Biodiversity Loss

Duncan Baker Excerpts
Wednesday 15th May 2024

(1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
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I thank the right hon. Lady for her inspiring intervention, which shows that incredibly simple things can make a world of difference.

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
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Indeed, I anticipate an intervention in just a moment on one of my favourite subjects: swift bricks.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right to talk about losing 50% of some species. One of her favourite birds is the swift. For just £30, a swift brick can be installed in new build properties. The swift population has declined by 60% over the past 30 years, so I ask the Minister: why are we not legislating for such a simple way to protect the swift population?

Caroline Lucas Portrait Caroline Lucas
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As the hon. Member knows, I could not agree more. I remember being in this room for that debate in Westminster Hall last year, as he was, talking about the importance of something as simple as a swift brick and hearing the Minister basically going through gymnastics in trying to explain why it would not be possible to legislate for swift brick use. This is not even £30 that the Government would have to spend; if the buildings were properly built and swift bricks put into them in the first place, the developers would only have to spend a tiny amount of money. In essence, we are saying to the Minister that a whole raft of actions need to be taken, but some are incredibly simple. Will she please start to take on some of those actions?

The loss of biodiversity is not only a tragedy for the species involved, but a disaster for us, too. The world is a lonelier place for human beings when the number of species that we have been privileged to share it with are declining on a daily basis. If people want to measure it in economic terms, a recent report found that biodiversity loss could cause a larger hit to the UK’s economy in the years ahead than either the 2008 financial crisis or, indeed, the covid-19 pandemic. Well, of course it could, because the bottom line is that our wellbeing is intimately and inextricably bound up with the wellbeing of nature. We are nature, and it is the false perception of a division between human beings and the rest of the world—that mechanistic assumption that the natural world is something for us to use, rather than to live alongside—that is at the root of so much of the ecological crisis around us.

To give one small example, Lawyers for Nature has started an inspiring campaign to change the definition of “nature” in the “Oxford English Dictionary” so that it includes humans. Currently, all dictionaries exclude humans from their definition. Words matter. Highlighting our connection and interdependence with nature matters, and that needs to lead to action.

The Government have made welcome commitments at a global level, including to manage 30% of the land and sea for nature by 2030, and at home, with the Environment Act 2021 setting legally binding targets, notably to end the decline in species populations by 2030. But we all know that what matters is not just the setting of targets, but the delivery of them. The latest assessment from the Office for Environmental Protection has been damning on that front, warning that the prospect of meeting key targets and commitments is “largely off track”. Dame Glenys Stacey, the OEP chair, went on to say that it is “deeply, deeply concerning” that “adverse environmental trends continue”. That statement is underlined by the evidence that our rivers and our seas are being polluted with a cocktail of chemicals and effluent, while ancient woodlands are being bulldozed to make way for roads and railways, and our fields are being doused in pesticides and fungicides. Our only home is on fire and being bulldozed before our eyes.

As State of Nature reports, two primary factors drive that decline on land: climate change and our intensive agriculture system. It is on those that I will focus the rest of my remarks. On our climate, rising temperatures are causing major changes in the natural world, leading to rain shifts, population changes and the disruption of precious food webs. Species that are well adapted to the warmth are likely to keep expanding across the UK, but montane species that are already on the edge of their ranges will tragically be squeezed out.

More broadly, nesting birds will be increasingly mismatched with peaks in invertebrate food sources. For example, more blue tit chicks will starve, because the caterpillars on which they depend are no longer available. At sea, primary and secondary plankton production is likely to be shifted northwards. There was widespread alarm at the extreme marine heatwave last year, during which seas off the coast of the UK reached up to a horrifying 5°C above normal.

Species that have adapted over thousands of years simply cannot keep up with this perilous, high-speed experiment that we are conducting. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment from Working Group II showed that climate change is already

“causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature”,

so at the very least we need to stop pouring fuel on the fire: no new oil and gas licences, and certainly no new coal mines.

I am deeply concerned that the Government have not only issued licences for oil and gas projects inside our marine protected areas, making a mockery of that designation, but have been ignoring objections from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to new licences on environmental grounds. Ministers need to rapidly speed up the transition to net zero, rather than delaying action in a desperate attempt to stoke a climate culture war. We need to work with nature to tackle this crisis by creating woodland, planting seagrass meadows and rewetting peatlands. That would not only restore vital habitats but lock away carbon.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, those vital carbon sinks contain 2 gigatonnes of carbon—equivalent to four years of the UK’s annual emissions—and yet not only is two thirds of the store unprotected, but much of it is already damaged and degraded. Unforgivably, it continues to be destroyed. The Government have abjectly failed to deliver a complete ban on peat burning. Peat continues to be set alight each year simply so that a wealthy minority can engage in grouse shooting. If we needed a definition of absurdity, that would be one. We need to end that devastating practice, and we need real investment in nature-based solutions, which remain chronically underfunded. That should include a significant uplift to the nature for climate fund, and I hope the Opposition will urgently commit to renew it if they form the next Government.

When it comes to food production, our modern agricultural system, with its industrial processes, use of chemicals and monoculture fields stretching as far as the eye can see, is one of the main causes of biodiversity loss. It is driven by economic pressures and misguided views of so-called progress, which put a huge toll on farming communities and ecosystems alike. Author and farmer James Rebanks described it as like being “sucked into a whirlpool” and “slowly becoming exhausted” in an effort to keep up with so-called modern practices, while supermarkets squeeze profits to an extent that often makes it nigh-on impossible to make profit.

Farmers manage 70% of the land in England and have a vital role to play in addressing the climate and capture crises. The OEP observes that the

“Government will not achieve its ambitions without effective management of the farmed landscape”.

As it stands, the Government’s environmental land management scheme is failing both nature and farmers. First, the current structure of the sustainable farming incentive is leading to a pick-’n’-mix approach that risks directing funding into a very narrow range of low-impact actions.

Secondly, farmers are not being supported to enter the higher-tier schemes. One in five of those who applied for the countryside stewardship higher tier last year was turned away, including because of a lack of resourcing and an absence of a transition pathway for the thousands of farmers in previous agri-environment schemes, who now risk missing out. Thirdly, there is a gaping hole in minimum environmental protections, including for watercourses, soil and hedgerows, now that the cross-compliance regulations have come to an end and it is not clear what will replace them.

