An extra rule applies if fertilisers or manure are to be used on cultivated agricultural land, which is defined as land that has been ploughed, sowed or harvested at least once in the last year; or land that has received an application of manure or fertiliser at least once in the last three years. In this case, farmers must plan by using the results of a soil test, which must be no more than five years old at the time of application. The test results must show the pH and levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium.

As for the proximity to watercourses, fertilisers must not be used within 2 metres of inland freshwaters, coastal waters, a spring, well or borehole; while manure must not be used or stored within 50 metres of a spring, well or borehole; or within 10 metres of inland freshwaters or coastal waters. The latter limit for applying manure is shortened to 6 metres if precision equipment is used. [5]

A further exception to the use of manure is where the land is managed for breeding wader birds or as a species-rich semi-natural grassland. In this case, manure (but not slurry or poultry manure) can be applied within 10 metres of inland freshwaters and coastal waters if the land is an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) or is the subject of an Environmental or Countryside Stewardship scheme. However, the manure should not be applied to the water surface, and should only be applied from 1st June to 31st October. There is also a limit to the amount that can be applied in any year, which is no more than 12.5 tonnes per hectare.

Managing soil and livestock

On soil management, as well as the soil test for cultivated agricultural land mentioned above, the guidelines advise farmers to take reasonable precautions to prevent soil loss caused by horticultural or farming activities: “soil loss can lead to erosion and allow pollutants to get into watercourses.” In particular, farmers are told to take reasonable precautions to reduce the risk of pollution when they carry out the following activities: creating farm tracks or gateways; establishing seedbeds, polytunnels or tramlines; cleaning out ditches; installing drainage or irrigation; irrigating crops; and spraying crops with pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides.

Examples of good practice are cited as: planting crops in early autumn and in dry conditions; planting headland rows and beds across the base of sloping land; under-sowing or sowing a cover crop to stabilise soil after harvest; breaking up compacted soil; and establishing grass buffer strips in valleys, along contours, slopes, field edges, and gateways.

A further set of rules are concerned with managing livestock to avoid pollution and soil erosion. Livestock feeders must not be placed within 10 metres of inland freshwaters or coastal waters; or within 50 metres of a spring, well or borehole. Farmers are also told to prevent livestock compacting soil by trampling it within 5 metres of inland freshwaters or coastal waters. As examples of good practice, the guidelines cite moving livestock to prevent soil compaction and soil erosion by riverbanks; putting up fences to keep animals away from watercourses; and wintering livestock on well-drained, level fields.

Inspections and enforcement

The guidelines state that the Environment Agency will be responsible for enforcing the new rules, and will do this through its farm inspections work. These inspections may include checking the distance restrictions; checking for soil erosion that affects a single area of more than 1 hectare; checking for soil compaction on a stretch of land, at least 2 metres wide and 20 metres long, next to an inland freshwater or coastal water; checking for signs of fertiliser use in restricted areas, including excessive vegetation growth on the margins of restricted areas; checking fertiliser records, including records on calibrating fertiliser equipment; checking soil test results; checking for evidence of pollution or for significant risks of pollution; and checking the types of crops that are being planted. If the Environment Agency discovers a breach of the rules, it will help farmers by identifying the changes that need to be made, and agreeing a timescale to make the necessary changes. The Environment Agency may follow this up with a return visit or ask for photographic evidence to check that the changes have been made.

New rules are welcomed by the Rivers Trust

Responding to the announcement of the new rules, the Rivers Trust said last December that “Defra’s new common-sense rules for farming will make a significant difference to the health of rivers.” Arlin Rickard, CEO of The Rivers Trust and Chair of the Catchment Based Approach National Support Group, said:

“We have been working closely with Defra and farmers on the ground to ensure these common-sense but important rules are easy to follow and are set out in a practical and intuitive way. They will provide a clear point of reference for farmers and help maintain healthy soils, crops and livestock as well as reduce diffuse pollution. They will also help farmers save money by using nutrients more efficiently. Our local Rivers Trusts together with the 100 plus Catchment Partnerships that cover England will be promoting the uptake of the rules through our extensive advisor and farmer networks.” [6]

In last year’s news story, the Government said:

“Farming rules for water are part of a whole package of measures to help farmers and land managers look after the environment. The Government is also investing £400 million through Countryside Stewardship schemes which support farmers in creating or restoring precious habitats, and a £12 million farm ammonia reduction grant has incentivised farmers to tackle agricultural emissions. The new rules will not only benefit farming businesses. Clean water helps tourism, fishing, and shellfish businesses to thrive, reduces the cost of treatment, and protects biodiversity. The Environment Agency will roll out the rules through an advice-led approach, working with farmers to meet the requirements before enforcement action is taken. Farmers and land managers will be able to determine what approach is best for their land, through methods such as deciding when it is safe to spread fertilisers.” [7]

Photograph:

Creative Commons Licence
Corvedale Cattle © Copyright Anthony Bloor and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The new rules advise farmers to erect fences to keep cattle away from watercourses.

Notes

[1] The news story was published on 30th November 2017. See the GOV.UK web page “New Farming Rules for Water”.

[2] For Defra’s guidance on the new rules, see the GOV.UK web page “Rules for farmers and land managers to prevent water pollution”. The title of the relevant legislation is The Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations 2018.

[3] See [1].

[4] Manure is defined in the guidance as organic materials made from one or more animal, plant or human sources.

[5] The precision equipment is defined specifically in the guidelines as “a trailing hose or shoe band spreader; a shallow injector (no deeper than 10cm); or a dribble bar applicator.”

[6] For the Rivers Trust response, click here. Diffuse pollution refers to water pollution caused by manure, fertiliser or soil seeping into watercourses.

[7] See [2].

Revised National Planning Policy aims to boost house building

UK Government wants to reach target of 300,000 new homes a year

Local authorities will be expected to make more land available for housing

April 18th 2018

Since the Housing and Planning Bill became the Housing and Planning Act in May 2016, the UK Government has produced a number of documents that focus on measures to expedite house building. [1] Those documents include a housing White Paper, published in February 2017; a consultation paper titled Planning and Affordable Housing for Build to Rent, also published in February 2017; and a further consultation paper, titled Planning for the right homes in the right places, published in September 2017. A consultation paper was also published in December 2015, prior to the Housing and Planning Act, which dealt with changes to national planning policy associated with the measures contained in the Act. The Government is now holding a further consultation on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which reflect the results of those previous consultations, as well as further changes to policy, “beyond those consulted on previously, to help ensure that more land is brought forward for development and that permissions are turned into homes as soon as possible.” [2] The consultation on the revised NPPF opened on March 5th 2018 and will close on May 10th 2018.

The revised National Planning Policy Framework

The consultation paper explains that the National Planning Policy Framework, which was first introduced in 2012, “brought together around 1,000 pages of planning policy and guidance into a single document. Critically, and in line with the Government’s housing ambitions, it established a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.” As well as changes to policy, the revised NPPF also includes structural changes, the main change consisting of a division of the document into clearly defined chapters. The chapters are:

Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 Achieving sustainable development
Chapter 3 Plan-making
Chapter 4 Decision-making
Chapter 5 Delivering a wide choice of high quality homes
Chapter 6 Building a strong, competitive economy
Chapter 7 Ensuring the vitality of town centres
Chapter 8 Promoting healthy and safe communities
Chapter 9 Promoting sustainable transport
Chapter 10 Supporting high quality communications
Chapter 11 Making effective use of land
Chapter 12 Achieving well-designed places
Chapter 13 Protecting the Green Belt
Chapter 14 Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change
Chapter 15 Conserving and enhancing the natural environment
Chapter 16 Conserving and enhancing the historic environment
Chapter 17 Facilitating the sustainable use of minerals

The Government has set itself the target of delivering 300,000 new homes a year. Introducing the reasons for the proposed changes to the NPPF, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government states:

“This country does not have enough homes. For decades the number of new homes has not kept pace with rising demand. That has created a market that fails to work for far too many families, resulting in soaring prices and rising rents. The Government is clear that the country needs radical, lasting reform that will allow more homes to be built. The housing White Paper ‘Fixing our broken housing market’ set out a comprehensive strategy to tackle these failures. This comprised planning for the right homes in the right places, building homes faster, diversifying the market and helping people now. Further detail on a number of these reforms was set out in ‘Planning for the right homes in the right places’ in September 2017. Budget 2017 built on this strategy to put us on track to reach 300,000 net additional homes a year. It included additional proposals to change planning policy and legislation to bring forward more land in the right places…”

“Making the most of existing spaces”

The proposed changes to the NPPF place a great deal of emphasis on making the most efficient use of the space available, which applies both to land and to existing buildings. The consultation document says that the revised NPPF “recognises the importance of making the most of existing spaces, making clear that plans should seek more intensive use of existing land and buildings and include minimum density standards in town and city centres and around transport hubs.” The document continues:

“The Government does however recognise that there are locations where meeting needs through more effective use of urban land will not be possible, and in these instances there will be a need to find extra land to deliver the homes needed locally. Where this is the case the Government wants to ensure that these developments deliver the right homes and that the value generated by releasing land is supported by local infrastructure and communities. To this end, the Government is exploring wider measures to support farm diversification and housing in the rural economy.”

To make the most of existing spaces, the Government wants to extend the use of permitted development rights to include upwards extensions to existing buildings, both residential and commercial premises. The document explains:

“The use of permitted development rights to create new homes has played a vital part in increasing housing delivery in recent years. Since April 2015, permitted development rights have created over 30,000 new homes through changes of use from offices, agricultural, retail, and other buildings. The Government is interested in finding more solutions to making the most of the spaces we have in delivering the homes we need in the right places. The Written Ministerial Statement of 5 February 2018 made clear that planning policies and decisions should allow the use of airspace above existing residential and commercial premises to create new homes. This approach makes sure that we are using the space we have available efficiently and reduces the need to build out. The Government is exploring what opportunities there are to further support this approach through a new permitted development right for upwards extensions for new homes where existing buildings are lower than the prevailing roof line. This would be subject to engagement with neighbours. A future consultation will seek views on where best this permitted development right should be applied.”

“Local authorities will be expected to have a clear strategy for using land”

The emphasis on making the most of the land and space available is reflected in Chapter 11 of the revised NPPF, “Making effective use of land.” Local authorities will be expected to have a clear strategy for using land when drawing up local plans. They will also be expected to make more land available for housing, especially in areas of high demand; to make more intensive use of existing land and buildings; to give substantial weight to the value of using suitable brownfield land within settlements for homes; and to take “a flexible approach to policies or guidance that could inhibit making effective use of a site.” Further changes make explicit the need to make more effective use of empty space above shops, “with the proposed policy widening this to refer to other situations where under-utilised land and buildings could be used more effectively.” The proposed changes make it easier to convert retail and employment land to housing where this would be a more effective use. The revised NPPF also says that local authorities should reallocate land where there is no reasonable prospect of an application coming forward for the allocated use, and should also set out “how alternative uses should be considered ahead of a plan review taking place.”

On housing density, local authorities will be expected to avoid building homes at low densities in areas of high demand; and to pursue higher-density housing in accessible locations, “while reflecting the character and infrastructure capacity of each area.” Additionally, the revised policy says that minimum density standards should be used in town and city centres and around transport hubs. The new policy applies this principle to areas where there is a shortage of land for meeting identified development needs, extends the principle to town centres, and indicates that “standards should seek a significant uplift in prevailing densities, unless this would be inappropriate.” The revised policy also proposes that minimum densities should be considered in other parts of the plan area.

A further significant change proposes that “local planning authorities should refuse applications which they consider fail to make effective use of land, in areas where there is an existing or anticipated shortage of land for meeting identified housing needs.”

Local Authorities and Local Plans

As well as the emphasis on effective use, the revised NPPF requires local authorities to take a number of other new factors into account when drafting their local plans. Firstly, Chapter One says that endorsed recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission may be material when local planning authorities prepare plans or determine planning applications. Chapter Three of the revised NPPF (“Plan-making”) requires local authorities to review their local plans every five years following the date of adoption, “with updates, if necessary, to reflect changing circumstances.” This latter change reflects changes to the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012, which came into force on 6 April 2018.

Chapter Five (“Delivering a wide choice of high quality homes”) introduces a new standard method for the calculation of local housing need, and also states that local authorities should adopt clear policies for addressing the housing requirements of groups with particular needs – “students and travellers have been added to the list, as have people who rent their homes.” On affordable housing, Chapter Five includes a requirement that at least 10% of homes on major sites should be available for affordable home ownership, with certain exemptions. Chapter Five also reflects the announcement in the 2017 Budget that “the Government would consult on allowing the development of exception sites to provide entry-level homes suitable for first-time buyers, where a local need is identified.” As a further boost to house building, Chapter Five encourages local authorities to make greater use of small sites, “in order to diversify the opportunities for builders and increase the number of schemes that can be built out quickly.” On the definition of a small site, the revised NPPF proposes that local planning authorities should ensure that at least 20% of the sites allocated for housing in their plans are of half a hectare or less, but the Government says it is open to suggestions on these figures.

On technical matters, Chapter Three (“Plan-making”) reflects a new approach to viability, “through which plans are expected to be clear about the contributions expected in association with development,” while Chapter Four (“Decision-making”) “makes clear that where a proposed development accords with all relevant policies in the plan there is no need for a viability assessment to accompany the planning application.”

Town and Country

Some of the changes in the revised NPPF are specific to towns and rural areas. Chapter Six (“Building a strong, competitive economy”) stresses the importance of supporting business growth and improved productivity, “in a way that links to key aspects of the Government’s Industrial Strategy.” It includes a section on the rural economy and the need to support rural businesses. The new NPPF recognises “the potential need for planning policies and decisions to accommodate sites for local business and community needs outside existing settlements, in ways which minimise the impact of such sites and exploits opportunities to make such locations more sustainable.” The Government says that this approach reflects the fact that the availability of sites to accommodate appropriate development in rural areas may be limited, particularly within existing settlements.

Chapter Seven is concerned with “ensuring the vitality of town centres.” The revised NPPF says that local authorities should look at least ten years ahead in allocating sites to meet the need for town centre uses (“though not necessarily over the full plan period, if longer, given uncertainty in forecasting long-term retail trends”). Chapter Seven also says that town centre boundaries should be kept under review so that identified needs for town centre uses can be accommodated. However, “out of centre sites should be considered only if suitable town centre or edge of centre sites are unavailable or not expected to become available within a reasonable period. ” Additionally, Chapter Seven “removes the expectation that office developments outside town centres are subject to an impact assessment, where the development is over a certain floorspace threshold.”

Protecting (and redefining) the Green Belt

The Government says that the revised NPPF “maintains the strong protections of the Green Belt and retains a high bar before Green Belt land may be released.” Chapter Thirteen, “Protecting the Green Belt,” includes the policy that “certain criteria should be satisfied before ‘exceptional circumstances’ are used to change Green Belt boundaries.” The chapter also says that, where Green Belt is released, prime consideration should be given to land which has been developed previously or which is well-served by public transport.

