Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
140. If I may say so, given that our duty as
a Committee is to make recommendations and observations, and if
you genuinely believe that there is a better way of doing it,
it might be useful if you could submit perhaps a paper giving
us some indications and examples of this so that when we come
to talk to the powers that be we can challenge them about this.
Can I just pick you up on one other thing about consultation.
There is this latest, second consultation paper which DEFRA has
issuedno doubt you will have read it allwhich seems
to be more concerned on posing questions to other people than
it does about presenting some kind of menu to all the potential
people who will be involved in this. We have had some discussions
over things like GM crops, over the disposal of radio-active material,
about consultation, and the hopes of these exercises are heroic
in terms of involving the citizen in these matters. Have you actually
got any idea how you would set out the kind of consultation that
you have described so that water users would actually have, on
the one hand what it is like now, what it would be like with the
implementation of this and how much it would cost for the following
menu of benefits? Is there anything as simple as that that you
have looked at and you think could work, and, if so, what would
it look like?
(Ms Lewin) We have just spent the last three years
doing a Wise Use of Flood Plains projects; the RSPB was the lead
partner with WWF, the Environment Agency and DEFRA sitting on
the board. We had catchments across the UK, Ireland and France.
This is exactly what we were looking at. Essentially the project
was around how you might manage a flood plain more wisely under
the auspices of the Water Framework Directive. But what became
a very large component of this project was how you involve local
people in decision making. What came out of that was that there
is no specific technique. You look at your catchment and you look
at your problems and the drivers that might be water quality,
it might be flooding, and you adapt to the culture of that community,
if you like, which is not as difficult as it sounds. We would
be very cautious about saying to the Agency "This is how
you are going to do consultation right across the UK" because
it will not work. People have different drivers and they are interested
in different thing. There were a set of principles that came out
of that work in terms of how you might do this kind of consultation.
I think very importantly is that you have to keep it quite narrow,
so if it is about the Water Framework Directive you would tell
people that these are the objectives that need to be achieved
and this is how we will operate within that and that the decisions
are not about having a new Disneyland or a new supermarket; it
is how we are going to get from A to B in terms of water quality.
That was one of the main principles. Another is not to raise too
many expectations. Once you start a consultation process or a
participation process you must stick with it; you must come back
to people and tell them what happened with their participation,
and if you cannot do what they wanted, why is that not possible.
We have a lot of information in quite accessible guidance notes
that we could give to the Committee if you would like to see that.
That was very useful work and that is now feeding into a common
implementation strategy guidance note on public participation
at the European level.
(Mr Oates) Can I add that WWF has done some work across
other countries of Europe in looking at what mechanisms might
be used to involve the public and other ways of implementing a
directive. We have a report here of best practice which we developed
with the Commission itself which I am happy to leave with the
Committee to have a look at if that would be useful.
141. One of the things that we seem to be describing
without actually naming it is the lack of accountability which
is built into the whole of this system. In other words, there
are a large number of bodies which have some input into the processboth
the consultation and delivering improvementsbut we do not
have any one bodyas you pointed out yourselveswho
is responsible. You sneer at the internal drainage boards, but
they actually do contain people who are elected and have a responsibility
and are accountable which, of course, is more than one can say
for NGO's, no matter how valuable they may be. Is there any way
that you can advise how there should be some accountability in
the system? The Environment Agency in a way has accountability
because it is at least responsibleone assumesor
has an accountability to government. Government ministers can
be questioned about its performance. What advice do you have?
It is no good saying that it is difficult to consult people, it
is difficult to involve people if there is not one body which
can be questioned? What is your view?
(Ms Lewin) We can share this, I think. With this Wise
Use of Flood Plains project we were looking at a catchment in
France and there the river basic managers are the mayors, essentially,
or the elected representatives.
142. You are drawing an example, if I may say
so, as you also did with your Australian example, from a completely
different administrative and political structure. It is no good
saying "Let's have a mayor and make him responsible".
(Ms Lewin) I was not going to say that. What we saw
there is that they had many, many problems trying to implement
their laws because the democratic process was also driving problems
within that. It is not a model I think we should follow at all.
143. We could not; we do not have mayors.
(Mr Oates) Can I just point out the second DEFRA consultation
document which was published only yesterday, I believe, and I
looked at it last night, all one hundred pages and slightly glazed
over. One of the things I did pick up was that it does confirm
that DEFRA's intentionthe government's intentionis
to appoint the Environment Agency as the competent authority in
England and Wales for implementing the Water Framework Directive.
So we know who will be this body that has this super task, who
will be charged with trying to pull this all together, involve
all the stakeholders, get the right measures in place, make them
effective, be accountable afterwards, et cetera. It is a very
tall job and we now know it is going to fall on the Environment
Agency. So in a couple of weeks' time when you have Baroness Young
here she will be the super person that you are looking for, who
has to deliver all this. But we would say to the Agency that of
course they cannot deliver it all by themselves. To be accountable
they must set up local river basic management structures on which
stakeholders, customers, people like farmers and fishermen et
cetera, are represented and who can question that body; who can
hold that body to account for the decisions which it takes and
the money which it spends. Therefore, that body must have some
kind of legal status; it must not be just an advisory council
which meets in another building down the road on a completely
different day of the week. It must be an integral part of the
legal process so that it can be held accountable for these very
important decisions and these very big spends.