ELMs must be urgently reformed with a clear plan for how each scheme will deliver on the UK’s environmental targets and a proper regulatory baseline. The Government must deliver a pay rise for nature by doubling the annual budget for nature-friendly farming and land management. Going beyond that, we need a transformational shift to agroecological ways of farming so that food is produced in harmony with nature. That should include properly incentivising the transition away from harmful pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. I hope Labour will look again at its proposals for how we grow our food, because simply committing to make ELMs work falls short of setting out how the farming budget must be allocated if we are to restore the natural world and produce healthy and nutritious food in the context of the climate and nature emergency.

At sea, we urgently need a ban on industrial fishing in all marine protected areas. The current approach is far too slow and piecemeal to adequately respond to nature’s decline.

Finally, we must not only protect our most important sites but create new habitats and ensure that planning policy on land and sea properly takes nature into account. Despite sites of special scientific interest apparently being the crown jewels of the UK’s nature network, many are in poor or declining condition. According to a recent health check, just 6% of the total land area of our national parks is managed effectively for nature. Throughout the country, that figure reduces to as little as 3% of land and 8% of English seas being well protected for nature. That highlights the enormous gulf in delivering on the 30 by 30 target, regardless of the warm words we hear from Ministers.

If we are to have any chance of restoring nature and achieving our targets, protected landscapes can no longer just be paper parks; they must be thriving ecosystems bursting with life. The designated sites network should be strengthened and expanded, with funding increased and, crucially, targeted towards biodiversity regeneration. There should be a new statutory purpose for national parks and landscapes—formerly areas of outstanding natural beauty—to support nature’s recovery.

I welcome the proposal from the Wildlife and Countryside Link for a 30 by 30 rapid delivery project to ensure that the goal is delivered in less than six years’ time. We need to see better-resourced arm’s length bodies such as Natural England, as has been called for just this week by the chief executive officers of leading nature charities, to ensure that they can do their job for our critical assets and effectively advise the Government.

Lastly, we need to see more connectivity across landscapes, as nature’s decline is also being driven by the fact that those places that do exist for wildlife are too small and fragmented. A brilliant model for how that can be done has been shown by the hugely exciting Weald to Waves project, which aims to create a 100-mile nature-recovery corridor going from the Sussex kelp recovery project near Brighton to the Ashdown forest, with the Knepp estate at its heart. Many of us will have visited the Knepp rewilding project and heard the gentle purr of the turtle dove and the nightingale’s song.

The Green party believes we need to go further. We would introduce a new rights of nature Bill, to recognise that ecosystems have their own rights and to give a voice to nature in law. That would be enforced by a new independent commission for nature, so that the regeneration of nature was at the heart of all policy considerations. We need to look again at an economic model that has ever-increasing extractive GDP growth as its overriding goal rather than the promotion of a thriving natural world and increased wellbeing for us all. As the Dasgupta review urged, we need a change in

“how we think, act and measure economic success to protect and enhance our prosperity and the natural world.”

Oral Answers to Questions

Duncan Baker Excerpts
Thursday 9th May 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mark Spencer Portrait Sir Mark Spencer
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I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question, which gives us the opportunity to highlight the great progress we are making in this area. We want to continue to make progress and support local authorities, but we did have concerns that the local air quality scheme was not delivering the most positive outcomes, and some of the bids that were coming forward were not aimed at improving air quality: we had bids for a robotic chatbot and for a kinetic art project. We want to focus on improving air quality and make sure we are funding local authorities to do just that.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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8. If he will take steps to implement a dog groomers charter mark that includes a register of serious injuries for dogs.

Mark Spencer Portrait The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries (Sir Mark Spencer)
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Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, groomers must protect dogs under their control from harm and provide for their welfare needs. Where that Act is breached, offenders face imprisonment or an unlimited fine. As the legislation is already clear, we do not have any plans at the moment to implement a charter.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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A constituent recently brought quite a distressing case to my office. A routine trip to the dog groomer’s turned into a disaster for her beloved pet. The dog was seriously injured due to the groomer using incorrect equipment, resulting in painful lacerations, multiple veterinary visits and permanent scarring. Unfortunately, that is not an isolated case. I am aware that, as the Minister says, the Animal Welfare Act provides some framework in relation to intentional harm, but I am amazed at the lack of regulation in the industry. Will the Minister make an assessment of what further legislative steps can be taken to regulate the dog grooming industry and ensure the safety of all dogs?

Mark Spencer Portrait Sir Mark Spencer
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this case, and obviously I sympathise with his constituent whose pet suffered that poor practice. The Government’s belief in the importance of animal welfare underpins the strong protections included in the Animal Welfare Act, and we will take steps to address widespread welfare issues where they arise.

Flood Recovery Framework

Duncan Baker Excerpts
Wednesday 17th April 2024

(2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Philip Dunne Portrait Philip Dunne
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I am very pleased to have created a first in my hon. Friend’s parliamentary career, and I am sure it will not be the last. I invite him to apply for a Westminster Hall debate to discuss the work of the River Severn Partnership; I would be happy to support it. We did indeed submit proposals to the Treasury—in fact, to the Chancellor himself—on the River Severn Partnership bid for significant funding to look at a whole range of remediation and adaptation options upstream, going as far as the source of the River Severn in Wales.

This morning’s debate is about ensuring that the right support mechanisms are in place for those who have been affected by flooding. A range of measures offer financial and practical help, including schemes for householders, businesses and farmers. Some are of long standing, such as the Bellwin emergency relief scheme, and others were introduced more recently by the Conservative Government in 2017 through the flood recovery framework to provide more targeted support.

However, the support is a complex patchwork, as one glance at the House of Commons Library briefing for this debate shows: there are several elements of support, with different eligibility criteria, applicable to different entities that have suffered flood damage. Home and business support is primarily managed through local authorities under schemes for which the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has lead responsibility. They include the community recovery grant, council tax reductions, the business recovery grant and business rate reductions.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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In my constituency, flooding has been absolutely appalling for the past 18 months. As my right hon. Friend said, the level of rainfall has been virtually double the average virtually every single month. I have the broads in my constituency, great swathes of which are still under water, and the water table is very high. That leads to multiple problems, including groundwater from the amount of rainfall and erosion. My right hon. Friend spoke about the patchwork nature of the schemes and the lack of co-ordination. What can be done to bring together the stakeholders—the water companies, the county councils, the internal drainage boards and the Environment Agency—so they work in a more co-ordinated fashion? At the moment, the response is often slow and there is a lack of funding, so there should be an overarching body that co-ordinates the response far better.