However, the revised NPPF also makes it clear that “neighbourhood plans may amend detailed Green Belt boundaries, once the need for a Green Belt change has been demonstrated,” with the proviso that the plans are also expected to set out how the impact of removing land from the Green Belt can be offset. A further change allows brownfield land in the Green Belt to be used for affordable housing, “where there is no substantial harm to openness.” This change broadens a previous proposal to allow brownfield land in the Green Belt to be used for ‘starter homes’, “so that, subject to Green Belt protections, all residential developments that contribute to meeting an identified local affordable housing need can use brownfield land, allowing local planning authorities to use this land more flexibly in response to local circumstances.”

The consultation document says that “current policy allows buildings in the Green Belt in association with uses such as outdoor sport and cemeteries, but does not allow material changes in the use of land for such purposes, even if there would be no harm to openness.” The revised NPPF says that material changes of use that preserve openness should not be regarded as inappropriate development in the Green Belt, which would allow for a more consistent approach. Additionally, the revised NPPF says that facilities for burial grounds and allotments, rural exception sites, and development brought forward under a Neighbourhood Development Order, should also not be regarded as inappropriate development in the Green Belt.

Taking into account the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan

Chapter Fifteen of the revised NPPF, “Conserving and enhancing the natural environment,” has been updated to reflect the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which was published earlier this year. [2] It includes additional policy on strengthening existing habitat networks, taking air quality fully into account, clarifies that development within National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty should be limited, and also clarifies the implications for policy on areas defined as Heritage Coast. The revised NPPF also “strengthens protection for ancient woodland and other irreplaceable habitats, by making clear that development resulting in their loss or deterioration should be wholly exceptional.” Additionally, the policy “maintains a high level of protection for individual aged or veteran trees found outside these areas.” The Government says that this policy strikes a balance between protecting these important natural assets, while allowing development to proceed in the very limited circumstances where it would have significant public benefits, “but we welcome views on this during the consultation period. In particular, we are interested in views on how best to protect aged and veteran trees without preventing those important development schemes which are in the public interest.” The concern for veteran trees is also reflected in Chapter Two, “Achieving sustainable development.” The Government says that the current NPPF includes examples of policies that provide a specific reason for restricting development; these examples will be replaced in the revised NPPF with a defined list, “which includes ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees.”

The 25 year Environment Plan is also reflected in Chapter Sixteen of the revised NPPF, “Conserving and enhancing the historic environment.” The updated policy acknowledges that “World Heritage Sites are recognised internationally for their Outstanding Universal Value” – this international recognition “forms part of their significance and should be taken into account.” The revised policy also says that when considering the impact of a proposed development on a designated heritage asset, “decision-makers should give great weight to the asset’s conservation irrespective of whether the potential harm to its significance amounts to ‘less than substantial harm’, ‘substantial harm’, or ‘total loss of significance’.”

Responding to Climate Change

Chapter Fourteen of the new NPPF is titled “Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change.” Among the changes, the chapter refers to the risk of overheating from rising temperatures and “makes clear that planning policies should support measures to ensure the future resilience of communities and infrastructure to climate change.” In particular, the new policy says that local plans should have regard to the cumulative impacts of flood risk, “rather than just to or from individual development sites.” It also clarifies the policy on the exception test that may need to be applied when considering development in locations at risk of flooding. Additionally, a paragraph has been added on sustainable drainage systems in major developments, which incorporates a “Written Ministerial Statement of 18 December 2014.”

Some changes are associated with the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, which “sets out the Government’s plans for consulting on energy performance standards in Building Regulations later this year.” [3] The consultation document says that local authorities can play an important role in improving the energy performance of buildings in line with the ambitions of the Clean Growth Strategy; this role “will be considered further as the Government develops its consultation proposals.” Policy changes in Chapter Fourteen reflect the fact that “local planning authorities are tied to national technical standards, and there is limited scope to extend local ambition.”

“Designs should prioritise pedestrian and cycle movements”

The above account summarises most of the significant changes to the NPPF. Other changes are concerned with the following:

• “Promoting healthy and safe communities” – Chapter Eight stipulates that policies and decisions should consider the social and economic benefits of estate regeneration, and recognises the role that planning can play in promoting social interaction and healthy lifestyles.
• “Promoting sustainable transport” – Chapter Nine reflects the Government’s expectations that local authorities should identify additional development opportunities arising from strategic infrastructure investment, and that designs should prioritise pedestrian and cycle movements, followed by access to high quality public transport (“so far as possible”), and recognise the importance of creating well-designed places.
• “Supporting high quality communications” – Chapter Ten indicates that local plans should set out expectations in relation to the delivery of high quality digital infrastructure, “which provides access to services from a range of providers. This reflects government support for the further expansion of electronic communications networks, including next generation mobile technology and full fibre broadband connections, and the role that planning can play in this alongside other regulatory frameworks.”
• “Achieving well-designed places” – Chapter Twelve says that “outstanding or innovative designs” should not be given great weight where they are in conflict with local design policies or would not be sensitive to their surroundings.

Regarding Chapter Seventeen, “Facilitating the sustainable use of minerals,” the Government says that “as planning for minerals is the responsibility of minerals planning authorities, the Government is interested in views on whether the revised planning policy for minerals that we are consulting on would sit better in a separate document, alongside the Government’s planning policy for waste.”

Finally, the Government says it will continue to explore options for reforming developer contributions, to be delivered through regulations. The Government is also considering what further planning reforms could support the objective of bringing forward more land for development and ensuring that permissions are turned into homes as soon as possible. As mentioned above, these include a new permitted development right for upwards extensions, and wider measures to support farm diversification and housing in the rural economy, including “more effective ways of bringing agricultural land forward for housing.”

The current consultation on the revised NPPF closes on May 10th 2018.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Affordable housing, Damson Way, Suckley, Worcestershire, 2008 © Copyright Peter Whatley and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The Government’s definition of affordable housing was broadened in the Housing and Planning Act 2016, which caused much controversy when the bill was scrutinised in the House of Lords. Peers expressed concerns that starter homes were included in the definition of affordability, pointing out that starter homes were still unaffordable to many people, and that the starter home initiative would lead to a reduction in other forms of affordable housing. See the ENA article: “The Housing and Planning Act 2016 – A Review”.

Notes

[1] See the ENA article: “The Housing and Planning Act 2016 – A Review”. Further articles on housing and planning can be found by using the search facility on this website.

[2] The consultation paper National Planning Policy Framework: Consultation proposals is a PDF document which can be downloaded from the GOV.UK website by clicking here. In chronological sequence, the previous consultations and papers that have fed into the revised NPPF are as follows:

a) National Planning Policy: consultation on proposed changes (December 2015). The consultation sought views on specific changes to national planning policy aimed at supporting the delivery of new homes. The changes covered the following areas: broadening the definition of affordable housing “to expand the range of low cost housing opportunities”; supporting the delivery of starter homes; increasing the density of development around commuter hubs to make more efficient use of land in suitable locations; supporting sustainable new settlements; supporting development on brownfield land and small sites; and supporting the delivery of housing allocated in local plans.

b) The housing White Paper Fixing our broken housing market (February 2017). The White Paper set out the Government’s plans to boost the supply of new homes in England. It included measures “to ensure we plan for the right homes in the right places; build homes faster; diversify the housing market; and help people now.” The consultation also sought views on changes to planning policy and legislation in relation to planning for housing, sustainable development, and the environment.

c) Planning and Affordable Housing for Build to Rent – a consultation paper (February 2017). This consultation sought views on planning measures to support an increase in Build to Rent schemes across England. Key proposals were changes to the NPPF to support and to increase the number of new Build to Rent homes, and the provision of Affordable Private Rent homes as the main form of affordable housing provision in Build to Rent schemes. The consultation also sought to promote the availability of longer tenancies (3 years or more) in Build to Rent accommodation. Local authorities would be encouraged to plan for Build to Rent schemes, with Affordable Private Rent serving as a substitute for other types of affordable housing.

d) Planning for the right homes in the right places: consultation proposals (September 2017). A consultation on further measures set out in the housing White Paper to boost housing supply in England. The consultation set out a number of reforms to the planning system in order to increase the supply of new homes and to increase local authority capacity to manage growth. The proposals included: “a standard method for calculating local authority housing need; giving neighbourhood planning groups greater certainty on the level of housing need to plan for; a statement of common ground to improve how local authorities work together to meet housing and other needs across boundaries; making the use of viability assessments simpler, quicker and more transparent; and increased planning application fees in those areas where local planning authorities are delivering the homes their communities need.”

Links to all of the above documents can be found on the GOV.UK web page “Draft revised National Planning Policy Framework”.

[3] On the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, see the ENA article: “UK Government publishes ‘The Clean Growth Strategy'”.

The future for farming: UK Government publishes proposals for a post-Brexit agricultural policy

Defra proposes to replace the Common Agricultural Policy with a new system that “pays public money for public goods”

Environmental land management, “underpinned by natural capital principles,” will be the cornerstone of future agricultural policy in England

March 21st 2018

Following the publication of its 25 year plan for the environment, the UK Government is now seeking views on proposals for the development of a new agricultural policy. [1] The ten-week consultation period opened on 27th February and will close on 8th May 2018. On the GOV.UK website, Defra (the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) says: “Leaving the European Union and the Common Agricultural Policy will give us the chance for reform. We want to know your thoughts on the future of agricultural policy in England.” [2] The proposals are set out in a consultation document titled Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit. Supplementary information includes an annex on stakeholder proposals, an annex on Countryside Stewardship options, and an evidence compendium, which provides “a detailed assessment of the current state of agriculture in the UK to underpin the proposals laid out in the consultation paper.” The evidence compendium contains detailed statistics on farm economics and accounts, food production, and environmental land management. [3]

“The case for change”

In his foreword to the consultation document, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment, says:

“For more than forty years, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has decided how we farm our land, the food we grow and rear, and the state of the natural environment. Over that period, the environment has deteriorated, productivity has been held back, and public health has been compromised… The environmental damage we have suffered while inside the CAP has been significant. Soil health has deteriorated. Farmland bird numbers have dropped. Precious habitats have been eroded. And at the same time a system of subsidy skewed towards those with the biggest landholdings has kept land prices and rents high, prevented new talent coming into farming, and held back innovation.”

Chapter One of the document makes the case for change. It explains that the CAP involves three types of payments to farmers: Direct Payments, comprising a Young Farmers Scheme and a Basic Payment Scheme with a ‘greening’ component; price support for food producers; and rural development schemes which include agri-environmental measures. [4] Direct Payments have been reformed several times and were previously linked to production but are now largely based on the size of agricultural land that a farmer owns, as measured by the number of hectares. Defra says that of all the different types of farming, grazing livestock is the sector that is most dependent on Direct Payments, sheep farming in particular: “Those sectors in which a high proportion of farmers currently depend on Direct Payments just to break even are often located in the most remote, wild and beautiful parts of the UK… For example, the distinctive character of the Lake District landscape has been shaped through long association with sheep farming, one of the sectors currently most dependent on Direct Payments.”

The document concedes that the CAP has produced some environmental improvements, but it also says that the overall positive impact has been limited. In making the case for change, Defra says that the CAP has not been effective enough at reversing environmental damage caused by agricultural practices which have increased negative pressures on the environment through pollution and practices that have led to habitat and species loss. The Executive Summary (p.6) states:

“The CAP introduced some of the world’s first agri-environment schemes, making progress towards improving our environment. Significant reforms have helped to shift the CAP away from the ‘butter mountains’ and ‘wine lakes’ of the 1980s. Decoupling Direct Payments from production has reduced some of the incentives to produce in an environmentally-harmful way. Despite this, the CAP remains flawed. Even though we have some of the most innovative farmers in the world, land-based subsidies can undermine incentives for widespread productivity improvement and are bad value for taxpayers. Efforts to enhance our environment have also been limited by the bureaucratic structure of the CAP. It has imposed unnecessary regulatory burdens and failed to reward some public goods adequately, such as measures to improve water quality and soil health.”

A period of transition

About a third of the 64-page consultation document is taken up with the Common Agricultural Policy and its impact, and on the transitional arrangements that will come into place following the UK’s anticipated departure from the EU. In a section titled “Moving away from the Common Agricultural Policy in England,” there are chapters on “Reform within the CAP,” “An agricultural transition,” and “A successful future for farming.” Each chapter concludes with a number of questions for consultation. Chapter Four (“a successful future”) also includes sections on “Farming excellence and profitability,” “Agricultural technology and research,” and “Labour: a skilled workforce.”

In summary, the Government is proposing to continue with the Direct Payments system for a limited period in England, but will gradually reduce payments starting with those who receive the most under the current system. While reducing Direct Payments, it will also introduce a new system of payments based on environmental land management, which will replace the current Countryside Stewardship scheme. The current system of Direct Payments will eventually be phased out completely. The consultation is seeking views on how the phasing out of Direct Payments can best be achieved, and discusses several possibilities based on different financial arrangements, including the possibility that farmers may want to quit farming altogether. Meanwhile, the Government says it will maintain the current level of funding for agriculture across the whole of the UK until the end of the current parliament. The Executive Summary (p.7) states:

“We will formally leave the European Union in March 2019. The government anticipates that we will agree an implementation period for the whole country with the EU lasting for around another two years. Once we have the freedom to move away from the CAP, there will be an ‘agricultural transition’ period in England… In England, Direct Payments will continue during the agricultural transition… We want our future policy to provide an enabling environment for farmers to improve their productivity and add value to their products, so they can become more profitable and competitive. We therefore propose to further reduce and phase out Direct Payments in England completely by the end of the ‘agricultural transition’ period, which will last a number of years beyond the implementation period.”

Defra is proposing to make some changes to how the CAP is administered within the implementation period. Chapter Two of the document says that complying with the CAP regulations “presents a challenge to farmers and land managers, policy makers and delivery agencies. The administration of the Basic Payment scheme and Countryside Stewardship scheme can restrict access through complicated application systems and burdensome evidence requirements.” Defra is proposing to simplify the current system to make it easier for farmers to apply for Basic Payments and for Countryside Stewardship funds, and is seeking views on how this simplification can best be achieved. One question presents four options for simplification of the current arrangements under the CAP, and respondents are asked to indicate the three that are most appealing. A second question asks: “How can we improve the delivery of the current Countryside Stewardship scheme and increase uptake by farmers and land managers to help achieve valuable environmental outcomes?”

On the issue of Direct Payments, having discussed the possibilities based on different financial arrangements, the consultation document asks four questions, as follows:

• “What is the best way of applying reductions to Direct Payments?” Respondents are asked for their preference from three possibilities: a) applying progressive reductions, with higher percentage reductions applied to amounts in higher payment bands (respondents are also asked to provide views on the payment bands and percentage reductions that should be applied); b) applying a cap to the largest payments; and c) other.
• “What conditions should be attached to Direct Payments during the ‘agricultural transition’?” Respondents are asked to indicate their preferences from a list of four options.
• “What are the factors that should drive the profile for reducing Direct Payments during the ‘agricultural transition’?”
• “How long should the ‘agricultural transition’ period be?”

