Environment Bill

Lord Bishop of Manchester Excerpts
Monday 13th September 2021

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, bearing in mind the hour, I shall speak briefly to Amendments 85 and 87. It is a pity that it is late, because these are terribly important amendments. I have been sitting and thinking: how long does it take to create a habitat? The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, just said that at the end of 30 years we may have rip-roaring habitat, but the likelihood is that we will not have rip-roaring habitat for many habitat types.

There are some instant habitats: wetlands, for example—just add water and you get birds. It is instant habitat creation. There are some middling habitats, such as meadows, where you can grow grass and wildflowers, but it will not be a complex meadow ecosystem, certainly not SSSI quality, by 30 years’ time. As for woods, a wood will not really get into its stride in 30 years. You will have canopy formation by then, but it will be a fairly limited wood. Of course, many habitats are very long-term: ancient woodlands take 400 years. Long-standing woods, which the Government have said they are now interested in protecting, are complex assemblages of habitat and we do not yet know how long standing “long standing” will be, but it is certainly more than 30 years. Peatlands take 1,000 years, so 30 years for newly created habitats for biodiversity gain, planning gain or conservation covenants is a bit pathetic; in fact, it is pretty useless. Destruction of these biodiversity gains and climate change carbon sequestration at 30 years will be unacceptable to the public and it makes no sense to create and then destroy.

Longer periods do not discourage landowners and farmers. I draw attention to my interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust. We regularly deal with farmers on woodland creation schemes. What farmers and landowners want is clarity for the future, so that they can make decisions. The current woodland carbon code requires woodland sites for carbon storage to be in place for at least 100 years and we have no shortage of people banging on our doors wanting to create at least 100 year-old woods, so I ask the Minister to accept this amendment.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interest as a Church Commissioner, as set out in the register, and I wish to support what the noble Baroness just said: 30 years is rather a short period of time. I am grateful for the way the Minister, in proposing Amendments 86 and 88, is showing us the possibility of some flexibility in the future, but may I just tempt him a little further? What he is proposing would allow a future Government, by regulation, to change that period of 30 years—one would hope that it might go up to 50, 60 or perhaps even 125—but if they did, there would be nothing to prevent a subsequent Government reducing it back to 30 again. If we are to have a direction of travel in how long a site needs to be protected for, it should be one-way, without the possibility of going back down again. That could create a sort of planning blight, whereby somebody, particularly towards the end of a government cycle, might feel that, rather than making some land available for development, they can wait and hope that the period will be knocked back down to 30 years by the incoming Administration. Would the Minister be willing to think again so that, whatever period we set, any future changes would have to increase it rather than potentially allowing it to decrease?

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I shall speak in favour of all the amendments in this group—even, in a very soft way, the government amendments. They address issues that I spoke on at considerable length in Committee, so I will, given the hour, be brief. It is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and all the speakers on this group. I think the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, really hit the nail on the head. If 30 years is all we can tie things up for, if it works, you are tying it up, one would assume, indefinitely, which 125 years serves as a figure for.

In Committee, I talked about 30 years being a blink of an eye in nature, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, set out a very nice template for us thinking about different kinds of habitats and ecosystems. I will add to this my—perhaps now inevitable—point about soil, which is about the biodiversity of the soil and producing what you might describe as a mature soil, whether it is under any of those habitats. A meadow might look quite nice on the top, but the soil is not going to be anything like a long-term developed meadow for many years. These are ecosystems that take a long time to develop to get the real richness you would need for a proper, healthy soil.

I will just note that we are strongly behind Amendments 85 and 87, which my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb signed, but I would also particularly compliment the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on Amendment 84A. I would have signed it had I actually spotted it, but I am afraid I missed it. There has been much discussion in the media, in the public and in the environmental community about the utter inadequacy of the biodiversity metric. In this amendment, the noble Lord is going some way to finding a way forward to fix that, and I really do hope the Minister will take it on board.