Philip Dunne Portrait Philip Dunne
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I am very grateful for that important intervention from my hon. Friend, who is a valued member of the Environmental Audit Committee. He is right to point out how complex it is to get to grips with the situation, given that different responsibilities fall in different places. I encourage him to consider the work being led by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham in the River Severn catchment in creating a partnership involving all the local authorities in the area, the Environment Agency and the non-governmental organisations that have an interest in the issue, such as the Wildlife Trust and the various broad and fen groups, as well as the internal drainage boards, which have a vital role to play. In many cases, such groups find it hard to come together regularly; there may even be a role for an enterprising and experienced MP to provide some leadership in order to cut across some of those institutional boundaries. I commend that partnership model to my hon. Friend.

Animal Welfare (Import of Dogs, Cats and Ferrets) Bill

Duncan Baker Excerpts
Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for bringing forward such an important Bill. I rise to speak not just on behalf of my constituents in Norfolk, who are huge animal lovers, but because I have always tried to champion animal welfare issues and speak on these matters each and every time they have come to the House. I have personally invested a lot of time and care in to this area, particularly by looking after rescue animals my whole life. I cannot therefore go away from this Chamber without mentioning my beloved pets: my rescue cat, Clapton, who sadly passed last month; our rescue guinea pig, Pickle, which my children would never forgive me for not mentioning; and the rescue chickens, which we saved from a battery farm and gave a good life.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson
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My hon. Friend has prompted me to mention that I have three rescue chickens—Honey, Rosie and Lola—and they continued to lay for another three years after we got them. I commend him for his efforts to save chickens.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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I say “Well done” to my hon. Friend, too, for his efforts to rescue chickens and for giving them that good laying—they can often lay for many years afterwards. We in this place should be proud about our collective efforts to lead the world in raising animal welfare standards. We are doing that again today.

Cats are very important to me. As I mentioned, my family lost our beloved rescue cat, Clapton, to cancer last month. The cancer in his mouth meant that he was unable to eat, so he became very thin and unfortunately it was time to say goodbye. I used to take him to the vet’s down the road. Every time Clapton Baker was called into the room, it got a slight giggle from constituents who knew and recognised me. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) said, our pets are loved forever. My children certainly loved Clapton. There will be another rock star-named rescue cat in my family one day. We just need to decide whether it will be a Meat Loaf Baker, a Mercury Baker, a Springsteen Baker or even a Jagger Baker—that is one of my favourites.

This is an important debate. During the pandemic, North Norfolk saw a huge spike in pet theft, particularly of dogs. My area is well known for its elderly demographic and 52 miles of coastline, and dogs are everywhere. It is almost unheard of to be retired in North Norfolk without a pet dog. Theft was a huge problem during the pandemic. I was proud to be a part of the pet theft taskforce.

I will keep my remarks relatively short. The hon. Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) spoke earlier—quite a few hours ago now—about how not many people in the Chamber had had much to do with ferrets in their previous life. I will disappoint you, Madam Deputy Speaker, because, country bumpkin that I am, I kept ferrets 30 years ago with a friend of. We did our civic duty. School allowed us to keep some ferrets behind the garages, and every lunch time, we would go out to the hospital grounds next door and catch the rabbits that were ruining the hospital lawns and grounds. We were entrepreneurial: the local butcher paid us 50p per rabbit, and £1 for a buck. The only reason we had to stop our entrepreneurial hobby was that the teachers would complain that we smelled so bad. Equally, my parents said, “Look, Duncan, you need to give up this hobby. You smell so terrible.” Ferrets, as Members might know, do not smell particularly good.

There is a serious point to today’s debate. It is awful that, in the 21st century, puppies and heavily pregnant dogs endure such terrible long journeys, as well as mutilations such as cropped ears. Declawing cats is not only abhorrent and painful, but takes from them something that is part of their DNA—getting up in the morning and scratching their scratch post. Until only a couple of weeks ago, we still had Clapton’s scratch post in the corner of the kitchen. He is no longer with us, but it would have been absolutely appalling to have his claws removed, preventing his natural instinct.

All credit should go to my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon for introducing the Bill—this is her day. She has been widely praised by many institutions, including the RSPCA. For what she has done, I thank her and say, “Well done.”

Neonicotinoids and other Pesticides

Duncan Baker Excerpts
Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Samantha Dixon Portrait Samantha Dixon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with the hon. Lady and I thank her for the intervention.

Last night, I noted a BBC article entitled “Bee-harming neonicotinoid use ‘makes a mockery’ of ban”. There is no doubt that there is an issue with virus yellows, but we are facing a biodiversity emergency and lifting the ban is not the way forward. We have got to find another way. I support the calls made in the article by Richard Benwell, the chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, for the Government to urgently deliver their long-awaited strategy on sustainable pesticide use.

Bees and other pollinators have for many years been facing an increasingly difficult task in the face of changing agricultural practice. That is a challenge in itself for our farming community, but it can also lead to a decrease in available forage and produce monoculture deserts for much of the year, making insect existence increasingly challenging. It is well known that neonicotinoid pesticides can be very harmful to a wide range of insects and invertebrates, including our beloved bees. They affect the nervous systems of bees and other insects, resulting in paralysis and eventually death. In fact, author and academic Professor Dave Goulson has warned that just one teaspoon of this type of chemical is enough to kill 1.25 billion honeybees. That is equivalent to four lorry loads.

Environmentalists, campaigners and local beekeepers have been in touch with me ahead of this debate to share their views and concerns on this topic, including the Wildlife Trust, our own Chester zoo, and Angharad, a local beekeeper who kindly alerted me to a report by the expert committee on pesticides that states:

“There is new evidence regarding the risk from neonicotinoids globally which adds to the weight of evidence of adverse impact on honeybee behaviour and demonstrated negative impacts on bee colonies”.

Bees play a crucial role in our food supply chain by pollinating crops, and their decline could have cascading effects on biodiversity and agricultural productivity. We should be protecting them, not putting them in harm’s way. Insect populations have suffered drastic declines in the UK. Recent evidence suggests that we have lost 50% or more of our insects since 1970 and that 41% of the Earth’s remaining five million insect species are threatened with extinction. Of course, other human factors and habitat loss are also to blame, but so is the widespread use of neonics. Given that a third of our food crops are pollinated by insects, we have a lot to lose.