Research and innovation: Investing in skills and technology

Looking towards the future, the document stresses the need for farming to embrace new technology and invest in skills, which it says will enable farmers to be more competitive. Defra says “there is a huge opportunity for UK agriculture to improve its competitiveness – developing the next generation of food and farming technology, adopting the latest agronomic techniques, reducing the impact of pests and diseases, investing in skills and equipment, and collaborating with other farmers and processors.” The consultation document asks four questions on skills and capital investment:

• “How can we improve the take-up of knowledge and advice by farmers and land managers?” Respondents are asked to rank their top three preferences from a list of six options.
• “What are the main barriers to new capital investment that can boost profitability and improve animal and plant health on-farm?” Respondents are asked to rank their top three issues from a list of seven.
• “What are the most effective ways to support new entrants and encourage more young people into a career in farming and land management?”
• “Does existing tenancy law present barriers to new entrants, productivity and investment?”

On agricultural innovation, the document includes a case study of work at Harper Adams University in Shropshire where, in 2017, a team of researchers successfully grew a crop of barley “using only autonomous vehicles and drones and without a human setting foot in the field.” The case study reports: “The Hands Free Hectare project was a major step in revolutionising how we feed the world whilst helping to protect the environment. To limit damage to the soil for future harvests, and increase efficiency, the team employed a small modified tractor and combine equipped with cameras, sensors and GPS systems. Drones monitored the field, while a robot scout collected plant samples for inspection.”

The Government says it wants to pioneer new approaches to crop protection and encourage more commercial research to improve plant breeding and agronomic techniques: “New approaches, such as vertical farming, can harness the combined power of robotics, photonics, artificial intelligence and smart energy management systems, as well as plant biotechnology.” Respondents are asked three questions on research and innovation, as follows:

• “What are the priority research topics that industry and government should focus on to drive improvements in productivity and resource efficiency?” Respondents are asked to rank in order of importance the top three topics from a list of seven.
• “How can industry and government put farmers in the driving seat to ensure that agricultural R&D delivers what they need?” Respondents are asked to rank in order of importance the top three options from a list of five.
• “What are the main barriers to adopting new technology and ideas on-farm, and how can we overcome them?”

As well as new technology, the Government also stresses the need to invest in skills. Three questions seek the views of respondents on this topic:

• “What are the priority skills gaps across UK agriculture?” Respondents are asked to rank in order of importance the top three options from a list of seven.
• “What can industry do to help make agriculture and land management a great career choice?”
• “How can government support industry to build the resilience of the agricultural sector to meet labour demand?”

“Farming is crucial to achieving the goals of the 25 Year Environment Plan”

As for future agricultural policy, Defra says that the CAP will be replaced with a new system that “pays public money for public goods,” whilst the proposed system of environmental land management will be underpinned by natural capital principles (the term “underpinned” is used several times in the consultation paper). [5] The Executive Summary (p.8) states:

“From the end of the agricultural transition, a new environmental land management system will be the cornerstone of our agricultural policy in England. The system will help us to deliver our manifesto commitment to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it. Farming is crucial to achieving the goals set out in our recently published 25 Year Environment Plan. A new environmental land management system will help us to preserve the investment in our countryside that has already been made and delivered by farmers. It will consist of a new scheme that pays providers for delivering environmentally beneficial outcomes, and will provide support for farmers and land managers as we move towards a more effective application of the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Our new environmental land management system will be underpinned by natural capital principles, so that the benefits the natural environment provides for people and wildlife are properly valued and used to inform decisions on future land management. The new system aims to deliver benefits such as improved air, water and soil quality; increased biodiversity; climate change mitigation and adaptation; and cultural benefits that improve our mental and physical well-being, while protecting our historic environment.”

Implementing the new policy

The rest of the document is titled “Implementing our new agricultural policy in England,” with a further section titled “The framework for our new agricultural policy.” There are eight chapters on implementing the new policy, under the following headings:

• Public money for public goods;
• Enhancing our environment;
• Fulfilling our responsibility to animals;
• Supporting rural communities and remote farming;
• Changing regulatory culture;
• Risk management and resilience;
• Protecting crop, tree, plant and bee health; and
• Ensuring fairness in the supply chain.

The Government’s aspirations for the future of farming are summarised in the Executive Summary (p.6):

“We will incentivise methods of farming that create new habitats for wildlife, increase biodiversity, reduce flood risk, better mitigate climate change, and improve air quality by reducing agricultural emissions. We will achieve this by ensuring that public money is spent on public goods, such as restoring peat bog and measures which sequester carbon from the atmosphere; protecting dry stone walls and other iconic aspects of our heritage; and reducing disease through new initiatives that better monitor animal health and welfare.”

“Public money for public goods”

Chapter Five describes the sort of public goods that the future policy will support. These are: environmental improvements and protection; better animal and plant health and better animal welfare; improvements to productivity and competitiveness; “preserving rural resilience, traditional farming and landscapes in the uplands;” and enhancements to public access to the countryside. With future generations in mind, the document says that protecting and enhancing the environment “could be considered the pre-eminent public good.” The Government wants to see improvements to soil health through better land management practices; improvements to water quality; better air quality, with the emphasis on reducing ammonia emissions [6]; increased biodiversity; climate change mitigation [7]; and “enhanced beauty, heritage, and engagement with the natural environment.” Respondents to the consultation are asked to rank in order of importance their top three of these six environmental outcomes.

The Government also wants to set high standards for animal health and welfare, and improvements in biosecurity to protect “crops, trees, plants and bees.” On improvements to productivity, the document stresses again the importance of innovation. Defra says that innovations – “such as technology, data science, gene-editing, improved tracking and traceability of livestock, or new plant biosecurity measures” – can increase productivity, help to safeguard the public goods of animal and human health, and “ensure we better protect the environment.”

Hill farming is singled out as needing particular support under the new regime, as it is the sector that is most dependent on Direct Payments under the current system. The Executive Summary (pp.7-8) states:

“We recognise that some sectors may find it more difficult than others to adapt – for example, those located in the most remote, wild and beautiful parts of England. We recognise the environmental and cultural value of our rural landscapes and traditional ways of life, including areas such as the uplands. The uplands have the potential to benefit from new environmental land management schemes, given the nature of their landscapes and the many public goods that they deliver, such as biodiversity, flood risk mitigation, and carbon sequestration. We will explore possible options on how we can best support such areas.”

Respondents to the consultation are asked to rank in order of importance their top three public goods that the Government should support. There are six options: world-class animal welfare; high animal health standards; protection of crops etc.; improved productivity; the preservation of upland landscapes; and public access to the countryside. Respondents are also asked if there are any other public goods that the Government should support.

Environmental outcomes

Chapter Six (“Enhancing our environment”) provides more detail of what a new environmental land management system could involve: “A new environmental land management system, underpinned by natural capital principles, would contribute to delivering against many of the key outcomes set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan and the Clean Growth Strategy. These include: clean air; clean and plentiful water; thriving plants and wildlife; reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such as flooding and drought; using resources from nature more sustainably and efficiently; enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment; and mitigating and adapting to climate change.” The document says that a new environmental land management system could involve some or all of the following: new environmental land management schemes, such as support for wetland creation, woodland creation, or peatland restoration; funding for collaborative projects; capital grants; a ‘user friendly’ design to improve administration of the scheme; and innovative funding and support mechanisms.

Several case studies are presented which illustrate the sort of environmental improvements that have already been achieved under the current system [8], and the chapter concludes with further questions for consultation. The first question lists eleven outcomes (such as species recovery, soil quality, and cultural heritage), and asks respondents to select which outcomes “would be best achieved by incentivising action across a number of farms or other land parcels in a future environmental land management system.” Three further questions are as follows:

• “What role should outcome-based payments have in a new environmental land management system?”
• “How can an approach to a new environmental land management system be developed that balances national and local priorities for environmental outcomes?”
• “How can farmers and land managers work together or with third parties to deliver environmental outcomes?”

Animal welfare and animal health

Chapter Seven of the document, titled “Fulfilling our responsibility to animals,” is devoted to animal health and welfare. Defra says that the UK has led the way “in making significant welfare advances by banning the use of close confinement sow stalls for pigs and the use of veal crates back in the 1990s. In addition to our plans to make CCTV in slaughterhouses in England compulsory, we also propose to take early steps to control the export of live animals for slaughter as we leave the EU.” The consultation document says that animal welfare is one of the public goods that the Government could support in the future:

“During the agricultural transition, we could pilot schemes that offer targeted payments to farmers who deliver higher welfare outcomes in sectors where animal welfare largely remains at the legislative minimum. Payments could also be made to farmers who trial a new approach or technology which could improve welfare outcomes but which is not an industry standard.”

On animal health, the Government is proposing to work with industry “to develop an ambitious plan to tackle endemic disease and drive up animal health standards. A clear vision and programme of partnership action will help us to tackle non-statutory endemic disease and health conditions in the form of an Animal Health Pathway.” A further proposal is to provide targeted support for priority disease control and health schemes, “learning lessons from the Bovine TB programme in England and schemes elsewhere in the UK and overseas.” Respondents are asked three questions on the topic of animal welfare and animal health:

• “Should government set further standards to ensure greater consistency and understanding of welfare information at the point of purchase?” Respondents are asked to indicate a single preference from five options.
• “What type of action do you feel is most likely to have the biggest impact on improving animal health on farms?” Respondents are asked to rank three out of ten choices in order of importance.
• “How can the government best support industry to develop an ambitious plan to tackle endemic diseases and drive up animal health standards?”

Hill farming and rural businesses

As mentioned above, hill farming is singled out as needing particular support under the new regime, as it is the sector that is most dependent on Direct Payments under the current system. Chapter Eight of the document says that places like the Lake District, now a World Heritage Site, represent a significant part of our heritage, “bringing a wealth of environmental, archaeological and recreational value.” The particular problems faced by hill farmers are explained as follows:

“Since 1975, hill farming has traditionally been supported through financial payments to Less Favoured Areas. In England, Less Favoured Areas are divided into two groups, with the more challenging areas classified as Severely Disadvantaged Areas. These tend to be upland areas. The majority of farms in Severely Disadvantaged Areas (but not all) are grazing livestock businesses with sheep or cattle, although dairy farms and forestry are also important in some areas. Farming activity in these areas is more restricted than in lowland areas due to poor soil fertility and steep hill slopes. Heather moorland dominates the landscape, which is of poor nutritional value to livestock, requiring a larger area of land to produce the same amount of livestock than lowland areas. These limitations mean most upland farms have fewer opportunities to improve their productivity than lowland farms. Compared to lowland farms, farms within the Severely Disadvantaged Areas have less opportunity to diversify. Where they have diversified, they have a lower income from diversified enterprises. Agri-environment schemes also tend to make a greater contribution to average income than lowland farms.”

Defra says that many upland areas have the potential to benefit from new environmental land management schemes, and can encourage biodiversity, protect water quality, and store carbon. Producing high-quality food and diversification into areas such as energy generation, tourism, or commercial forestry, are mentioned as the sort of opportunities that leaving the EU could provide. However, “we recognise that these will be defined by the surrounding landscape and by investment potential.” The Government says that a clear vision for the uplands will be an important part of its agricultural policy, “and we want to explore what this should be.” The Government also says it wants to support rural businesses by measures, for example, to improve broadband connectivity which, in agriculture, “can support precision farming, including environmental sensing systems.” Respondents are asked three questions on upland areas and rural businesses:

• “How should farming, land management, and rural communities continue to be supported to deliver environmental, social, and cultural benefits in the uplands?”
• “There are a number of challenges facing rural communities and businesses. Please rank your top three options by order of importance.” The eight options include broadband connectivity, affordable housing, and transport connectivity.
• “With reference to the way you have ranked your answer to the previous question, what should government do to address the challenges faced by rural communities and businesses post-Brexit?”

“Changing regulatory culture”

Defra says that farmers are currently required to comply with a broad range of legislation, covering environmental protection and animal health and welfare. The range includes rules that prevent the over-abstraction of water sources and animal traceability requirements designed to prevent the spread of disease. However, Defra also says that the current system puts excessive burdens on farmers and can be very rigid in its application. For instance, it says that an incomplete record or the loss of one cattle ear tag can sometimes lead to substantial reductions in payments. As part of a future agricultural policy, Defra says it wants to make regulation less disproportionately punitive and rigid, without relaxing standards:

“There is scope to raise regulatory standards in some areas to maintain and enhance standards. In others, we can look at moving away from disproportionate enforcement that can heavily penalise some farmers for minor errors. We will enable a new regulatory culture in which standards are upheld and their enforcement is less disproportionately punitive and rigid in its application, without weakening our standards. We have considered various inspection and enforcement methods, which could include greater use of remote sensing and risk-based inspection, and advice courses and civil sanctions to enforce regulations.”

The Government says it will be conducting a comprehensive review of the current inspections regime, which will investigate “how inspections can be removed, reduced or improved to lessen the burden on farmers while maintaining and enhancing our animal, environmental, and plant health standards.” Respondents to the consultation are asked three questions on regulation:

• “How can we improve inspections for environmental, animal health, and welfare standards?” Respondents are asked to indicate their preferred options from a list of six.
• “Which parts of the regulatory baseline could be improved, and how?”
• “How can we deliver a more targeted and proportionate enforcement system?”

“Risk management and resilience”

Three chapters of the consultation document deal in turn with risk management; protecting crop, tree, plant and bee health; and ensuring fairness in the supply chain. On risk management and resilience, Defra says that “the best way of improving resilience in the farming sector is to support increases in farm productivity. Profitable farms are more resilient with readier access to capital. Our immediate focus, therefore, will be on improving productivity and profitability so farm businesses can be more self-reliant and invest for the lean years as other sectors do.” However, it also says that fewer than one in five farmers currently buy agricultural insurance. The Government says it is reluctant to subsidise the cost of risk-management products as this can distort the market. Instead, it recommends buying into innovative new commercial products such as a form of insurance known as index insurance, which “differs from standard insurance by triggering payouts based on an agreed-upon index or measurement being met, rather than by actual losses suffered by the insured party. Index insurances typically require less farm-specific data than other insurances and so are easier to administer.” Respondents are asked three questions on this topic:

• “What factors most affect farm businesses’ decisions on whether to buy agricultural insurance?” Respondents are asked to rank in order of importance their top three options from a list of seven.
• “What additional skills, data and tools would help better manage volatility in agricultural production and revenues for (a) farm businesses and (b) insurance providers?”
• “How can current arrangements for managing market crises and providing crisis support be improved?”

