Environment Bill

Lord Teverson Excerpts
Monday 13th September 2021

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

So, if the Minister can give me assurances in the way I have suggested, I certainly will not divide the House. If the Minister can say nothing, well, we will see—but I hope that will not happen, because I have had some really good discussions with officials. This is not anything like as important as everything else we have been discussing in the Environment Bill, but it is an opportunity for me to bring this to your Lordships’ attention and, hopefully, not only get the Minister to give me the assurance I want but encourage islanders to get on and do this and make sure that their water quality and sewage quality are compliant with the Water Resources Act, as the rest of the country should be. I beg to move.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has brought this amendment forward. I had the privilege of representing the Isles of Scilly in the European Parliament many years ago. They are often forgotten in legislation, as well as in terms of policy implementation and how that happens. The most obvious example was in 1651 when we declared war on the Netherlands—absolutely justifiably —and, in the peace treaty that followed, forgot to include the Isles of Scilly. This was discovered, and only in 1986 was peace agreed between the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly. Never mind President Biden, that equals the longest war in history: some 355 years. I am pleased to say that it was a bloodless war that has now been resolved.

On a serious note, this is real, and what I like about the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is that it does not say that these islands should be exempted for ever—not at all—but that we have to fix this problem and then make the regulations apply equally there as in the rest of the nation. Also, having spoken to the Isles of Scilly authorities over the past week, I know that there have been serious discussions about this with senior officials in Defra and the Environment Agency. I very much hope that the Minister can give the assurances asked for by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, because this is something that we do not want to last for 355 years; we would like it to be solved a lot more quickly than that.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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Well—follow that. I thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for moving this amendment. He has identified a situation that clearly needs rectifying. We should thank him for drawing the Government’s attention to this. I hope that the Minister has understood the concerns raised and the potential way forward outlined so clearly by my noble friend today.

It was interesting to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I have learned an awful lot about the Isles of Scilly that I never expected to today. Clearly, as someone who has never been there, I need to arrange to go as soon as possible and enjoy the islands’ pleasures.

I am sure that the residents of the Isles of Scilly will be very pleased to get this properly sorted out. So, as I said, I am grateful to my noble friend for his work on this, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

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92: Clause 98, page 101, line 9, at end insert—

“(c) agroforestry.”Member’s explanatory statement

The amendment enables agroforestry to be seen as a direct mechanism for public authorities to meet their biodiversity targets.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership. Following the Sunday Telegraph article yesterday, I should declare my “not-at-all” interest in and non-membership of climate—forgive me—

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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Extinction Rebellion.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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Yes, Extinction Rebellion. That was not where the emergency amendment that we debated last week came from. I will speak to Amendments 92 and 102, and I thank very much the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for their support.

As the amendments specify, their purpose is to strongly raise the profile of agroecology, which is very important for the way agriculture moves into the future. It is very striking that when we think about trees in a rural context, we think of forests and also farmland that on the whole does not have trees or may have trees around the boundary, young trees as part of hedgerows, or maybe the odd copse in the middle, at the sides or in the corner of a field. But that need not be how we practise our tree planting and growing and our harvesting of the products that come from trees.

At the moment we have that divide, but agroforestry is very much a combination of those types of agriculture; it is farming with trees, not farming and forestry. There are great benefits to this. Clearly, it is not right for the whole of the British countryside—I would not argue that at all—but some strong benefits come from it. Those are that we can plant more trees, and more diverse types of trees, and they are not necessarily trees just planted within meadows or pastural land; they can be, for instance, a grove of hazel trees within an arable field too. There are a number benefits from this, in terms of climate change, sequestration, water management, soil health, animal welfare, shade and retention of water. Clearly, there is also the extra income to farming from what those trees can produce, such as fruit, nuts or timber, from the types of wood that can be used for timber, then replanted and replenished. There is a wide range of benefits to using agroforestry and bringing it much more predominantly into farming systems in this country.

In 2016, a survey showed that, in Europe generally, agroforestry accounted for some 9% of land use, whereas within the United Kingdom that was down to 3%. So the purpose of these amendments is to raise the profile of that form of agriculture in England by way of the Environment Bill, but also to have the benefits that flow from it.