The Government’s emergency authorisation allows the seed coating of sugar beet crops with neonics—a method of application that results in only 5% of the pesticide reaching the crop. The rest accumulates in the soil where it can be absorbed by the roots of wildflowers and hedgerow plants visited by bees, or it can leech into watercourses and affect the wildlife that lives there. If we thought sewage in our waterways was not enough, we are also adding harmful chemicals into the mix. Harmful neonics have been found in more than 10% of English rivers despite a widespread ban in 2018. In more than half the rivers where neonics were detected, they were at levels that pose a significant risk to wildlife. I back our farmers and am concerned that sugar beet farmers are experiencing a difficult time. However, lifting the ban is not the way forward. In fact, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ own economic analysis found that there was little impact of the beet yellows virus on sugar beet yield in untreated crops.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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Pollinators, which are obviously the subject of the debate, are particularly important, but what about human health? Norfolk County Council is the first council in the country to ban glyphosate. That is an important move forward, and perhaps the hon. Lady will give her thoughts on that. More importantly, should we not be trying to find naturally produced, sustainable products that are not harmful to pollinators or human health and to repeat what has happened with Norfolk County Council and glyphosate? We should be rolling that out and putting all our scientific efforts into trying to find those products for the future.

--- Later in debate ---
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Henderson. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) on setting the scene so very well on a subject that should really interest us all. If it does not, then there are questions to asked—that is the reason we are all here. It is a pleasure to see the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who has a deep love of farming. It is an especial pleasure to see the Minister, who is always here whenever debates such as this are to be answered. I know that he, like me and others in this room today, understands the importance of the subject.

I declare an interest—not because I am a beekeeper, but because my neighbours down the road, Chris and Valentine Hodges, are. A couple of years ago, I let them put some of their beehives on to my land, because I wanted to see the natural environment that I live in enhanced. It quite clearly has been. They have what is called a black bee species, which is almost extinct; they are responsible for ensuring that it comes back. This is not just on my farm, but in the constituency across the whole of the Ards peninsula, up into North Down and as far over as Strangford lough. By the way, the honey is absolutely gorgeous. Every morning before I leave my house, I have two spoonfuls on my brown toast. Fibre is very important when getting to a certain age, so the honey gives me that wee bit of flavour and taste, and I thank the Lord for it. It is really special.

I am ever mindful of the responsibility that we hold to be good stewards of our environment, which I know is an obligation that our farmers honour in every sense. All the farmers I know want to do that; I know the Minister does that, and other people here do the very same. Many farmers see themselves not as landowners but as caretakers of the land for future generations, as the hon. Member for City of Chester said clearly in her introductory speech. The responsibility for producing food that is safe is of great importance. For that reason, many old-school farmers—I am probably one of them—have encouraged their children to attend agriculture college to get a basis of generational knowledge, while working hand in hand with modern techniques, and to be taught how to get the most out of the land and diversify where necessary. Our agriculture colleges are vital to the future food security of this nation, and that should also be noted today.

The complexity of grant applications and red tape has been somewhat reduced, but it is still a matter of concern to the farming community. The need for the Ulster Farmers’ Union—the sister organisation of the National Farmers Union in England—is very clear. The two work together and provide some of the best insurance rates possible; maybe I am a wee bit biased, because all my insurance is with the Ulster Farmers’ Union. That is why I looked to see what the NFU’s view was on this issue, knowing that it has hands-on knowledge and science at its fingertips.

I can understand that there are situations in which the use of these pesticides is important. Most recently, the Government approved an application from NFU Sugar and British Sugar for the emergency use of the seed treatment on sugar beet seed in 2024. That was a vital application, and we need to look at it and recognise why that decision was made and its implications. The authorisation was granted on the condition that the product will be used only if the threshold for virus lessons is reached. Michael Sly, the chair of the NFU Sugar board, said:

“The British sugar beet crop, which safeguards more than 9,500 jobs, continues to be threatened by Virus Yellows disease.”

That terrible disease can do all sorts of damage to the countryside and to bees in particular. He continued:

“In recent years the disease has caused crop losses of up to 80%.”

We cannot ignore that; those are the facts, figures and statistics. He went on to say:

“I am relieved that this has been recognised by Defra”—

particularly the Minister who is here in Westminster Hall today—

“in granting the derogation which will be invaluable if we see a return of severe pest pressure.

An independent, scientific threshold is used to forecast the severity of pest pressure on the British sugar beet crop and any seed treatment will only be used if this threshold is met.”

So there are conditions; this is not a wild abandonment of the process, which is very much controlled. DEFRA and British Sugar have it well under control. Mr Sly added:

“the industry will again deliver a comprehensive stewardship programme to ensure safe and responsible use of the treatment if the threshold is met.

Led by the British Beet Research Organisation, the homegrown sugar industry is working hard to find viable, long-term solutions to this disease.”

This process is about the long-term vision and how we find a cure or something that ensures that this disease does no more damage.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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I am the first person to say that we need to look at insecticides and make them safer. However, I represent a constituency that produces a large amount of sugar beet, and this derogation is for a limited period and for a non-flowering plant in its first year, so pollinators will not be at risk from it. The fact that we are spraying the seeds of this plant actually mitigates a huge amount of risk. I think the public do not fully appreciate that absolutely key point.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that very salient and helpful intervention, which put the facts on the record. He explains why and how these things have been done, the controls that are necessary and why these things are necessary, and I am sure nobody here will have any concerns about the way they have been done, how long they will last or their importance. As I said, Mr Sly concluded by saying that the homegrown sugar industry is working hard to find a viable long-term solution to the disease, but it is imperative that we recognise the necessity for that.

To conclude, that application shows the level of thought that must go into having an application approved by British Sugar. The use of these harsh chemicals is not the first solution; it is a final solution. For that reason, I believe that they should remain available, but they should always—always—be closely monitored. We owe a duty to our environment, but also to our food security. The balance between them is so delicate, but it can be struck; I believe in my heart that if there is a will, there is a way. I look to the Minister, as I always do, to ensure that we in this House are doing the best we can to put the garden back in the shape that it should be in.

Coastal Erosion: Suffolk and Norfolk

Duncan Baker Excerpts
Tuesday 19th December 2023

(6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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Apologies, Dame Angela. I think that that is called getting to the end of term.