“Protecting crop, tree, plant, and bee health”

Defra says that farmers must be able to protect their crops whilst people must be protected from the risks posed by pesticides, both to themselves and the environment. As part of a future agricultural policy, the Government is proposing an “integrated pest management” approach:

“Strong regulation of pesticides is essential to limit the risks, but this should be supplemented by integrated pest management. This means using all the available tools to protect crops, with the least possible use of pesticides. Steps that can be taken include crop rotation, the use of biopesticides, and encouraging natural predators. There is the potential for the greater use of plant breeding techniques and making better use of genetics and the resources held in gene banks to ensure their natural resilience to pests and diseases. By making integrated pest management central to our approach to crop protection, the government can encourage wider investment in research and development.”

Respondents are asked for their views on three questions:

• “Where there are insufficient commercial drivers, how far do you agree or disagree that government should play a role in supporting: a) industry, woodland owners and others to respond collaboratively and swiftly to outbreaks of priority pests and diseases in trees; b) landscape recovery following pest and disease outbreaks, and the development of more resilient trees; and c) the development of a biosecure supply chain across the forestry, horticulture and beekeeping sectors.”
• “Where there are insufficient commercial drivers, what role should government play in: a) supporting industry, woodland owners and others to respond collaboratively and swiftly to outbreaks of priority pests and diseases in trees; and b) promoting landscape recovery following pest and disease outbreaks, and the development of more resilient trees.”
• “What support, if any, can the government offer to promote the development of a biosecure supply chain across the forestry, horticulture and beekeeping sectors?”

“Ensuring fairness in the supply chain”

Defra says that most farmers are comparatively small-scale sellers who deal with a smaller number of comparatively large-scale processors and retailers. It recommends that farmers come together in the form of agricultural cooperatives: collaborative organisation, it says, will enable them to access new markets and reduce risks, and also provide them with more bargaining power:

“In some sectors, farmers can give themselves greater power to negotiate contracts and market their produce by coming together in Producer Organisations. We propose to maintain the special status of Producer Organisations, including derogations from competition rules. Collective decision-making is not the traditional model for UK farmers, but the modern supply chain means attitudes have to change. Farmers could benefit from recognising how much more strength they can achieve through cooperation.”

Respondents are asked for their views on three questions concerning collaboration and the food supply chain:

• “How can we improve transparency and relationships across the food supply chain?” Respondents are asked to rank in order of importance their top three options from a list of four. The options include the promotion of Producer Organisations, the introduction of statutory codes of conduct, and improvements to the provision of data.
• “What are the biggest barriers to collaboration amongst farmers?”
• “What are the most important benefits that collaboration between farmers and other parts of the supply chain can bring? How could government help to enable this?”

Devolved government and a common framework

The final section of the consultation document is titled “The framework for our new agricultural policy.” There are three chapters that deal in turn with devolution, international trade, and a proposal to present parliament with an Agriculture Bill. Because of devolved powers, the new agricultural policy will only apply to England. In the Executive Summary, however, the consultation document says that the Government’s vision of the future for agriculture is a vision that could work for the whole of the UK, “but we recognise that devolution provides each administration with the powers to decide its own priorities.” For instance, on the phasing out of Direct Payments in England and its gradual replacement with funding for environmental land management schemes, Defra says that the devolved administrations will have the flexibility to target support in a way that best suits their circumstances. This raises the question of how much flexibility will the devolved powers have, and whether England will end up with a completely different system of rules and regulations for agriculture compared to the rest of the UK. This issue is discussed in Chapter Thirteen, titled “Devolution: maintaining cohesion and flexibility,” which recognises the need for some sort of common framework across the UK. It states:

“Leaving the European Union will be an important step in the devolution of agriculture. Under the existing constitutional settlements, agriculture is devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, many of the rules in these areas are currently set at the EU level, although some discretion is allowed in Direct Payments to farmers; and each administration has a rural development programme that they deliver (such as agri-environment schemes and rural economic growth). The devolved administrations and the UK government are working together to determine where common frameworks need to be established in some areas that are currently governed by EU law, but are otherwise within areas of competence of the devolved administrations or legislatures (as agreed by the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations)).”

Defra says that the Joint Ministerial Committee for EU Negotiations has agreed three principles regarding common frameworks. The first is that common frameworks will be established where they are necessary (for instance, among other reasons, in order to ensure compliance with international obligations). The second is that “frameworks will respect the devolution settlements and the democratic accountability of the devolved legislatures.” The third is that “frameworks will ensure recognition of the economic and social linkages between Northern Ireland and Ireland and that Northern Ireland will be the only part of the UK that shares a land frontier with the EU. They will also adhere to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.”

Respondents are asked for their views on two questions regarding devolution. The first asks, “With reference to the principles set out above, what are the agriculture and land management policy areas where a common approach across the UK is necessary?” The second asks: “What are the likely impacts on cross-border farms if each administration can tailor its own agriculture and land management policy?” The discussion of common frameworks suggests that “cross-border farms” means farms that straddle the borders between England and Wales or between England and Scotland. The problems that might arise for farms that straddle the border between the North and South of Ireland are not discussed.

International trade following Brexit

Chapter Fourteen discusses the opportunities for new trade agreements post-Brexit and the kinds of agreements that could be negotiated. Defra says that the EU is the UK’s biggest trading partner for agricultural products, “so our future relationship with the EU 27 is of vital importance.” The chapter continues:

“The government is committed to securing a deep and special partnership with the EU, including a bold and ambitious economic partnership. The UK wants to secure the freest trade possible in goods and services between the UK and the EU. Ensuring as frictionless trade as possible for our agricultural sectors is particularly important where much of the produce is perishable and time is critical. The government is committed to securing continuity in the effect of existing EU Free Trade Agreements and other EU preferential arrangements. Through membership of the EU, the UK is currently party to around 40 international trade agreements covering over 65 countries… In the future, the UK will be in a position to independently exercise its existing rights as a World Trade Organization (WTO) member and will continue to be subject to the full obligations of WTO membership. WTO agreements could represent a framework for our future agriculture policy.”

The chapter concludes with three questions for respondents:

• “How far do you agree or disagree with the broad priorities set out in the trade chapter?”
• “How can government and industry work together to open up new markets?”
• “How can we best protect and promote our brand, remaining global leaders in environmental protection, food safety, and in standards of production and animal welfare?”

An Agriculture Bill

The document concludes with the proposal to introduce an Agriculture Bill which will signal the UK’s departure from the Common Agricultural Policy. Chapter Fifteen says that the Agriculture Bill will be designed to meet the policy ambition set out in the consultation paper and could provide the Government with the legislative power to do any of the following:

1.) To continue making payments to farmers and land managers, with the power to amend eligibility criteria for payments.
2.) To strip out unnecessary bureaucracy and strengthen the delivery landscape.
3.) To create new schemes for one or more of the following purposes:
• promoting and increasing agricultural productivity and resilience
• preserving, protecting, and enhancing the environment
• providing support to rural communities
• animal and plant health and animal welfare
• public access
4.) To establish a new basic compliance or inspection regime.
5.) To take emergency measures to provide aid in extreme events.
6.) To retain UK-wide frameworks where we need commonality.
7.) To provide for continuity during the ‘agricultural transition’ period for some elements of the current CAP.

The final two questions in the consultation are concerned with the proposed legislation: 1) “How far do you agree with the proposed powers of the Agriculture Bill?” and 2) “What other measures might we need in the Agriculture Bill to achieve our objectives?”

The conclusion of the Executive Summary states: “We should all have an interest in the landscape around us: it must sustain us now and be held in trust for future generations. We welcome all views on our policy proposals.” Respondents have until the 8th of May 2018 to submit their views.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Pasture, Skelton, with Carrock Fell in the background. Near Low Braithwaite, Cumbria. © Copyright Andrew Smith and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit says that “the distinctive character of the Lake District landscape has been shaped through long association with sheep farming, one of the sectors currently most dependent on Direct Payments.” The Government says that hill farmers and upland areas have the potential to benefit from new environmental land management schemes under the proposed agricultural policy for England.

Notes

[1] The plan was published on the 11th January 2018. See the ENA article: “UK Government publishes its 25 year plan for the environment”. The 25 year plan only applies to England.

[2] See the GOV.UK web page “The future for food, farming and the environment”.

[3] Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit is a PDF document available from the GOV.UK website which you can download by clicking here. The Future Farming and Environment Evidence Compendium is another PDF document which you can download from the GOV.UK website by clicking here. The annex on stakeholder proposals and the annex on Countryside Stewardship options are both available from [2] above. Note: Quotations from the consultation document have been slightly modified in certain places to correct grammatical errors in the original.

[4] Agri-environment schemes are now known as environmental land management schemes. The current environmental land management scheme is the Countryside Stewardship scheme. Defra says the Countryside Stewardship scheme supports a range of environmental benefits, including: slowing the decline in wildlife populations; tree planting; improving water quality; and providing more high-quality recreational opportunities. In conceding that the CAP has made some environmental improvements, Defra says “there is evidence that land in publicly funded agri-environment schemes can deliver benefits which outweigh the payments made.” The successes delivered by agri-environment schemes in England over the last five years include: “280,000km of maintenance, management and restoration of hedgerows, ditches and stonewalls; creating nesting and food resources to increase breeding populations of nationally scarce farmland birds and pollinators such as cirl buntings, stone curlews, and the marsh fritillary butterfly; and 19,000 hectares of planted areas providing pollen and nectar sources for pollinators (Higher Level Scheme management for pollinators can significantly increase the size of wild bumblebee populations).” In addition, a footnote says that a 2012 study on farmland bird population growth rates showed positive effects related to the management of winter food resources for a number of seed-eating species. The consultation document also includes a case study on the Hedgerows and Boundaries Grant, which is “a standalone scheme under Countryside Stewardship and is a popular approach with farmers and stakeholders. Applicants select from a range of investments such as hedgerow laying, coppicing, and restoration of dry stone walls. They create habitat and feeding areas for birds, insects and small mammals, as well as adding to the character of the local landscape. These works can have a lasting legacy for our countryside. This simple grant offer is competitive, but the scoring is easy to follow and has been agreed with stakeholders. In 2016, the first year of the grant, we funded 728 agreements with a value of £3 million. This resulted in the restoration of 45,897m of stone walls and 177,539m of hedges.”

[5] On the concept of natural capital, see the ENA article: “Assessing the Value of ‘Natural Capital'”.

[6] The consultation document states: “When ammonia is released into the air, it reacts with nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide and forms secondary particulate matter, which has a significant impact on human health. Most notably, ammonia contributes to smog in urban areas. In addition, when deposited on land, ammonia can cause acidification or overload soils and watercourses with nitrogen, leading to biodiversity loss in sensitive habitats.” Evidence cited in the accompanying Future Farming and Environment Evidence Compendium suggests that ammonia emissions attributable to farming constitute 83% of the UK total. In Chapter Six of the consultation paper (“Enhancing our environment”), Defra says that “we can reduce the harmful contribution agriculture makes to ammonia emissions and air quality through, for instance, encouraging the use of low emission slurry spreading equipment or supporting investment in slurry covers.” For recent research on the impact of air pollution on human health, see the ENA article: “Recent Research – The impact of air pollution on human health”.

[7] The consultation document states: “Nitrous oxide and methane greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have fallen by around 15% since 1990, and agriculture currently contributes 10% of UK emissions. Whilst it remains incredibly important that we continue to reduce carbon emissions from the farming sector, environmental land management could play a pivotal role in responding to climate change by increasing the ability of farmland and the countryside to sequester carbon, thereby enhancing the benefits and value of our natural resources.” In Chapter Six of the consultation paper (“Enhancing our environment”), Defra says that incentivising practices that involve carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reduction would help to tackle climate change and also improve biodiversity: “This could be achieved through support for landscape scale restoration projects, hedgerow creation and habitat management, and by continuing to support woodlands and forestry.”

[8] The case studies include tree planting and other measures to improve soil health in Nottinghamshire; selective planting to support ground-nesting farmland birds and pollinating insects in West Norfolk; wet grassland restoration in Devon; an innovative slurry-spreading system that reduces ammonia emissions in Suffolk; peat restoration in Cumbria; the creation of a new ‘National Forest’ in the Midlands; and the protection of the small-scale industrial remains of a lead mine and lime kiln in Lancashire. For the details, see pp.38-41 of the consultation document (note [3] above). See also note [4] above.

UK Government publishes its 25 year plan for the environment

Environment Secretary Michael Gove pledges to “leave our environment in a better state than we found it”

“Ambitious project” sets out goals and targets for clean air, clean water, biodiversity, conservation, waste management, land management, flood risk, the marine environment, and climate change

February 14th 2018
The UK Government has published its long-awaited 25 year plan for the environment. Its intentions to produce such a plan were first announced in October 2015, in response to a number of recommendations from the Government’s Natural Capital Committee – see the ENA article “Defra responds to recommendations of Natural Capital Committee”. The plan was finally published by Defra (the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) on the 11th January 2018.

On its website, the Government says its 25 year plan “sets out our goals for improving the environment, within a generation, and leaving it in a better state than we found it. It details how we in government will work with communities and businesses to do this.” [1] The plan consists of a 151-page document accompanied by three appendices containing, firstly, a list of the UK’s current strategies on the environment; secondly, a list of the UK’s international agreements; and thirdly, a supplementary evidence report. A further document summarises the Government’s targets. The main document has been called a sister document to the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, which was published last October – see the ENA article “UK Government publishes ‘The Clean Growth Strategy'”.

“Creating a better place”

In her foreword, the PM points out that the UK’s departure from the EU will mean that “control of important areas of environmental policy will return to these shores.” She continues: “We will use this opportunity to strengthen and enhance the protections our countryside, rivers, coastline and wildlife habitats enjoy, and develop new methods of agricultural and fisheries support which put the environment first.” The Environment Agency’s motto of “creating a better place” is taken up by Michael Gove in his foreword to the document: “It is this Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than we found it.” He goes on to summarise the Government’s aspirations: “We need to replenish depleted soil, plant trees, support wetlands and peatlands, rid seas and rivers of rubbish, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cleanse the air of pollutants, develop cleaner, sustainable energy, and protect threatened species and habitats.”

The scope of the Government’s 25 year plan covers all aspects of the environment. The introduction sets out its 25-year goals and includes an ambitious list of targets. “Using the natural capital framework set out by the Natural Capital Committee,” it says, “we have framed our goals for environmental improvement over the next 25 years around six primary goods and benefits offered by a healthy environment.” By adopting the Plan, the Government says, “we will achieve clean air; clean and plentiful water; thriving plants and wildlife; a reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such as flooding and drought;” and “enhanced beauty, heritage, and engagement with the natural environment.” The sixth benefit it wants to achieve is a more sustainable and more efficient use of natural resources. The Government also says it will manage pressures on the environment by mitigating and adapting to climate change; minimising waste; managing exposure to chemicals; and enhancing biosecurity.