I have something to ask the Minister. One of the concerns is that, with the rollout of the environment land management schemes, which we covered in discussions on what is now the Agriculture Act, there are lots of pilots going on but few decisions have yet been made. I understand why decisions need to be made carefully, based on pilots, but there is more and more concern among farmers and land managers about understanding what ELMS will mean at the end of the day to them. In agroforestry, as in other areas of conservation, there is a concern that anything done now means that there will not be extra compensation to them under ELMS in future. So I ask the Minister to give some reassurance that those who implement agroforestry systems now will not be effectively penalised once those ELMS systems come into operation over the next few years.

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I offer many thanks to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. Protecting trees and woodlands is a priority of the Government, and I hope my response will reassure your Lordships on this.

I start with Amendment 92, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. There are numerous ways for public authorities to fulfil the biodiversity duty, such as creating habitats for pollinators or other threatened or declining species. However, it would not be appropriate to prescribe each one on the face of the Bill. We want authorities to identify where there are opportunities to make a change, but we do not want to force public authorities to have regard to a particular form of land use that in many cases will not be relevant to their functions. We will provide detailed guidance to support public authorities with both what they should do to comply with the biodiversity duty and what they should report on.

Our environmental land management schemes are about giving farmers and land managers an income for the environmental public goods they provide. We are considering how more environmentally sustainable farming approaches, including agro-ecological approaches such as agroforestry, should fit within environmental land management. Turning to the noble Lord’s Amendment 102, I share his enthusiasm for agroforestry systems, which will undoubtedly play an important role in delivering more trees into our farmed landscape, improving climate resilience, and encouraging more wildlife and biodiversity in our farming systems.

We have outlined support for agroforestry within the England Trees Action Plan, which sets out our aims for expansion, investment and research in agroforestry systems. That includes commitments to support agroforestry across the sustainable farming incentive, local nature recovery and landscape recovery schemes. The England Trees Action Plan also laid out the intention to develop the evidence base for agroforestry, further aiding responsible authorities to invest in agroforestry systems.

Agroforestry systems compatible with basic payment scheme support have been defined in the publicly available Rural Payments Agency guidance document Agroforestry and the Basic Payment Scheme. As the commitment to support agroforestry and definitions of it have already been published, I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, feels reassured and I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

I turn to Amendment 103 from the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, who I thank for meeting me over the summer. As I mentioned when debating the amendment in Committee, woodlands created using public funding must conform to the UK forestry standard for woodland creation management plans. Such plans include steps to reduce grazing from browsing mammals, including through active management, barrier protection, and the development and monitoring of deer management plans.

In the England trees plan that I mentioned earlier, we announced a number of commitments to go even further to protect our woodlands from browsing animals such as deer and grey squirrels. They include updating the grey squirrel action plan, which we will publish next year. We will be consulting with the signatories of the UK Squirrel Accord as part of that update process. We are also working with the UK Squirrel Accord to support the ongoing research into grey squirrel management.

Very briefly, I say to both the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and my noble friend Lord Cathcart that the Forestry Act provides a legislative basis for the management of pests affecting woodlands, which is a core part of management for anyone who receives public money. Given the ongoing work and progress in this area, I do not believe that we require new legislation to ensure that newly planted trees are protected from browsing animals.

Turing to Amendment 104, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for his amendment, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for presenting it. The Government are committed to increasing biosecurity, and we support the plant health management standard and certification scheme—an independent, industry-backed biosecurity standard available to the market and international supply chains.

Our existing biosecurity legal framework already implements a comprehensive range of measures to address and minimise biosecurity risks. Recognition of the importance of domestic production to meeting our planting commitments is clearly a very big part of that. We engaged with the nursery sector to inform our England Trees Action Plan and we have provided support for the nursery sector. In the plan, we committed to fund nurseries and seed suppliers to enhance the quantity, quality, diversity and biosecurity of domestic production. We will help the sector to better plan for sapling supply and demand, ensuring that suppliers can produce the right stock at the right time, with all the economic benefits that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned. A further published strategy is not necessary to ensure that this is delivered.

I thank noble Lords for their valuable contributions at this very late hour, and ask that they not press their amendments.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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My Lords, I apologise to Extinction Rebellion for having completely forgotten its name. No doubt there will be a picket line outside my farm gate when I return to Cornwall later this week.

I thank every noble Lord for their contributions—particularly, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for her examples and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I look forward to her amendment on a tree strategy when we meet again, which I think we still have to do. And I thank the three noble Earls for their contributions.

I am not going to prolong this evening. I thank the Minister for his enthusiasm for agroforestry and his recognition that this is an important part of the jigsaw for the future. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment withdrawn.