It is something of an honour to stay for the very last debate of 2023, especially as it is so directly relevant and so phenomenally important to my constituency. I thank the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) for doing a fantastic job in securing this debate and shining a light on its subject matter. It is extremely pertinent to my residents and is of growing concern, particularly at the moment.

North Norfolk is an entirely coastal constituency. It encompasses 52 glorious miles of coastline, from Holkham all the way up in the east—sorry, the west; I should know it by now, having been there for four years—all the way down to Horsey in the east. North Norfolk has its own set of pressing and important matters of which the Minister should be aware.

Over the next approximately 85 years, 1,000 homes are said to be at risk in my constituency; of course, that could be inaccurate, but not in a good way. We know that the climate data is getting worse for us all, and that sea levels are rising. The prediction is that 30 cm of sea level rises will occur by the end of the century, and of course the impact of that will almost certainly be that coastal erosion will get far worse. Couple that with materially wetter winters, excess groundwaters, hot, dry summers, particularly like the one we had two years ago, and the ground contracting and expanding, and the impact on our coast is profound.

At the moment we see about 30 cm to 2 metres of erosion each year, but that is not a guide. Even since August, in my constituency, the end of Beach Road in Happisburgh has lost 8 metres alone. A few years ago, sections of my coast vanished at a rate of 13 metres in a month. It is not an exact science, but parts of the coast can be unaffected for years and then suddenly slippages or erosion can happen at alarming rates.

The North Norfolk coast is as varied as it is long. The stretch from Holkham to Weybourne is at flood risk, and that from Weybourne to Happisburgh is affected by erosion at starkly different rates. I live around the Runtons; they are in not too bad a condition in comparison with further east of Cromer, which I understand is rather like something out of a picture postcard for everyone’s holiday—it is the most beautiful area—but the east of Cromer is where constituents are experiencing particular challenges. Villages such as Overstrand, Trimingham, Bacton, Walcott, Mundesley and, of course, Happisburgh are the focus of North Norfolk District Council’s attention at the moment. Extremely careful and sympathetic measures are required to support those communities in the years ahead, and that is where much of the attention in my constituency is focused.

A lot of my residents are probably not aware of how much is being done. I am the first Conservative MP for about 18 and a half years, and we were one of the first places in the entire country, out of only two, to get the snappily titled coastal transition accelerator programme money—CTAP for short. In effect, it was a slug of money—£15 million—from the Minister’s predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), to help plan for the future.

There are, of course, other schemes such as those my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney spoke about in his constituency. There are areas to protect Cromer with rock revetments to the west of the pier, and of course groynes are being refurbished; the same is happening in Mundesley. All in all, we have received about £20 million of funding, which we hope will go some way towards supporting the area for the next 50 years. Importantly, my hon. Friend spoke about how we should go about repairing those things and still investing where appropriate.

Then, of course, there is the multimillion-pound sandscaping scheme around Bacton gas terminal, brought about by Dutch innovation. I have talked about Bacton gas terminal many times in this place because it is an area of critical national infrastructure. The Bacton sandscaping has helped to protect many communities around Walcott and Bacton from the flooding that they experience year after year. As private investment comes in to transition Bacton gas terminal, I hope the sandscaping scheme will continue to be enhanced.

The simple answer is always that we need more money, and factually, from what I understand, the Government have put in record amounts. They have doubled the previous amount to about £5.2 billion look after flooding and other coastal erosion matters; 17% will be spent on areas of the country such as Happisburgh. We also need to have a bit of a grown-up conversation. We need to be able to give people certainty about what they can do, and with better information we can start to paint a picture of how our coast is changing.

Of course, we also need to ensure that any plans we put in place are economically viable, technically feasible and environmentally acceptable. Trying to protect one area along a coastal stretch will have impacts on the neighbouring areas. These things do not exist in isolation, of course; after many years of protecting our coastline we have discovered that they are linked.

It is worth mentioning my hon. Friend’s point about having a Minister for the coast. I do not wish to do him out of a job already, but that was brought up by Norfolk County Council leader Kay Mason Billig, and the environmental portfolio holder, Councillor Eric Vardy, has been fantastic on this. He is an environmentalist who has really spearheaded this issue. I have a lot of sympathy with what they are saying.

The coast of the British Isles is just under 7,000 miles long, and coastal areas share many characteristics. Many suffer rural deprivation and have greater housing challenges. I can talk about the problems that we experience in the particularly idyllic areas around Blakeney till the cows come home, but of course they are mirrored in the south-west and coastal areas of Suffolk. There are greater connectivity problems in every sense—infrastructure, mobile and the like—and a lack of high-skilled employment opportunities. And, of course, there are flooding and coastal erosion matters, so I have a great deal of sympathy with the call for a coastal Minister. Instead of doing nothing about it, on 2 February 2024 at 7 pm, I am holding a major public meeting in Hickling to talk about flooding in and around my constituency.

As I wrap up, which I am keen to do now, I want to say two thank yous. In North Norfolk we have taken this matter very seriously for some years. In no small way that is down to the coastal transition manager at North Norfolk District Council, a gentleman called Rob Goodliffe. It is rare to find people of such ability, knowledge and passion. Mr Goodliffe puts his heart and soul into these matters with the knowledge that he has and, to boot, he is a jolly decent gentleman.

Councillor Angie Fitch-Tillett has for many years been the councillor responsible for Poppyland and looking after the coastal portfolio. She worked alongside Mr Goodliffe and is as passionate as she is knowledgeable. Once again, huge thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney for shining a light on this very important matter.

Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill

Duncan Baker Excerpts
Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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The first thing I want to do is thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth). She paid a lovely tribute to her predecessor, who would be very proud of the remarks she made.

I am here today not only on behalf of the numerous constituents across North Norfolk who have emailed me about live exports, but because this is a matter that I am passionate about personally. I have spoken on animal welfare matters in this place time and again, and I have posted on my social media many times about the importance of respecting, caring for and looking after animals of all shapes and sizes, right down to the tiniest. As Members will know, I am the UK glow worm champion, which always gets a slight chuckle here. Of course, the House will remember my record-breaking dark skies debate on the glow worms that inhabit Sheringham park in my constituency, which I led back in October. On a serious matter, however, we must put animal welfare at the forefront of all spheres of our decision making, and I am really proud that this Conservative Government are doing that time and again.