Goals and targets: Clean air, clean water

The introduction also sets out the means by which these goals will be achieved. For example, on clean air, the Government says it will achieve this by, firstly, meeting legally binding targets to reduce emissions of five damaging air pollutants, which “should halve the effects of air pollution on health by 2030;” secondly, by ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040; and thirdly, by “maintaining the continuous improvement in industrial emissions by building on existing good practice and the successful regulatory framework.”

On clean and plentiful water, the Plan sets out four measures by which this goal will be achieved. The goal here is to improve “at least three quarters of our waters to be close to their natural state as soon as is practicable.” ‘Waters’ includes rivers, lakes, groundwater aquifers, estuaries and coastal waters, and the Plan says that the 75% target reflects the costs and benefits analysis provided by the current River Basin Management Plans. The ‘natural states’ of such waters are set out in international benchmarks and defined in statutory guidance to the Environment Agency, the body responsible for developing the River Basin Management Plans in consultation with local partners.

The first measure concerns water abstraction. The Plan seeks to reduce “the damaging abstraction of water from rivers and groundwater, ensuring that by 2021 the proportion of water bodies with enough water to support environmental standards increases from 82% to 90% for surface water bodies and from 72% to 77% for groundwater bodies.” The second measure concerns specially protected areas. The Plan aims to reach or exceed objectives “for rivers, lakes, coastal and ground waters that are specially protected, whether for biodiversity or drinking water as per our River Basin Management Plans.” The third measure concerns water companies and leakages. The Government says it supports OFWAT’s ambitions on leakage, “minimising the amount of water lost through leakage year on year, with water companies expected to reduce leakage by at least an average of 15% by 2025.” On recreational waters, the Plan seeks to minimise by 2030 “the harmful bacteria in our designated bathing waters.” The Government says it will continue improvements “to the cleanliness of our waters,” whilst ensuring that potential bathers are warned of any short-term pollution risks.

Goals and targets: “Thriving plants and wildlife”

On biodiversity, the Government makes the following pledge: “We will achieve a growing and resilient network of land, water and sea that is richer in plants and wildlife.” Three specific goals are concerned with threatened species, habitat, and woodland, including “taking action to recover threatened, iconic, or economically important species of animals, plants and fungi (such as bees and other pollinating insects), and where possible to prevent human-induced extinction or loss of known threatened species in England and the Overseas Territories.” On habitat, the goal is to create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site network, “focusing on priority habitats as part of a wider set of land management changes providing extensive benefits.” Priority habitats are defined as “habitats of principal importance under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act.” The Plan says that more detailed targets for the restoration and creation of protected or priority habitats will be developed “as part of our post 2020 strategy for nature.” On woodland, the Plan reiterates the Government’s aspiration to increase woodland cover in England to 12% by 2060, which would involve planting 180,000 hectares by the end of 2042.

On freshwater, the goal is to restore “75% of our one million hectares of terrestrial and freshwater protected sites to favourable condition, securing their wildlife value for the long term.” On the marine environment, the Plan sets out four general goals. The first is to reverse the loss of marine biodiversity and to restore it “where practicable.” The second is to increase the proportion of “protected and well-managed seas,” and to better manage existing protected sites. The third is to ensure that populations of key species are “sustainable with appropriate age structures,” and the fourth is to ensure that “seafloor habitats are productive and sufficiently extensive to support healthy, sustainable ecosystems.” The Plan includes specific targets for reducing marine pollution, as explained below.

In addition to the “six primary goods and benefits offered by a healthy environment,” the Plan also recognizes the need to manage the environmental pressures that are the results of human actions. Such pressures include biosecurity and the risks presented by invasive species – see the ENA article “Invasive Species – New laws and new initiatives”. The Plan pledges to enhance biosecurity “to protect our wildlife and livestock, and boost the resilience of plants and trees.” The goals here include “managing and reducing the impact of existing plant and animal diseases, lowering the risk of new ones and tackling invasive non-native species, working with industry to reduce the impact of endemic disease” and “reaching the detailed goals to be set out in the Tree Health Resilience Plan of 2018.” Looking ahead, the goals also include “ensuring strong biosecurity protection at our borders, drawing on the opportunities leaving the EU provides.”

Goals and targets: Flooding and drought

On flooding, drought and coastal erosion, the introduction sets out a wish list of aspirations that “will reduce the risk of harm to people, the environment and the economy from natural hazards.” The goals cover access to information, collaboration in risk management, planning for development, planning for drought, and boosting resilience. The actions are summarized as follows:

• ensuring that people “are able to access the information they need to assess any risks to their lives and livelihoods, health and prosperity posed by flooding and coastal erosion;”
• “bringing the public, private and third sectors together to work with communities and individuals to reduce the risk of harm;”
• “making sure that decisions on land use, including development, reflect the level of current and future flood risk;”
• “ensuring interruptions to water supplies are minimised during prolonged dry weather and drought;” and
• “boosting the long-term resilience of our homes, businesses and infrastructure.”

Goals and targets: Conservation and engagement with the natural environment

The Plan pledges to “conserve and enhance the beauty of our natural environment, and make sure it can be enjoyed, used by, and cared for by everyone.” The goals cover conservation, accessibility to green spaces, and social engagement, with the actions summarised as follows:

• “safeguarding and enhancing the beauty of our natural scenery and improving its environmental value while being sensitive to considerations of its heritage;”
• ensuring that there are “high quality, accessible, natural spaces close to where people live and work, particularly in urban areas,” and “encouraging more people to spend time in them to benefit their health and well-being;” and
• “focusing on increasing action to improve the environment from all sectors of society.”

Goals and targets: Resources and sustainability

The Government says it will ensure that natural resources are used more sustainably and efficiently, and that food is produced profitably as well as sustainably. It wants to increase the long-term supply of English-grown timber by supporting larger scale woodland creation. It also wants to ensure that “all fish stocks are recovered to and maintained at levels that can produce their maximum sustainable yield.” As for specific targets, the Plan proposes to “maximise the value and benefits we get from our resources, doubling resource productivity by 2050.” Resource productivity is defined as a measure of the value (in terms of GDP) “we generate per unit of raw materials we use in the economy.” The Government also says it wants to see improvements in approaches to soil management, with the aspiration that by 2030 “all of England’s soils will be managed sustainably.” It plans to use “natural capital thinking” to develop appropriate soil metrics and management approaches. [2]

Achieving the goals

Having set out the Government’s 25-year goals and targets in the introduction, the Plan moves on to discuss the specific plans, proposals and activities that will achieve these aims. Section One of the document contains chapters on six key areas identified by the Government as the foci for action, as follows:

• “using and managing land sustainably,”
• “recovering nature and enhancing the beauty of landscapes,”
• “connecting people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing,”
• “increasing resource efficiency and reducing pollution and waste,”
• “securing clean, healthy, productive and biologically diverse seas and oceans,” and
• “protecting and improving our global environment.”

Sustainable land management

Moving on to details, Chapter One outlines proposals under the general heading of managing land sustainably. These cover five areas: development, farming, soil, woodland, and flood risk. On development, the Plan talks about “embedding an ‘environmental net gain’ principle for development, including housing and infrastructure.” On farming, the Plan sets out ways of “improving how we manage and incentivise land management.” These include the design and delivery of a new environmental land management system; introducing new farming rules for water abstraction; working with farmers to use fertilisers efficiently; and “protecting crops while reducing the environmental impact of pesticides.” On soil, under the general heading of “improving soil health and restoring and protecting our peatlands,” the Government wants to develop better information on soil health and to restore vulnerable peatlands, with the goal of ending peat use in horticultural products by 2030. On woodland, under the general heading of “maximising its many benefits,” the Plan expresses support for larger scale woodland creation, including the development of a new “Northern Forest,” and proposes to appoint a national “Tree Champion.” Finally, on flood risk and coastal erosion, the Government plans to expand the use of natural flood management solutions, to put in place more sustainable drainage systems, and to make ‘at-risk’ properties more resilient to flooding.

“Recovering nature”

Chapter Two is devoted to plans for “recovering nature and enhancing the beauty of landscapes.” These cover three areas. The first is nature protection and recovery, which lists five aims, the first of which, “publishing a strategy for nature,” is currently a plan to produce a plan. Further aims are as follows: developing a “Nature Recovery Network”; providing opportunities for the reintroduction of native species; “exploring how to give individuals the chance to deliver lasting conservation”; and “improving biosecurity to protect and conserve nature”. The second area is the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty, and here the Government proposes to conduct a review of National Parks and AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty). The third area is “respecting nature in how we use water,” and here the plans overlap with the plans to reform farming, mentioned above. As well as “reforming our approach to water abstraction,” the Government wants to increase water supply and to provide incentives for greater water efficiency and less personal use.

“Connecting people with the environment”

The plans in Chapter Three focus on the health benefits of connecting people with the environment. These cover four areas. The first is titled “helping people improve their health and wellbeing by using green spaces.” Here, as well as the general aim of promoting the health benefits of the natural environment, the Plan sets out a specific aim of “considering how environmental therapies could be delivered through mental health services.” The second area is children, which encompasses the general aim of “encouraging children to be close to nature, in and out of school.” The Government wants to help primary schools create nature-friendly grounds, and to support “more pupil contact with local natural spaces.” The third area is “greening our towns and cities,” and the aims here are to create more green infrastructure and to plant more trees in and around towns and cities. The fourth area is a campaign “to see more people from all backgrounds involved in projects to improve the natural world.” The Government says it will make 2019 a year of action for the environment, “putting children and young people at its heart,” and helping them to engage with nature. The Year of Green Action “will provide a focal-point for organisations that run environmental projects, and will encourage wider participation.”

Minimising waste and reducing pollution

Chapter Four includes plans to increase resource efficiency, reduce waste, and reduce pollution. As regards waste management, the overriding aim is to maximise resource efficiency and to minimise the environmental impacts when a resource reaches its “end of life”. Here, one of the Government’s specific targets is to achieve “zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042,” with ‘avoidable’ defined in the introduction as “what is Technically, Environmentally and Economically Practicable.” The introduction also states that the Government “will work towards our ambition of zero avoidable waste by 2050” (i.e., all waste including plastic waste), with the goal of “significantly reducing and where possible preventing all kinds of marine plastic pollution – in particular material that came originally from land.” The Government also pledges to meet all existing waste targets, “including those on landfill, reuse and recycling,” and to develop “ambitious new future targets and milestones.” Further aims are to reduce food supply chain emissions and waste; to improve the management of residual waste; to reduce litter and littering; to crack down on fly-tippers and waste criminals; and to reduce the impact of wastewater. The introduction specifies the target of “seeking to eliminate waste crime and illegal waste sites over the lifetime of this Plan, prioritising those of highest risk,” whilst also “delivering a substantial reduction in litter and littering behaviour.”

Moving on to pollution, two of the plans here are aspirations. These are the intentions to publish a Clean Air Strategy and to publish a Chemicals Strategy. Further plans to reduce pollution consist of curbing emissions from combustion plants and generators, “minimising the risk of chemical contamination in our water,” and “ensuring we continue to maintain clean recreational waters and warning about temporary pollution.” In the introduction, the Government says it will ensure that “chemicals are safely used and managed” and that “the levels of harmful chemicals entering the environment (including through agriculture) are significantly reduced.” Four specific targets are set out here, with the Government stating it will achieve these ambitions by:

• “seeking in particular to eliminate the use of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) by 2025, in line with our commitments under the Stockholm Convention;”
• “reducing land-based emissions of mercury to air and water by 50% by 2030;”
• “substantially increasing the amount of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) material being destroyed or irreversibly transformed by 2030, to make sure there are negligible emissions to the environment;” and
• “fulfilling our commitments under the Stockholm Convention as outlined in the UK’s most recent National Implementation Plan.”

The marine environment

The maintenance of unpolluted waters overlaps with Chapter Five and the marine environment, where the overriding aim is to secure “clean, healthy, productive and biologically diverse seas and oceans.” The main plan here is to introduce a sustainable fisheries policy “as we leave the Common Fisheries Policy.” The policy will aim to achieve “good environmental status in our seas while allowing marine industries to thrive.” As mentioned above, the Government says it will work towards the elimination of all avoidable waste by 2050, and the elimination of avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042, with the goal of “significantly reducing and where possible preventing all kinds of marine plastic pollution – in particular material that came originally from land.”

Climate change and the global environment

Under the general heading of “protecting and improving our global environment” in Chapter Six, the Plan singles out three areas for specific focus. The first is “providing international leadership and leading by example” – firstly by tackling climate change, and secondly by protecting and improving international biodiversity. The second area is “helping developing nations protect and improve the environment” – firstly by providing assistance and supporting disaster planning, and secondly by supporting and protecting international forests and sustainable global agriculture. The third area is titled “leaving a lighter footprint on the global environment.” The aims here are to enhance sustainability, to protect and manage risks from hazards, and to support zero-deforestation supply chains.

In the introduction, the Government says it will take “all possible action to mitigate climate change, while adapting to reduce its impact.” Three commitments are set out here: firstly, “to continue to cut greenhouse gas emissions including from land use, land use change, the agriculture and waste sectors, and the use of fluorinated gases;” secondly, “to ensure that all policies, programmes, and investment decisions take into account the possible extent of climate change this century;” and thirdly, “to implement a sustainable and effective second National Adaptation Programme.” As for specific targets, the Government says that “the UK Climate Change Act 2008 commits us to reducing total greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 when compared to 1990 levels.”

“Putting the Plan into practice”

Section Two of the document is titled “Putting the Plan into practice”. On general principles, the Government says it will consult on “setting up a new independent body to hold government to account and a new set of environmental principles to underpin policy-making.” The Plan also sets out the following commitments:

• “to develop a set of metrics to assess progress towards our 25-year goals;”
• “to refresh the 25 Year Environment Plan regularly to ensure that collectively we are focusing on the right priorities, using the latest evidence, and delivering better value for money;”
• “to strengthen leadership and delivery through better local planning, more effective partnerships, and learning from our four pioneer projects;” [3]
• “to establish a new green business council and explore the potential for a natural environment impact fund;” and
• “to work closely with a large range of stakeholders over the coming year to identify their contribution to the goals set out in this Plan.”

In the introduction to the Plan, the Government states: “This Plan is a living blueprint for the environment covering the next quarter of a century. It is an ambitious project, made even more so by our use of a natural capital approach, a world first.” However, with the Government currently embroiled in the aftermath of the EU referendum, achieving these ambitions may not be very high on its list of priorities.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Braunton Burrows, North Devon. © Copyright Lewis Clarke and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. The caption says: “Braunton Burrows is designated nationally and internationally for its biodiversity, being an SSSI, Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.” This reserve is the location for one of the Government’s four pioneer projects, in this case demonstrating the applicability of a natural capital approach to the coastal environment.

