The long awaited Environment Bill is coming back to the House of Commons after what feels like years of dither and delay. This has been heralded by a number of fairly large announcements. This piece will go through some of the bigger items and attempt to shed some light on what this might mean for partners, and nature, in Gloucestershire.
Image 1 Pine Marten were released in the Forest of Dean in 2019, with more to come, hopefully, this Autumn
Halt species decline by 2030
That the government have risen to the challenge of a legally binding target to halt the decline in species within 9 years is to be applauded. Wildlife and Countryside Link, a huge national partnership of environmental NGOs including many of the LNP partners have been calling for the adoption of this target for some time - https://e-activist.com/page/75310/petition/1?ea.tracking.id=Rewilding%20Britain. We now await what powers the new Office for Environmental Protection will be given to enforce this target.
Natural England budget set to rise by 47%
It is no secret that Natural England, a key partner of the Gloucestershire Local Nature Partnership with a seat on our Board, has been stripped to the bone over recent years. This announcement is entirely welcomed. A rise of this level would have felt realistic were there not a load of new things for them to manage, however even with this increased resource they may be stretched given the scale of the challenge.
Fans of rewilding will be delighted that the government has announced a new species reintroduction taskforce. But it should not be forgotten that Gloucestershire has been blazing a trail with species reintroductions over recent years. The pine marten project delivered by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust in partnership with Vincent Wildlife Trust and Forestry England is a great demonstration of mammal translocation, linking the new local population with another population that was reintroduced in Wales a few years ago.
Similarly, the large Blue Butterfly, such a success at Daneway Banks, has been bolstered by reintroduced populations on the Rodborough and Minchinhampton Commons. This is all thanks to great partnership working between Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, National Trust, HLF project Back from the Brink, the Royal Entomological Society and JNCC.
The poster children of reintroductions, beavers, wildcats and golden eagles, grab the headlines for the government but this is a statement of intent that will be welcomed by most in the nature recovery world.
The government pledge to increase tree cover in the UK to 12% from its current level of c. 10%. This is a whole lot of trees, but does not go far enough to address the problems we have (the Gloucestershire Tree Strategy called for an increase for the county from 12% to 20%). This level of woodland cover will not mitigate the level of residual emissions expected by 2050, let alone deliver the recovery to nature that is required to restore a thriving, biodiverse landscape to the UK and improve the delivery of ecosystem services, including reducing flood risk (increasingly important in our changing climate).
Still, support for new trees is welcomed - and there is about £23million of it. The focus on riparian planting is great news for flooding, as well as for biodiversity, as riverbanks can form excellent wildlife corridors. Its to illuminate this multibenefit approach that the LNP developed ecosystem service mapping for the county.
Another new fund is the England Woodland Creation Offer which, to the delight of many, includes funding for natural regeneration of woodland instead of just planting (as, indeed, does the governments last fund, the Local Authority Treescapes fund). Let's hope future iterations have a longer run in time, to allow partners time to develop projects (the last fund had a turn around of 4 weeks).
Use of peat will be banned within 3 years. This is great news, some consider it a bold step. However, others would probably suggest it is at least 10 years too late. A voluntary agreement to phase out the use of peat by 2020 was clearly unsuccessful, which adds weight to the argument that sectoral agreements are rarely as effective as domestic or international legislation. Gloucestershire does not have any peat extraction so the direct local import of this announcement, beyond the obvious carbon emissions implications which affect us all, is limited to saving conscientious gardeners the trouble of checking the side of their John Innes packet at the garden centre.
Image 2 - peat content label on compost no longer necessary!
To conclude - some really good news and ambition being shown by the government, but much further to go to get the job done. Here at the LNP we continue to work hard bringing partners together to deliver on some of these ambitions, and push for great outcomes for nature.