As the Minister will know, livestock farming—particularly pigs and cattle—is a crucial part of my North Norfolk agricultural market; I have been to see him enough times about it over the years. Locally, we ensure that animal welfare is maintained. Norfolk produces 6% of England’s livestock output, totalling just under £600 million. With that economic backdrop in mind, I am a firm believer that this Bill, when enacted, will bring substantial advantages to local farmers in North Norfolk as well as to our agricultural heartlands, as we have heard from Members of different parties this evening. It will not only bring economic advantages, it will also enhance our local farmers’ capabilities to produce high-quality local food.

In North Norfolk, we go to extraordinary lengths to look after animal welfare. Last summer, I visited the Paterson farm in Worstead, in the wilds of North Norfolk, and saw the wagyu herd. I did not even know what wagyu was at the time.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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It is delicious.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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It is.

There was relaxing zen spa music playing in the calving shed. I said, “Is that for the farmhands?” No, it was not. It was to keep the calves and the birthing herds calm, so that they were relaxed and, in turn, all those animals were looked after. Of course, the meat was less stressed as well. That is taking animal welfare to the absolute limit. I do not suggest that every farmer implements a public address system in their calving shed, but it shows the level of care that my farmers take over the welfare of their herds.

This Bill is supported not just by my constituents, but by industry representatives across Norfolk and the UK more widely. I do not think that anyone has mentioned that the National Farmers Union supports it as well, as does the RSPCA. Although it is great that we will no longer see the fattening and slaughter of animals transported overseas, which will be outlawed—it is great that we have not seen that since 2021—it is also important that we get on and pass this legislation swiftly through Parliament, and put it permanently into practice. I will have particular pride when residents come up to me and say, “Name me a benefit of Brexit,” because I can now turn round and say there is yet another one. This legislation is only possible because we have been able to take back control and sovereignty of our lawmaking. By doing away with decision making being bound by the European Union’s animal transport laws, we have been able to introduce this Bill.

No animal should be reared for slaughter and have to suffer in this way. We have changed track, and we have been able to do that by leaving the European Union. We will now continue our world-leading status on animal welfare.

Protection of Dark Skies

Duncan Baker Excerpts
Monday 16th October 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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I rise to speak as the Member of Parliament for North Norfolk, a constituency blessed with huge skies and one of the few places in England where one can see, on occasion, the northern lights. Such is the significance of my constituency that we have two internationally recognised dark sky discovery sites: Kelling Heath holiday park and Wiveton downs. The North Norfolk coast is classified as having one of the darkest skies in the UK, with some areas as dark as those in the forest of Galloway or Exmoor national park, which are two internationally recognised dark skies that we all know well.

We celebrate our dark skies in Norfolk, and I wish to take a moment to highlight the fantastic work of the Norfolk Coast Partnership. Its dark skies festival opens up the secrets of our night-time wildlife and raises awareness of the impacts of light pollution. I should also pay tribute to the former co-chair of the all-party group on dark skies, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith), who is a passionate campaigner. I also want to welcome David Smith and Shreoshi Das from Buglife, who are in the Gallery; I am proudly wearing the emblem pin badge this evening and they have helped me prepare for this debate. They have travelled a huge way, from Somerset and Scotland, to be here to champion the importance of invertebrates, nature and our dark skies.

I rise to speak also as the glow-worm species champion—that is one of the lesser-known facts. Despite its name—here is a slight lesson—it is actually a beetle belonging to the firefly family. Not just the glow-worm, but many creatures, along with our dark skies, are under threat from light pollution, which has so far received very little action to curb its ever-increasing expansion into our nocturnal world.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing this subject forward. He has talked about light intrusion. I am blessed to live in a coastal area and also on a family farm, so I know perhaps more than most what true darkness is like. However, I, like many MPs, have recently had to instal security lighting, which certainly had an impact on the animals and birds, putting them on alert and disturbing their sleep. Does he agree that although we need protection from the darkness to address security concerns, there is a still a need to protect our ecosystems and that this must be more widely known and circulated? Tonight, he is ensuring just that.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for intervening on me; it would not be an Adjournment debate without that intervention. Of course, he is absolutely right in what he says, and this debate is all about highlighting some of the impact on and damage to our nocturnal creatures, be they mammals or insects. Later in the debate, Members will hear about some practical steps we want to take to try to achieve an improvement, through something so simple; light pollution can literally be healed with the turning off of a light, and there are not many pollutions for which we can do that.

Claire Hanna Portrait Claire Hanna (Belfast South) (SDLP)
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A large number of Northern Ireland Members are present tonight; I ask Members please not to let anyone make a joke about us being unenlightened!

For many years there was a stunning murmuration of starlings in south Belfast. It was quite something to be seen from Albert Bridge, which I used to cross every evening as I walked home to Woodstock Road. They used to come from across the city and beyond, but after some planning changes we noticed that they had all but disappeared, apparently because of a change in lighting. Along with others, I have worked with the authorities, and we were able to make a few relatively minor changes involving blinkers on some lights and filters on street lights. Since then, we have seen the return of some of the starlings. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that understanding the issue and, perhaps, minor planning changes will constitute a big part of protecting nature?

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Later in my speech, I will come to some of the practical measures that are being taken by planning authorities. Many are leading the way in being able to put together sensitive ways of dealing with light pollution, and in 15 or 20 minutes Members will be able to hear about some of those things that are being done by authorities around the country.

Darkness is not only essential to the health and wellbeing of people; it is equally important to wildlife. A huge variety of animals need darkness for feeding, for migration, or even simply to rest. I shall say more about that shortly. As humans, we need sleep to recharge and maintain good physical and mental health, and so do animals. We are probably all aware of the effects of a bad night’s sleep on the rest of our day, and after several days without sleep the symptoms worsen. The same effects are seen in our wildlife, and they are exacerbated by the increase in light pollution.

Earlier this year, a group of international scientists estimated that light pollution is increasing globally by approximately 10% every year, and has been doing so for at least the past 12 years. That is an incredible rise in a pollutant that has gone pretty much unchecked, despite concerns being raised since the 1970s by astronomers whose ability to glimpse the outer reaches of our solar system has become obscured. More recently, environmentalists trying to protect nocturnal species such as invertebrates and bats have been pointing to light as a major issue in the pressures on ecology.