Notes

[1] A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment, available as a PDF document from GOV.UK publications.
[2] On the concept of natural capital, see the ENA article “Assessing the Value of ‘Natural Capital'”.
[3] The four pioneer projects are: the Cumbria Catchment Pioneer, led by the Environment Agency (using a natural capital approach to the management of river catchments); the North Devon Landscape Pioneer, led by Natural England (the use of natural capital in determining environmental priorities in the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve); the Greater Manchester Urban Pioneer, led by the Environment Agency (the use of environmental enhancements in improving well-being); and the Marine Pioneer, led by the Marine Management Organisation (applying a natural capital approach to the marine environment, based on a study of two separate coastal areas – the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths AONB). The four pioneer projects started in 2016.

Research shows climate change is having a significant impact on the UK’s birds

RSPB report says climate change is having an impact on migration patterns, breeding habits, and the distribution of species

Climate change is also thought to be one of the main causes of seabird declines

January 10th 2018

The RSPB has published a report on the state of the UK’s birds which features a particular focus on the impact of climate change. [1] The report was produced jointly by the RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, and the UK’s statutory bodies for nature conservation in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Much of the data on particular species, showing increases or decreases in bird populations over recent decades, was released by the UK Government last November via the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and discussed in last month’s article – see ‘Defra releases latest statistics on the UK’s wild bird populations’.

The RSPB report however includes a special feature on the impact of climate change on the UK’s birds, which brings together the results of various research studies. The report summarises recent trends as regards climate change and highlights the ways in which these trends are already having an impact on the UK’s bird populations. Looking ahead, it also discusses the potential impacts of climate change if recent trends continue as predicted, including a number of case studies. It then makes an argument for building ecological resistance to those impacts and presents ways of helping species to adapt. In summary, the report says that climate change will provide some species with opportunities, while others could be threatened with extinction as a breeding bird in the UK.

Climate Change: Recent Trends

The report says that climate change has been assessed as the second-largest driver in the UK of observed changes in wildlife populations, second only to the intensification of agriculture which has been the main cause of wildlife decline. As regards recent trends, the report cites research by the Met Office and evidence from the last climate change risk assessment produced by the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the UK Government’s Committee on Climate Change. The figures show that 8 of the 10 warmest years on record in the UK have occurred since 1990, with average UK temperatures increasing by almost 1°C since the 1980s. Sea surface temperatures have also increased, with 9 of the 10 warmest years for UK seas having occurred since 1989. Heavy rainfall events during winter have contributed to a slight increase in rainfall across the UK, with Scotland’s average rainfall 11% higher in the ten-year period from 2007 to 2016 than in the twenty-year period from 1961 to 1990. UK sea levels rose by 14cm in the last century and the rate is increasing.

These trend are expected to continue. Current projections are for rising temperatures, wetter winters, drier summers, and an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts, heavy rain and floods. Scientists have forecast that mean summer temperatures could rise by 5°C in many parts of the UK by 2050, while mean winter rainfall could increase by 10% or more, possibly by as much as 50%. In short, we can expect winters to be wetter while summers will be drier and warmer.

The UK’s resident birds have benefited from milder winters

The changes in climate that have already taken place have had a noticeable impact on the UK’s bird populations. The report cites research which shows that trends in temperature and rainfall over the past 30 years have had an impact on the increase or decrease in numbers of specific species, on the distribution of species, and on the timing of natural events such as migration and breeding. The authors state: “Since the early 1990s, birds in the UK, and Europe as a whole, have shown changes in numbers and distribution consistent with a warming climate.”

In last month’s article, we looked in some detail at bird population increases and decreases. To what extent are these changes an effect of climate change? The report says that many resident species have shown long-term increases in abundance which have been linked to increases in winter and spring temperatures, with milder winters boosting the chances of survival. Research cited in the report has found that fluctuations in the population trends of one of the UK’s largest breeding birds, the grey heron, and one of the smallest, the wren, are closely related to annual variations in mean winter temperatures. Another study has found that long periods of cold days with continuous frost reduce wren survival rates, which can be halved by more than 10 consecutive days of frost. [2]

However, the report’s authors go on to say that both the grey heron and the wren have shown increasing trends due to less severe winters. This is not entirely accurate, as Defra’s statistics show that the grey heron has in fact suffered a long-term decline of 17% over a 40-year period (1975 to 2015), whilst the figures produced in the RSPB report show a 5% decline in the long-term and a 17% decline in the short-term. Elsewhere in the report, the great tit, robin, nuthatch, treecreeper and dunnock are also cited as examples of species whose numbers have increased in the long-term due to increases in winter and spring temperatures. This is not entirely accurate either as Defra’s statistics, reproduced in the RSPB report, show long-term declines for the treecreeper and dunnock. [3]

The wren, great tit, robin and nuthatch do however show long-term increases, together with a number of other resident species which appear to be benefiting from milder winters. [4] These increases vary across the UK. The report says: “Country-specific trends for great tits and wrens show that increases have been greatest in Northern Ireland, followed by Scotland, with no significant difference between England and Wales. These patterns are likely to be caused by overall population increases and improving climatic conditions in the north and west.” The report says a number of summer migrants are also faring better in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK, such as the willow warbler, tree pipit, house martin and cuckoo – the cuckoo has seen a 33% increase in Scotland in the 1995 to 2015 period but has declined elsewhere in the UK.

“Go forth and multiply”

As well as regional variations in species increases, research has shown that the overall distributions of bird populations have changed, with climate change being the most likely cause. In short, species have expanded their territories northwards and westwards, and also to higher altitudes where suitable habitats can be found. A comparison of population distributions over a twenty-year period, comparing a bird atlas of 1991 with a bird atlas of 2011, shows an average shift of about 13km to the north and west for some species more generally found in the south, including the goldfinch and the nuthatch, and also summer migrants such as the chiffchaff and blackcap. The report says “both blackcaps and chiffchaffs are expanding their breeding range northwards and into higher altitudes as the climatic conditions become more favourable.” Milder winters in the UK and in Europe have helped to boost their chances of survival, and the report says that increasing numbers of both species now stay in the UK for the winter, though the report also says that other drivers (such as the availability of food and habitat) may also be playing a part in these changes.

Previously scarce species have expanded their range

Changes in distribution have been noted not only for common and widespread species, residents and visitors alike, but for some species that used to be scarce in the UK, such as the Cetti’s warbler, which takes its name from the eighteenth-century Italian zoologist Francesco Cetti. The RSPB says that the Cetti’s warbler bred initially in Kent in 1972, and its preferred habitat is damp areas close to wetlands. The Cetti’s warbler colonised the south-east of the UK in the 1970s, but the report says that the Cetti’s warbler has subsequently expanded its range and now has the core of its distribution in the south-west. Although its numbers were dramatically reduced by the cold winters of 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, the species has since recovered and it continues to increase in numbers and expand its range. The report says that “the arrival and subsequent population expansion of Cetti’s warblers breeding in the UK since 1973 is seen as an example of the northward shift in distribution of some species as a result of climate change.”

The report includes a case study of the Dartford warbler, which used to be the UK’s only resident warbler and was found only in small numbers in the south of England. The authors say that the Dartford warbler is vulnerable to severe winter weather, and its numbers in the UK “may have declined to a low of 11 pairs in 1963 following two very cold winters.” Milder winters have subsequently produced a population increase, with research recording more than 2,500 pairs in 2006. Milder winters are also thought to be the cause of a wider distribution. The Dartford warbler has expanded its range by moving into suitable habitat at higher altitudes and by spreading into more northerly areas including Derbyshire and Suffolk, compared to its southern base in Dorset and Hampshire. Like the Cetti’s warbler however, its numbers have fluctuated due to its vulnerability to cold winters. The report says that the UK’s population of Dartford warblers could become increasingly important in a European context as its numbers are declining severely in France and Spain, and much of its territory in southern Europe may become unsuitable given the projected impact of climate change.

Changes in distribution are having an impact on bird communities

Some of the UK’s birds are generally more prevalent in the south (such as the two warblers mentioned above), while some are generally more prevalent in the north of the UK. Thus some species have a northern margin to their range while some have a southern margin. With this northward expansion and rising numbers, does this mean that some species are now generally more widespread, or are they simply moving further north and leaving their former territories behind?

The research cited in the report suggests that what is happening is in fact a northern shift, but the loss of territory on the southern margin is happening at a slower rate than the gain of territory in the north, which has resulted in a more widespread distribution. The report says that for a number of resident species, “expansion at the northern edges of their ranges, where suitability is increasing, has been more rapid than the rate of loss at the southern range margins, where suitability is declining.” This has produced an overall expansion of the ranges of some species at a rate in excess of 1km per year. One piece of research has found that “southerly-distributed species, resident species and habitat generalists are increasing relative to northern or upland species, long-distance migrants and habitat specialists,” while another study has found that, across Europe, “warm-associated species are becoming more common relative to cold-associated species”. Looking ahead to the future impact of climate change, research suggests that “there are more southern species with potential for northward expansion in the UK than there are northern species predicted to contract, and observations suggest this is already happening.”

These changes in distribution have led to changes in the composition of bird communities, with research showing that bird communities are becoming more similar to each other. The regional variations in populations trends, and the timing of important events such as breeding and migration, have also led to these changes in the composition of bird communities. The report says that this can affect species interactions, “such as predator-prey relationships and competition,” which in turn can drive further population change.

Research has also investigated the potential impact of climate change on the UK’s rare breeding birds, with the trend for a northern shift in distribution meaning that some rare species could disappear completely. The report says that these birds often occur at the edge of their breeding ranges: “Species currently only found to the south of the UK are projected to shift north and east, and to higher elevations as the climate there becomes more suitable. Conversely, those birds which have their southern, ‘trailing’ range edge within the UK are likely to decline as that edge moves north, or even moves out of the UK altogether.” Because of the impact of climate change, the report says most of these species have been assessed as having a high potential for extinction as a breeding bird in the UK, “as the projected shifts in suitable climatic conditions mean that the UK will become less suitable.” In the case of the purple sandpiper, whimbrel, dotterel, common scoter, capercaillie, Arctic skua and Slavonian grebe, “the effect is likely to be more detrimental as their UK populations are already in decline.”

The early bird catches the worm?

Climate change is not only having an impact on the numbers and the locations of the UK’s birds, but is also having an impact on the timing of natural events such as migration and breeding. The report cites research which has found that a number of common migrants are now arriving in the UK earlier than they used to, and also laying eggs earlier, “with the result that swallows, for example, are arriving in the UK 15 days earlier and breeding 11 days earlier than they did in the 1960s.” Some species are also delaying their departure, including blackcaps, chiffchaffs and garden warblers, which means that some migratory species are now staying longer in the UK as a result of their earlier arrival and later departure. The report says that sand martins and whitethroats, for instance, now spend around two weeks longer in the UK than in the 1960s, while garden warblers spend four weeks longer.

Research has found that “species that have extended their stay in the UK show more positive trends in abundance over the period studied (1960 to 2010), compared to species that have not altered their timing of migration, for example cuckoos and turtle doves.” However, the report also says that “timings vary annually in relation to spring temperatures and conditions on migration.” For instance, surveys published by the British Trust for Ornithology found that blackcaps and chiffchaffs bred significantly later in 2016 than they have in recent years, which is thought to be the result of lower April temperatures.

The report says that the great tit is one of a number of species, “including swallows, chiffchaffs and willow warblers,” that now breed earlier compared to the past, with great tits now laying their eggs on average 11 days earlier than they did in 1968. With these advances in egg-laying however, there is the potential for a mismatch between the timings of the peak food demands of breeding birds and peak food availability, as the timings of events vary between birds, plants and insects. Research has found that “across a wide range of species of plants and insects, timing has advanced on average by about four days for a 1°C increase in temperature, compared to birds which have advanced by an average of two days.”

Food availability and breeding success: Winners and losers?

Is this mismatch having an impact on breeding success? The report says that the mismatch between breeding and food availability has been studied in detail only for a few species, and has not been directly linked to reductions in breeding success or large-scale population decline in the UK. The authors say that changes in the abundance of insect prey populations may be more important.

However, one study has concluded that the impact of climate change on bird populations is most severe for long-distance migrants because of this mismatch during the breeding season, leading to a potential reduction in breeding success and subsequent population decline, as in the case of the pied flycatcher in the Netherlands. Another study suggests that climate change may explain the decline of the UK’s ring ouzels, as “long-distance migrants may suffer negative consequences from warmer, drier conditions during the spring and summer potentially influencing food availability and abundance”. The report says that the tree pipit (another long-distance migrant) may also be vulnerable to changes in the timing of insect availability. This negative outlook for long-distance migrants is counterbalanced however by the research mentioned above, which has found that migrants who stay longer in the UK are more successful at breeding.

Warmer and drier conditions during spring and summer may have negative consequences for some bird species, but these conditions can also have positive consequences for others. The report says that warmer temperatures during the breeding season have been shown to have a positive effect on breeding success for a range of species:

“For example, birds that feed insects to their young, such as great tits and chaffinches, have improved productivity in warm, dry springs, probably mediated by increased prey abundance and good foraging conditions. Further evidence comes from numerous studies which show positive effects of temperature on chick growth and productivity in waders and other ground-nesting species with mobile young (for example, golden plover, common sandpiper and corncrake).”

Despite these positive effects however, all three species (golden plover, common sandpiper and corncrake) have declined in the long term, along with several of the UK’s breeding waders and farmland birds. [5]

The impact of extreme weather

As mentioned above, research has shown that trends in temperature and rainfall over the past 30 years have had an impact on bird population fluctuations. The RSPB report says that “changes to patterns of rainfall and temperature can have diverse effects on a population’s breeding success.” Can we conclude therefore that it is climate change that is causing a bird population to rise or fall? This is a challenge for researchers, as the report states:

“Identifying whether observed changes are caused by climate change remains a challenge, and the subject of a range of studies, analyses and modelling approaches. Conversely, there remains much to understand about the importance of extreme weather events in driving population change, and the impact of increasing severity and frequency of such events on species survival and breeding success.”

Current projections on climate change predict an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, as mentioned above. These projections also predict milder and wetter winters, and warmer and drier summers. In the last decade however, the UK has experienced extreme weather events at various times throughout the year, which means that winters can also be extremely cold (such as the long cold spell of 2010/2011), while spring and summer can also be extremely wet. The RSPB report says that “over the last decade, wetter June weather has become more frequent, in line with expected climate change.” This can have an impact on the breeding success of the UK’s birds.