Light pollution, as defined by the convention on the conservation of migratory species of wild animals, refers to artificial light that alters the natural patterns of light and dark in ecosystems. Artificial light is of course very useful, allowing us to recreate some semblance of daylight during the hours of darkness. It creates a sense of safety as we travel, and allows work to continue long after sunset. As with everything, however, too much light, and in particular too much poor use of light, is becoming a block to our ability to meeting commitments to save energy, reduce costs and rescue biodiversity. The solutions are relatively simple, unlike those involving other pollutants. Once we remove light, the pollutant is gone; there is no lengthy clean-up operation, the results are immediate, and positive changes can happen literally overnight.

Our dark skies are under threat. We long ago lost the ability to see the Milky Way with the naked eye from where the majority of us live in the UK. This marvel of the edge of our galaxy greeted stargazers on every clear night for generations, stretching across the sky, but unfortunately sky glow, caused by light pointing and reflecting into the atmosphere, has restricted that vision to a handful of places in the country. We have become so accustomed to not seeing the Milky Way that many assume it is restricted to professional astronomers, which I think everyone would agree is a real shame.

The Commission for Dark Skies, set up by the British Astronomical Association in 1989, has been warning of this loss of stars and campaigning to raise awareness and secure better lighting to bring back the views that are still out there. CPRE, the countryside charity, runs an annual star count, asking citizen scientists to count the stars in the constellation Orion. This year it discovered that only one in 20 participants had a clear view of our starry skies. However, it is not just amateur astronomers who are suffering; earlier this year, the Royal Astronomical Society published research showing that three quarters of major global observatories are affected by light pollution. This impact is limiting scientific productivity, and reducing the useful lifetime of those incredibly advanced observatories.

Astronomers are not the only ones who are hampered by light pollution. There is now a substantial body of evidence that shows that artificial light impacts on living things. It is altering behaviour, it is changing the physical development of species and, in some cases, it is causing death. When we consider how the natural world has evolved on a series of dark and light cycles, it is not surprising that nature suffers when we alter those cycles by extending daylight and removing darkness. Whereas humans are quick to adapt and use technology to great effect, animals and plants are not so quick to respond to rapid rises in artificial light. They simply cannot keep pace. The majority of animals are active either entirely or partially at night, yet our focus is almost always directed to the daytime species. It is important not to forget the things we do not often see.

Invertebrates, for instance, appear to be disproport-ionately affected by light pollution. As we all know, our smallest creatures are vital to a balanced ecosystem, carrying out important services such as pollination, pest control, creating soils and filtering water. Unfortunately, they are suffering significant decline from a range of sources, and we must now do what we can to relieve the burden we are placing on them.

A seminal paper from researchers in the UK found that local populations of moth caterpillars are reduced by 52% due to exposure to streetlights. German researchers have estimated that a third of all insects attracted to lights die as a consequence, either through collision, increased predation or simply exhaustion. We see insects out of sync with their natural cycle, emerging too early from their hibernation or larval stage and missing the flowering of food plants. We see evidence that pollination rates are reduced in areas exposed to artificial light. Nocturnal pollinators are vital for pollinating crops, fruit and flowers. A study by researchers at the University of Sussex suggests that nocturnal pollinators are, in fact, more efficient than their daytime counterparts. Those are concerning statistics.

My own species, the common glow-worm, requires darkness to carry out its actions. The flightless female glows a magnificent yellowy green, which attracts the smaller male to mate. They live for only a short window of time as an adult, and they must lay their eggs quickly. Without the dark canvas on which to perform, the males cannot find the females, and thus the chance of a future generation passes by. Glow-worm larvae are ferocious predators and feast on snails and slugs, helping to keep populations under control. Unfortunately, we are losing these charismatic creatures from our countryside in the same way that we are losing the stars.

MPs get to do some pretty fun things from time to time, and the most memorable occasion for me was back in the summer, at the beginning of July, when I was fortunate to visit Sheringham Park in my constituency —I ran around the track on the park run, and 12 hours later I was scuttling through the undergrowth on the same track to find glow-worms. I was joined by representatives from Buglife, who are here this evening, by the UK glow-worm survey and by the National Trust to see these creatures in action. Genuinely, the glow caused by a chemical reaction in the glow-worm’s body was one of the most fascinating things I have ever witnessed. It was almost other-worldly, and I would encourage everyone to go and see it next summer if they are fortunate enough to have glow-worms in their constituency. It was fascinating. The first time I saw it, it looked like an LED glowing in the dark. I do not think I will ever forget it. When the male was attracted to the female’s glow, we turned on a red torch and, almost immediately, the male turned away from its female and went over to the new light. It was shocking to see just how pronounced the change was in that whole set of behaviours. It is no wonder that glow-worm populations close to light-polluted areas are dwindling, if that is what light pollution will do to their mating habits.

Glow-worms are members of the firefly family, as I said. Global red list assessments of that group by the International Union for Conservation of Nature shows populations under threat. While habitat loss, chemical use and climate change are all contributing factors, light pollution is a threat that we can quickly do something about to start to reverse that downward trend.

It is not just fireflies that are threatened by light pollution. The IUCN has listed light pollution as a threat to 160 assessed species, including birds, amphibians and even primates. The more that we discover about the impacts of light pollution, the more we realise its role in nature’s decline.

Hon. Members are no doubt familiar with a blackbird calling in the dead of night. I shall not sing it now, but that was an experience that the Beatles shared in the opening lyrics of their 1968 song, “Blackbird”. Where did it come from? That unusual phenomenon, which was coined by the Beatles, was a bird singing through the night due to light pollution. Birds are being tricked into thinking that it is dawn or dusk under artificial lights, which makes them sing out of turn with the normal day and night cycle. What does that do? It can act to deplete their energy levels; it stops their calls at optimum times; and it prevents them from attracting a mate.

Light pollution, as we are already finding out, is contributing to the death of millions of birds. Attracted by artificial lights, migrating species such as shearwaters, petrels and other sea-wading birds become disoriented. They may end up circling in illuminated areas. It depletes their energy reserves and puts them at risk of exhaustion, predation and potentially even fatal collisions with buildings.

Turtle hatchlings are oriented by the natural light of the moon reflecting on the sea’s surface. Artificial lights are confusing them and pulling them into a fatal direction away from the safety of the sea. Closer to home, bats, hedgehogs and other mammals avoid lights, confining them to smaller and smaller habitats.

The effects of light pollution impact not only on animals, but on people, and we are beginning to understand that better. The 2017 report from the chief medical officer warned that

“pollutants such as light…may…be adversely affecting our health”.

Exposure to too much artificial light is altering our circadian rhythms and is thought to be contributing to melatonin suppression, leading to diabetes, heart disease, possibly cancers and a range of mental ill health issues. I will not speak on those matters in any great depth, but members of the Science and Technology Committee in the other place recently published a report on that, and it is well worth looking at.

We have talked about issues relating to humans, what has happened to our star-gazing and the impact on nature, but what is the solution? How do we solve this problem with so many impacts on the natural world? The answers, which often in this place are so difficult to come by, are actually relatively simple, but they require leadership and understanding. While we can solve light pollution with a flick of the switch, campaigners are not calling for us to be plunged back into darkness. Instead, this is all about using light better. We must promote better quality, community-friendly lighting and we must not artificially light environmentally sensitive locations. We can reduce our levels of light pollution by lowering the brightness of our lights, directing lights only to places that we need them and ensuring that unnecessary lights are not on when we are not using them. Every simple measure, such as shutting curtains and blinds when we turn on internal lights, will keep the light where it needs to be and prevent it from spilling into our gardens and wild places.

Local councils are responsible for planning, and I believe that they should have good planning guidelines to be mindful of light pollution. I know that many parish councils—for instance, Weybourne, Blakeney and Cley in my area of North Norfolk—really care about this. They have campaigned for it to be taken seriously, even providing their own dark skies policies. The person who hit that home for me was Lyndon Swift, the former dynamo of Weybourne, where he was chair of the parish council. He was passionate about protecting dark skies, and I remember him talking to me about it a couple of years ago. He was probably one of the inspirations for me to be standing here this evening.

Nationally, there is lots of good news. The “Good Lighting Technical Advice Note for Cumbria”, stemming from the Dark Skies Cumbria project, led by the Friends of the Lake District and produced by Dark Source, and the “South Downs National Park Dark Skies Technical Advice Note” are guidance documents that are leading the way. They should be utilised more widely across the country. There is evidence of more localised actions for change, but I believe that action should be spread across the whole UK to ensure the results are as far reaching as possible. I hope that this debate, in one way or another, will help my own local council, North Norfolk District Council, consider closely how it can implement policies to help with light pollution.

We must treat light in the same way as we treat other pollutants. We need to monitor and set targets to reduce light pollution levels to ones that satisfy our needs and those of the planet. Guidance and encouragement are clearly not enough. We need to look at how we can create positive action. There are so many gains to be made from doing this, not least the release of the pressure on nature. Switching off unnecessary lights will save money and energy. Better-quality lighting can improve safety by reducing the contrast and shadows created by poor-quality lighting. We can restore our views of the night sky and inspire new generations about the science and wonders of space beyond our planet, and we can restore the natural canvas for glow-worms to perform that magical summer show.

Finally, I thank the staff at Buglife who have helped illuminate me to the issue and to the wonderful world of glow-worms, in particular Karim Vahed and Matt Shardlow, who arranged for my encounter with the species on that fateful July evening, and David Smith for helping me to prepare my speech.

Oral Answers to Questions

Duncan Baker Excerpts
Thursday 6th July 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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Of course not. I was very sad that the noble Lord chose to leave Government. I pay tribute to him for a lot of what he has done in terms of international nature. The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), set out to the House on 25 May the approach that we are taking and why. We are getting on with the legislation on keeping primates as pets, and we are preparing single-issue Bills. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who is chuntering from a sedentary position, clearly does not know a lot about government. I understand that, because he has never been in it—[Interruption.] I am responding to the chuntering from the hon. Gentleman. The point is that when we introduce secondary legislation, the formality is that we have to consult. That is why we are doing a short consultation, which we launched last week. We will get on with the secondary legislation when we return after the recess.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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3. What recent discussions she has had with relevant stakeholders on monitoring coastal and marine biodiversity.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dr Thérèse Coffey)
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My hon. Friend and I share a feature in that the coast and the sea are a key part of our constituencies. We have just brought into effect our first three highly protected marine areas. We engage regularly with various stakeholders on a variety of issues relating to the monitoring and protection of coastal and marine biodiversity. We will continue to do that around our shores, but we also do extensive work around the world, with our knowledge and expertise, to ensure that we preserve marine biodiversity much more strongly right across the globe.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker
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I recently met Applied Genomics Ltd, a marine scientific business in my North Norfolk constituency. It specialises in environmental DNA acquisition and processing, and has developed an effective technique to measure a broad biodiversity profile, from fish stocks and invasive species to microbial pollution. The UK does not currently have an all-encompassing nationwide programme to monitor our coastal marine environments, so will the Minister consider launching a consistent, low-cost and accurate programme, and will she meet me to discuss it?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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My hon. Friend will be aware that we monitor marine and coastal wildlife and habitats through the UK marine monitoring and assessment strategy evidence groups. Indeed, the £140 million natural capital and ecosystem assessment programme is an important example of how we are trying to do these things in a smarter and more timely way. I am delighted to say that Applied Genomics, the company to which he refers, whose work I think is interesting and valuable, has delivered some of that work.

Water Industry: Financial Resilience

Duncan Baker Excerpts
Wednesday 28th June 2023

(11 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con)
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It is worth pointing out to Opposition parties that 93% of all UK coastal bathing waters meet good or excellent conditions. In North Norfolk we have lost three blue flag beaches, which went from excellent to good. But guess what? There is not a single reason why they lost that flag. Under the Environment Agency’s marking, it looks like it is down to not combined sewage overflows but entirely natural phenomena. Could the Minister help me get my blue flags back and hold the Environment Agency to task, to ensure that it has a proper testing regime that transparently shows that we have excellent bathing water quality all over North Norfolk?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue of bathing water quality. Since privatisation we have virtually the best quality water coming out of our taps of almost anywhere in the world. We also have phenomenal results for our bathing water areas—93% are classed as good or excellent. He has concerns about his area, but I hope those beaches will soon be back up to blue flag status. The Environment Agency works closely on individual cases where concerns have been highlighted. I am happy to put him in touch with the Environment Agency or work with him to find out what those individual cases were, so that we can get those beaches back up to the fantastic standard that they deserve.