For instance, the Met Office reported that the spring of 2012 was the wettest April to June period on record. Grahame Madge, a press officer for the RSPB and also the Met Office, said this was having an impact on ground-nesting waders. “Flooding at several key sites has seen hundreds of wader nests washed out,” he said, “including 600 at the RSPB’s Ouse Washes reserve in Cambridgeshire.” [6] A report by the British Trust for Ornithology on the 2011 Breeding Bird Survey suggested that unfavourable weather conditions was exacerbating the long-term decline of the UK’s breeding waders, such as the lapwing and curlew. [7]

On the other hand, a period of drought can also have an impact on the breeding success of the UK’s waders. The RSPB report says that the drying of soils on their breeding grounds, “which is already a problem due to the drainage of lowland meadows and upland bogs, may be exacerbated by climate change. Wetter areas are important sources of insects which breeding waders, such as curlews and golden plovers, feed to their young.” The report includes a case study of the golden plover, whose numbers were down by 20% in 2015 compared to 1970. The authors of the study warn that golden plover populations could decline further as warmer, drier summers and periods of drought have an impact on cranefly populations, which are essential food in the breeding season. The report states:

“Golden plovers breeding in the UK uplands are among the most southerly populations in their global range. Golden plovers rely on cranefly larvae (also known as leatherjackets) for food, which are highly sensitive to drought, and high temperatures in August reduce the abundance of craneflies the following year. This means that climate change could limit the birds’ food supply, reducing chick survival and overall breeding success.”

The report says that, overall, golden plovers have been assessed as having a high risk of climate-related decline. A study of golden plover populations in the Peak District has concluded that improvements in winter survival are likely to be outweighed by the reductions in breeding success as cranefly populations decline. As for the curlew, its population is projected to fall by 50% over the period 1997 to 2080 under a medium climate change scenario. And, as mentioned above, other waders that breed in upland areas, such as dotterels, purple sandpipers and whimbrels, are considered to be at a high risk of extinction as a breeding bird in the UK due to habitat changes and reduced food availability.

However, the report says that habitat management could help upland birds such as the golden plover to be more resilient to climate change. It cites research on how to maintain peatland ecosystems in a changing climate:

“Throughout the 20th century, many UK upland peatlands were drained to improve agriculture, but this exacerbates cranefly declines and has further impacts on ecosystem functioning. Experimental examination of three drained peatlands has shown that blocking drains as part of restoration programmes leads to wetter peat and higher cranefly abundances. Blocking drainage ditches therefore provides more food for golden plovers in drained peatlands, aiding populations in a climate that is changing to drier summers.”

Another study has found that “re-wetting” peatlands can achieve similar benefits for ecosystems, which include not only an increase in cranefly abundances, but also improvements in water quality and carbon storage together with reductions in flood risk. The RSPB report says that such benefits are already being realised through landscape-scale restoration projects; for instance, the Sustainable Catchment Management Programme, which is a partnership between United Utilities, the RSPB, local farmers, “and a wide range of other stakeholders.” The programme was designed to ensure the sustainable environmental management of 20,000 hectares of a water catchment area owned by United Utilities and situated in the Peak District and the Forest of Bowland. [8] Other studies have identified further actions that would help golden plovers. These land management measures, not related to climate change, include “the legal control of generalist predators, the removal of conifer plantations in inappropriate areas, the re-profiling of forest edges around protected areas, and the provision of suitable feeding conditions through vegetation management.”

As a further example of the impact of temperature and rainfall, the report cites research on the Slavonian grebe. In this case, it is rainfall rather than drought that is known to cause problems. A study has found that “Slavonian grebes in Scotland had higher breeding success when temperatures were higher during chick rearing, but periods of particularly heavy rainfall during the breeding season led to smaller populations.” Another study concludes that the breeding success of some raptors and grouse species can also be very sensitive to rainfall during chick rearing. The report says that cold and wet weather conditions over a number of breeding seasons may be a factor in the decline of the hen harrier population, which is on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird in the UK. However, a national survey of the hen harrier in 2016 identified the main factor limiting its numbers as “the illegal killing of birds associated with driven grouse moor management in northern England and parts of mainland Scotland.”

The report also cites a national survey of the capercaillie carried out in 2015/2016. The authors say that the breeding success of the capercaillie is “known to be adversely affected by high rainfall in June when the chicks hatch, and by delayed warming in spring. Understanding how rainfall affects breeding success, and how patterns of rainfall might change in the future, will be important in assessing the vulnerability of the population to climate change and the relative importance of other drivers.”

Climate change and seabird decline

As we have seen, changes in the timing of migration and breeding, as well as changes in distribution, have been linked to rising temperatures, and indicate how the UK’s birds are changing their habits in response to a changing climate. The RSPB report says that, as the climate changes, the ability to adapt to a changing environment will be essential in enabling bird populations to persist. However, it points out that the ability to adapt varies between species. This is apparent in the case of the UK’s seabird populations, with some coping better than others.

Three seabird species have suffered a marked decline since the beginning of the seabird index in 1986: Arctic skua by 80%, black-legged kittiwake by 62%, and the European shag by 48%. [9] These declines, and those of other seabirds, are partly the result of reduced breeding success, which has been associated with warming seas and changes to food abundance and availability. During the breeding season, kittiwakes and shags are heavily reliant on sandeels, and declines in sandeel abundance are thought to be having an impact on their productivity. Declines in sandeels may also be a factor in the decline of the Arctic skua. The report says that the overall decline of the UK’s breeding seabirds is a particular cause for concern, with climate change being a major contributory factor:

“Climate change is considered to be one of the primary causes of seabird declines, through indirect effects via changes in prey availability and abundance, and through direct effects such as increased mortality from the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. These processes will interact with current drivers such as unsustainable fisheries, pollutants, marine renewables and disease. Overall negative relationships between temperature and the productivity of seabirds have been shown for kittiwakes, fulmars and puffins, as well as common, Arctic and little terns.”

The report includes a case study of the UK’s kittiwake population, which has declined as a result of “both falling breeding success and adult survival.” Kittiwakes tend to feed off the sea surface, and research has shown that their reliance on sandeels during the breeding season means that they could be affected in two ways: firstly, through a reduction in the availability of sandeels caused by industrial fishing in the North Sea; and secondly, through changing ocean conditions caused by rising sea temperatures. [10] Pulling together research on this subject, the report explains:

“Rising sea surface temperature has changed the plankton community on which sandeels rely. In addition, rising temperature is also changing the process of stratification – the relationship between sea temperature and salinity, which creates density differences between deep and shallow waters. Earlier or stronger stratification can ultimately reduce food availability for kittiwakes and the species’ breeding success has been found to be lower in areas where this has occurred. Based on these relationships, projections for the late twenty-first century suggest that the breeding success of the 11 northern UK colonies studied could fall by up to 43%.”

The decline of the shag population has also been linked to reduced breeding success and the availability of sandeels, but the report also says changes in weather patterns may be having an impact as a shag’s plumage is only partially waterproof, “perhaps making them more susceptible to mortality during prolonged periods of wet and windy weather.” The report states:

“Stormy weather may also lead to shag starvation through reduced foraging success, probably due to increased water turbidity. Such weather patterns are predicted to increase with climate change. Severe events in the winters of 1993/94, 2004/05 and 2012/13 caused large numbers of birds to die (known as a “wreck”) and affected the population considerably. Breeding numbers were not fully recovered following the wreck of 1993/94 when the storms of 2004/05 hit and no recovery was apparent before 2012/13. The population was at its lowest yet recorded in 2013, and by 2015 had only improved marginally.”

In our article on the wild bird statistics released by Defra, we reported that five of the thirteen species in the seabird index have increased since the beginning of the index in 1986: razorbill by 58%; common guillemot by 57%; Arctic tern by 39%; sandwich tern by 5%; and great black-backed gull by 7%. The black-headed gull population (included in the ‘other’ index) has also increased by 16%. Figures produced in the RSPB report from the Seabird Monitoring Programme include figures for the gannet and the great skua, which also show a long-term increase in the 1986 to 2015 period, and figures for the roseate tern, which show a long-term decline but a short-term increase (2015 compared to 2000). [11] This raises the question: why are several seabird species in decline in the UK, while a number of other species show long-term increases?

The report says the reason for these long-term increases is that these species are more flexible in their food sources, foraging strategy, and breeding habits, “which may be allowing these species to thrive while others are failing”:

“A trait that many of these species share is a lack of specialisation in their preferred food types. When sandeel abundance is low, guillemots can switch from their preferred sandeel diet to sprat, young gadids (species in the cod family), pipefish or even squid when feeding chicks. Both black-headed gulls and gannets have a varied diet, with the former feeding on multiple species of crustaceans and molluscs, and the latter on varying species and sizes of fish. As these species are increasing when more specialised feeders are in decline, it appears that being flexible with food may mitigate the effects of climate change.

However, the report says that fulmars appear to be an exception to this apparent pattern. Although fulmars “have long foraging ranges and are not particularly specialised in their feeding habits,” the species has seen a long-term decline in numbers since 1986 (a fall of 22% according to Defra’s statistics, and 33% according to the RSPB’s figures). [12] The report says that, although correlations have been observed between North Atlantic climate variation and both fulmar adult survival and breeding success, the specific driver for this decline is unclear.

Looking ahead, the report says that habitat suitability for seabirds around the UK is projected to shift northward over the next century, and the distribution of species may shift with changing conditions. In the case of the Arctic skua, models of the likely impact of climate change predict that this bird could become extinct in the UK by 2100.

Climate change and the UK’s wintering waterbirds

According to Defra’s statistics, the number of waterbirds that migrate to the UK for the winter has seen a 92% increase overall when 2014/15 figures are compared to 1975/76, as we reported in our last article. However, this increase peaked in the late 1990s and has subsequently declined. The UK’s wintering waterbird populations can be impacted by several factors, which include breeding success or failure in the countries where they breed, the availability of suitable habitat in the UK, and changes in migratory patterns, “at least some of which are known to have been affected by climatic changes.” [13]

The RSPB report says that climate change is already having an impact on the abundance and distribution of the UK’s wintering waterbirds, with projections indicating that temperature and habitat changes could have a significant impact on numbers in the future. The report highlights two main reasons for the decline: firstly, reduced productivity in the breeding season may be limiting the numbers of some winter migrants; and secondly, milder winters on the continent mean that fewer birds need to migrate to the UK to avoid colder conditions. On the first, research on the future impact of climate change predicts that the breeding ranges of Arctic and sub-Arctic species that winter in the UK could be reduced by 50% by the end of the century, which may cause further declines due to reduced productivity.

Wintering Waterbirds: Changes in migratory patterns and distribution

However, the RSPB report says that in many cases the decline of the UK’s wintering waterbirds is explained by changes in distribution, linked to milder winters across the Continent, and particularly evident in the reduced use of sites along the UK’s east coast. The report cites research that has demonstrated a north-eastward shift in the range of some wintering waterbirds in north-west Europe, including the UK, associated with the trend for milder winters. For instance, a study of grey plovers and curlews wintering in north-west Europe has shown that their distribution had shifted nearly 120km to the north-east in the two decades between 1981 and 2000. On the other hand, the RSPB report says that in severe cold winters, such as the winter of 2010/11, the numbers of bar-tailed godwits visiting the UK were higher than in the mid-2000s, “probably because they were escaping cold conditions in north-west Europe.”

The importance of habitat for the UK’s resident and wintering waders

Wintering waterbirds receive a certain amount of protection across the UK through a wide range of sites that are designated as Special Protection Areas: “Special Protection Areas are strictly protected sites classified in accordance with Article 4 of the EC Birds Directive, which came into force in April 1979. They are classified for rare and vulnerable birds (as listed in Annex I of the Directive), and for regularly occurring migratory species.” [14] These protected areas span the length of the UK and include a wide range of locations frequented by wintering waterbirds, such as the Dee estuary, the Northumberland coast, the North Norfolk coast, the Humber estuary, the Mersey estuary, Portsmouth harbour, Morecambe Bay, a number of lochs in Scotland, and the Isles of Scilly. [15]

The RSPB report says it is likely that most of these areas will continue to support internationally important numbers of wintering waterbirds, despite changes in the distribution and abundance of populations due to climate change. It highlights the importance of these protected areas during particularly cold winters (such as the winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11), “when the trend for wintering further east was reversed, and numbers on UK sites were much higher.” The report also notes that many of the species that have recently colonised the UK, “or which appear to be on the verge of doing so,” are associated with wetlands, with most of these species first becoming established in these protected areas. The list of these colonists include night herons, cattle egrets, great white egrets, black-winged stilts, spoonbills and little bitterns, though the numbers of breeding pairs may be no more than a single figure. [16]

As well as wetlands, the RSPB report also highlights the importance of the non-estuarine coast for some species of waders wintering in the UK. For instance, the Northumberland coast is visited by purple sandpipers and turnstones who migrate from north-east Canada for the winter. The report says the majority of purple sandpipers, turnstones, ringed plovers and sanderlings present in midwinter are to be found on these non-estuarine coastal areas, and the species using these areas are “considered vulnerable to the impact of climate change and changes to invertebrate communities” (i.e. changes to the availability of food such as shellfish). For example, figures from the Breeding Bird Survey show a 23% decline in the resident oystercatcher population during the 1995 to 2015 period. Trends for wintering waterbirds produced by the British Trust for Ornithology also show declines in the oystercatcher population, both over a 25-year period (a 26% fall from 1989/90 to 2014/15) and over a 10-year period (a 15% fall from 2004/2005 to 2014/15). In terms of numbers, the oystercatcher is still second in the top ten of waterbird populations according to the Wetland Bird Survey, but internationally the oystercatcher is considered to be Near Threatened on the IUCN Global Red List. [17] The report says that “the sustainable management of shellfish fisheries and habitat protection is considered vital for the future conservation of this species.”

Trends for wintering waterbirds produced by the British Trust for Ornithology also show long-term and short-term declines in the numbers of ringed plover, turnstone, and purple sandpiper wintering in the UK. The RSPB report says that the possible explanations include shifts in distribution, as noted above, and declines in breeding productivity, both of which could be related to climate change. Local environmental factors, such as changing sewage treatment and disposal practices, may also play a role.

“Building ecological resistance”: Helping the UK’s breeding waders

To help species to be more resilient to the impact of climate change, both current and potential, the RSPB report advocates building ecological resistance. Building ecological resistance is one of the objectives in the UK Government’s National Adaptation Programme (see below) and encompasses various land management measures, such as the creation of new habitat and the restoration and sustainable management of existing habitat. The report says that land managers across the UK have been developing a range of such actions, “from coastal realignment to increasing micro-climate heterogeneity.” These schemes are aided by a growing body of research that has investigated various ways of helping species to cope with climate change. We have already seen how research has identified ways of helping golden plovers and other waders that breed in upland areas, including measures to offset the drying out of peatland areas that will help to increase the abundance of cranefly populations. The report also describes ways of helping lowland breeding waders during the breeding season:

“Lowland breeding waders such as lapwings, redshanks and black-tailed godwits require shallow pools and moist soil for foraging. Current measures to increase water availability in the face of lower rainfall and higher temperatures include storing water for the breeding season, and maintaining wet features by digging shallow channels. Conversely, for black-tailed godwits, existing breeding habitat in the UK is only found in wet meadows used for floodwater storage; in years with high levels of rain they have lower breeding success. To safeguard the population from increased flood risk, additional unflooded grassland is being created for those occasions when adjacent washlands are flooded.”

New wetlands for potential colonists and current species

Research on climate change adaptation has also investigated ways of helping the UK’s potential colonists. As mentioned above, many of the species that have colonised the UK in recent times are associated with wetlands. One study has said that many of these colonists require large areas of this type of habitat, and has suggested that large areas of new wetland will be required to encourage further colonisation. Coastal realignment schemes such as the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project, described as “the largest coastal wetland to be constructed in the UK,” are cited as examples of what is required:

“The re-establishment of breeding by spoonbills, great white egrets and little bitterns in the UK has all occurred at large wetland expanses. However, there are very few large wetlands capable of supporting large breeding colonies of such waterbirds. Wetland habitat creation to benefit current species as well as potential colonists would therefore be best focused on providing a small number of very large wetland complexes in the vicinity of existing habitats.”

The RSPB report explains how a coastal realignment scheme can help our current species as well as potential colonists:

“Little terns and common terns nesting on low-lying coastal islands require sites to be raised using shingle as the sea level rises and sites become more vulnerable to storms. In managed realignment areas new nesting islands can be created. Island nesting sites are important because in many nesting areas, breeding success is reduced by high levels of disturbance and impacts of ground predators.”

Wallasea Island is situated in Essex, a few miles from Southend, and it is here in the south-east of England where most of the potential colonists from the Continent will first arrive, according to the research on climate change adaptation. However, the south-east of England is likely to experience “greater warming, more reduced rainfall, and the greatest level of human pressure.” Consequently, “future management of wetlands needs to take into account increased climate-related drying and increasing human demand for water in the region.” [18]

Heathland restoration

In addition to schemes that will help waterbirds, wetland birds and coastal species, residents and colonists alike, adaptation schemes have also been developed to help the UK’s heathland species, such as the Dartford warbler and the nightjar. The report says that these birds are characteristic species of lowland heathlands, and that “restoration and re-creation of these scarce and fragmented habitats to the north of the core area for these species will aid northward expansion.” Heathland restoration involves optimising the level of grazing, cutting and/or burning to maintain structure and condition, and managing fire risk, “which is projected to increase with warming temperatures and reduced rainfall.” The report also stresses the importance of protected areas for the Dartford warbler, which have been key to its expansion as 74% of the expanded population were located in protected areas.

A “National Adaptation Programme”

Protected areas have not only been key to the expansion of the Dartford warbler, but have also been important for the UK’s wintering waterbirds and recent colonists, as mentioned above. The RSPB report says that “protected areas are going to be a vital part of responding to climate change, enabling conservation management as a priority.” It also stresses the importance of wildlife corridors: “Connectivity between protected areas by increasing habitat availability in the wider countryside will also be an important factor in facilitating the movement of species under climate change.”

In July 2013, the UK Government published a National Adaptation Programme which set out “what government, businesses and society are doing to become more climate ready.” [19] With regard to action on the natural environment, the programme specifies four overarching objectives:

• “Building ecological resilience to the impacts of climate change: To build the resilience of wildlife, habitats and ecosystems (terrestrial, freshwater, marine and coastal) to climate change, to put our natural environment in the strongest possible position to meet the challenges and changes ahead.”
• “Preparing for and accommodating inevitable change: To take action to help wildlife, habitats and ecosystems accommodate and smoothly make the transition through inevitable change.”
• “Valuing the wider adaptation benefits the natural environment can deliver: To promote and gain widespread uptake in other sectors of adaptation measures that benefit, or do not adversely affect, the natural environment.”
• “Improving the evidence base: To improve the evidence base to enhance the knowledge and understanding of decision makers, land managers and others of the impacts of climate change on the natural environment and how best we can influence adaptation or accommodate change.”

The first two objectives stress the importance of protected areas and connectivity, while the fourth stresses the need for monitoring and research. On the third, the RSPB report cites the examples of coastal realignment and catchment management, both of which provide wider benefits:

“Climate change has impacts on people as well as wildlife and the way society adapts to the threats it faces may have positive or negative impacts for birds and other species. One of the clearest examples is where hard sea defences designed to reduce coastal flooding may prevent natural readjustment of the shoreline and lead to a loss of coastal habitats. By allowing natural processes to create new habitats through managed realignment, we can have more natural solutions to flooding which will have multiple benefits: reducing the risks of flooding to people, creating extensive wetlands, as well as carbon capture in the intertidal habitats created. Other examples include upland catchment management for wildlife and water, trees in shaded open spaces for people in urban environments, and re-naturalising river systems to reduce flow rates and retain flood waters.”

The National Adaptation Programme is due to be updated this year, and this week the UK Government will also be publishing its 25-year plan for the natural environment. The intention to produce such a plan was first announced in October 2015 when it responded to a set of recommendations from the Natural Capital Committee [20]. It will be interesting to see how the Government’s plan deals with the current and projected impact of climate change on the natural environment, and conservationists will be hoping that this long-anticipated document is worth the wait.

Acknowledgement

Photograph: Jubilee Marsh, near Southend, Essex: View east at low tide to Breach Two, the River Roach and Foulness, taken 8th October 2017 © Copyright John Myers and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Jubilee Marsh forms part of the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project, which the RSPB says is a landmark conservation and engineering scheme and the largest of its type in Europe:

“The Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project is in the middle of transforming this island into a magical landscape of marshland, lagoons, ditches and sea. More than 3m tonnes of earth was brought by boat from the tunnels and shafts created by the Crossrail scheme in London. This allowed us to raise the land above sea level and place the soil in way that created a new 115ha intertidal area of saltmarsh, islands and mudflats (known as Jubilee Marsh).”

The saline lagoons are managed using sluices to control water levels with the aim of creating a variety of depths of water to suit different species. The RSPB says Jubilee Marsh needs minimal management “as the tide comes in and out bringing with it sediment, seeds and other bits of plants plus the invertebrates and fish which the birds then feed on.” Sea water entered the marsh for the first time in July 2015. See the RSPB website at: https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/wallasea-island-wild-coast-project.

Notes

[1] Hayhow DB, Ausden MA, Bradbury RB, Burnell D, Copeland AI, Crick HQP, Eaton MA, Frost T, Grice PV, Hall C, Harris SJ, Morecroft MD, Noble DG, Pearce-Higgins JW, Watts O, and Williams JM. The state of the UK’s birds 2017 (SUKB 2017). Published by the SUKB Partnership, Sandy, Bedfordshire. Retrieved as a PDF document from https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/documents/conservation-science/sukb-2017—web-version.pdf. The SUKB Partnership consist of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Northern Ireland) (DAERA), the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Natural England (NE), Natural Resources Wales (NRW), and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

[2] For details of the studies cited in the report, see the references in [1].

[3] This is clearly an error as the figures for the treecreeper and the dunnock that are tabled in the RSPB report are exactly the same as those produced by Defra. In the case of the grey heron however, the RSPB report says that the data comes from the Heronies Census (1982 to 2015), and it is unclear what periods are covered in the long-term or the short-term. There is an overall agreement however that the grey heron population is in decline. It is important to note that there are several discrepancies between the figures produced by Defra and those reproduced in the RSPB report, most notably in the figures for seabirds (see Note 10 below). There are three explanations for why these figures should diverge, apart from the most obvious one of an error in the calculations or the transcription. Firstly, the periods covered in the calculations. Defra’s figures for the most part cover the periods from 1970 to 2015 (the long-term comparison) and from 2010 to 2015 (the short-term comparison). The figures produced in the RSPB report however cover a range of periods, including not only those used in the Defra report but also longer periods for some short-term calculations (1995 to 2015 for instance). As increases and decreases are calculated from a baseline, this means that whilst a species might show a long-term increase over the last 45 years, for instance, it might also show a long-term decline if calculated over the most recent 20-year period. Secondly, the surveys used for the calculations can also produce different results. Defra’s report combines a number of survey results to give a composite figure, whilst the RSPB report tends to use the most representative surveys for particular categories. Thirdly, the use of a “smoothed index” and an “unsmoothed index” in the calculations. The former is intended to compensate for peaks and troughs in seasonal variations, such as an extremely cold winter, whereas the latter can produce a slightly different result when these are not taken into account. For the most part however, the figures in the RSPB report and those presented in our analysis of Defra’s figures both use the smoothed index.

[4] Defra’s statistics include figures for 130 species of common birds, defined as species with populations of at least 500 breeding pairs that are native to (and breed in) the UK. The species that have increased in the long term include the long-tailed tit, blue tit, coal tit, bearded tit, chaffinch, pied wagtail, stonechat, Dartford warbler, Cetti’s warbler, woodlark, siskin, great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, jay, sparrowhawk, raven, buzzard, red kite, peregrine falcon, carrion crow, hooded crow, magpie, jackdaw, wood pigeon, stock dove, collared dove, red grouse, goldfinch, cirl bunting, oystercatcher, mallard, coot, tufted duck, pochard, teal, goosander, red-breasted merganser, gadwall, greylag goose, mute swan, black-headed gull, great black-backed gull, razorbill and common guillemot, and some summer migrants including the blackcap, chiffchaff, redstart, lesser whtethroat, reed warbler, swallow, sand martin, Arctic tern, sandwich tern, and avocet. See last month’s article ‘Defra releases latest statistics on the UK’s wild bird populations’ for the details.

[5] For the details, see the ENA article above [4].

[6] See: ‘Lapwings hit new low; further declines in breeding waders revealed’, British Trust for Ornithology, July 2012. Retrieved from: https://www.bto.org/news-events/press-releases/lapwings-hit-new-low-further-declines-breeding-waders-revealed.

[7] Ibid: see [6].

[8] See ‘A chance for the new Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, to “listen and learn”‘, Martin Harper, RSPB, June 2017. Retrieved from: http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/martinharper/archive/2017/06/14/a-chance-for-the-new-environment-secretary-michael-gove-to-listen-and-learn.aspx.
Martin Harper says that thirteen years ago the RSPB “made the case that Ofwat should change the rules that governed water company investment in catchments.” The partnership involved in the Sustainable Catchment Management Programme “developed a new approach to managing the land which complied with the Habitats Regulations, enhanced biodiversity and improved the quality of the water abstracted for drinking, as well as providing an enhanced source of income for tenant farmers. As the approach has broadened and been taken up by other water companies, we have seen huge benefits as restoration of habitat has led to increased species populations and improved water quality.”

[9] These figures are taken from Defra’s statistics. See last month’s article ‘Defra releases latest statistics on the UK’s wild bird populations’ for more details on the UK’s seabird populations.

[10] Sandeels are commercially fished by Denmark under the terms of the Common Fisheries Policy. Recent research led by the RSPB has shown a correlation between the breeding success of kittiwakes on the Yorkshire coast and the abundance of sandeels at Dogger Bank. See: ‘Protecting our Seabirds in Post-Brexit Waters’, Euan Dunn, RSPB, 14 June 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/martinharper/archive/2017/06/14/protecting-our-seabirds-in-post-brexit-waters.aspx. The research paper ‘Kittiwake breeding success in the southern North Sea correlates with prior sandeel fishing mortality’ was published in Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems in June 2017 and is available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aqc.2780/full.

[11] It is important to note that percentage increases are relative and say nothing about actual numbers. This means that if an increase is calculated from a low base, a high percentage rise does not necessarily equate to a large population. This is the case with the roseate tern. The RSPB says that the roseate tern is one of our rarest seabirds “whose severe, long-lasting and well documented decline make it a Red List species.” The current estimate of its UK population is 111 pairs, according to the RSPB website. The report says: “&hellip species which are exhibiting rapid population increases may be coming back from extremely low numbers. For example, roseate terns increased 229% between 2000 and 2015, but this was calculated from 56 apparently occupied nests in the last census (Seabird Monitoring Programme 2000) to 113 in 2015, and numbers are still well below the 950 pairs observed between 1969 and 1970.” Defra’s statistics, showing data for species with at least 500 breeding pairs, exclude figures for the roseate tern, gannet and great skua, whilst the figures reported by the RSPB exclude figures for the herring gull. It is also important to note that figures produced by the RSPB from the Seabird Monitoring Programme differ widely from those produced by Defra from the same source and virtually the same period – 1986 to 2014 (Defra) and 1986 to 2015 (RSPB). Consequently, the possible explanations for divergences do not seem to apply here (see Note 3). As an example, both sets of figures agree that the numbers of razorbill, guillemot, Arctic tern, and black-headed gull have all increased in the long term, but they disagree over the percentages. In contrast, Defra’s figures show a long-term increase of 7% for the great black-backed gull but the RSPB’s figures show a 1% decline; and Defra’s figures show a long-term decline of 7% for the cormorant but the RSPB figures show a 4% increase. Given that statistics are used as part of the evidence base for determining conservation priorities, it would be useful if not vitally important to see some consistency in these figures.

[12] On the divergence in statistics, see [11].

[13] Wild Bird Populations in the UK, 1970-2016, Biodiversity Statistics Team, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 23/11/2017. Available as a PDF document from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/wild-bird-populations-in-the-uk.

[14] The quote comes from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). See the JNCC website at: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-162.

[15] A full list is available from the JNCC website: see [14].

[16] The report also says that, in recent years, “purple herons have bred in Kent, a pair of glossy ibises have built a nest in Lincolnshire, and male white-spotted bluethroats have held territory,” while other potential colonists, described as “great rarities in the UK”, include zitting cisticolas, short-toed eagles and short-toed treecreepers. Other rare visitors include the two pairs of bee-eaters which were spotted nesting alongside sand martins in a quarry in Cumbria in the summer of 2015. A similar number had also nested successfully in previous years in the Isle of Wight and in County Durham. See: ‘Rare bee-eater birds found nesting in Cumbrian quarry,’ BBC News, 31 July 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-33732567.

[17] The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) uses a range of categories to assess the status of a species with regard to its population and the priorities for conservation. These are: 1. Extinct; 2. Extinct in the wild; 3. Critically Endangered; 4. Endangered; 5. Vulnerable; 6. Near Threatened; 7. Least Concern; 8. Data deficient; and 9. Not evaluated. Defra’s statistics show little change in the number of oystercatchers wintering in the UK, together with a long-term increase in the number of oystercatchers resident in the UK. However, this long-term increase covers a forty-year period from 1975 to 2015, whereas the RSPB figures cover shorter and more recent periods. (See Note 3 on explanations of divergences.)

[18] The Environment Agency produced a report in 2011 on future water availability (‘The case for change: Current and future water availability,’ Report: GEHO1111BVEP-E-E), while Defra produced a climate change risk assessment for the water sector in 2012. The RSPB report summarises the outcome of these assessments: “Overall reductions in water availability, particularly in the south-east, are expected to be exacerbated by increased demand for water for agriculture, industry and services.”

[19] See ‘The National Adaptation Programme: Making the country resilient to a changing climate’, UK Government policy paper, July 2013. Available as a PDF document from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/adapting-to-climate-change-national-adaptation-programme”.

[20] See the ENA UK article ‘Defra responds to recommendations of the Natural Capital Committee’. In fact, the plan is expected to be published tomorrow (11th January).