144. So your adviceand this is useful
because we can indeed confront Baroness Young with your viewwould
be that there should be some sort of legal strengthening of the
position of the Environment Agency so that it can be held accountable
for what goes wrong. Some people here will have had trouble with
flooding in the recent past. The most interesting point about
this is that nobody is responsible; there is nobody responsible
for flooding so that is that. Are we going to be able, when we
record your evidence, to be able to say to Baroness Young that
we think that the path should be strengthened, that you should
be, as it were, politically accountable, that you should enable
ministers to stand up and justify their actions and, indeed, that
the remit should be strengthened and enlarged to include a number
of things which are not included at the moment.
(Mr Oates) That would be the view of WWF. It must
be matched by the Agency being given the resources to do the job.
At the moment they have one hand tied behind their back. They
do not have enough resources and they do not have all the legal
powers they need to address all river basin issues and be able
to control them and affect them. They need more power and they
need more money.
145. I was going to raise a question about Article
4 of the Directive which I think both of you made comments on.
Article 4 places a duty on Member States to prevent the deterioration
of the status of surface and groundwaters. I think there is confusion
as to when the implementation date is. I think there is an argument
that DEFRA are looking to implement in 2012 and other Member States
are looking to implement as early as next year. On the face of
it, if it is a directive which is geared to preventing things
getting worse, then the resource implication should not be a major
factor in an implementation date because we are not asking people
to spend a lot of money bringing things up to a standard; we are
just asking them not to let things get any worse. That brings
me back to the question that I was still a bit confused about
over the discussion of the last 15 or 20 minutes, which is when
the criticism of DEFRA and the Environment Agency about lack of
resources is made, is that lack of resources to administer and
organise and manage the system rather than lack of resources to
actually deal with construction and actual details on the ground
in terms of changing the environment? I think my understanding
is that a large part of the costs of the policy in general is
likely to fall through council tax payers, through water bills,
et cetera. Is the main resource problem that you have been touching
on one of the need to give capacity to the Environment Agency
and DEFRA to manage and organise and administer change and prepare
for that. I would like some clarification on that. If that is
the case, in terms of Article 4which is simply saying that
things should not get any worsewhat difference is it going
to make if we do not actually make sure we can monitor and check
that that is the case by doing that in 2012 rather than doing
it in 2003.
(Ms Davis) Can I clarify the environmental objectives
a little bit. There are two core parts of those environmental
objectives in Article 4. One relates to preventing deterioration
of the status of waters and the other relates to restoring the
status of waters to good (which is not pristine, but good). Therefore
there is a component which says that we must not let things get
any worse, but there is also a component which sets a standard
and which we believe is higher than we currently have. In terms
of no deterioration, there is a debate about the point at which
that becomes the legal environmental objective of the Directive.
I think it is probably useful to refer to some existing case work
between the Commission and Ireland at the moment where they are
looking at deterioration in the context of the Dangerous Substances
Directive. What the interpretation seems to say is that actually
any action which could potentially prevent you achieving the environmental
objectives of a directive in future is considered to be infraction.
Therefore we would think that we were risking infraction proceedingsand
we would advise the Committee and potentially DEFRA to have a
look at thisby allowing any deterioration of the water
environment to take place during the period of transposition right
up until 2015. I do not know if that helps, but I think it is
an important issue because not getting some legal clarification
over that could actually put us at substantial risk. It is probably
not true to say that there is no current deterioration in the
water environment. For instance, as I pointed out earlier, there
are rising phosphorous levels in large parts of the country which
would, in my opinion, constitute deterioration of the water environment
and therefore would require some immediate action to deal with
that. Moving to the second part of your question, the costs of
that actionin terms of the actual on the ground workare
probably going to fall in the majority of cases on the farming
sector and on the water industry. I think you know that. The administrative
costs will largely fall upon the Environment Agency and a range
of other competent authorities. When we get to look at costs,
perhaps it is useful to break down this issue of lack of resources
for the Environment Agency now and to get the implementation right
and then to think what the actual delivery costs mean for the
two crucial sectors who are really going to be the most influenced
by that. Does that help? I hope.
146. I am clearer than I was before. We are
talking about capacity building within public organisations to
ensure that they have then got the capacity to administer and
monitor and manage. The work is actually done largely by private
interests rather than public interests.
(Mr Oates) And that capacity could pay for itself.
WWF has funded a study in the west country which involved giving
better advice to farmers about how much chemicals and nutrientsfertilizersthey
put on their land and which ultimately gets washed into their
river. That work resulted in advice to farmers which reduced the
amount of chemicals that went from farmland into their river,
reduced the clean-up cost down the river and also saved the farmers
on average £2,700 per year. So by increasing the capacity
within a government departmentin that case DEFRAto
give better agricultural advice to the farmers, it paid for itself
further down the supply chain, as it were. At the moment it is
difficult to get schemes like that working because of the lack
of joined-upness in government. That is why we are calling for
these river basin bodies with legal powers to pull these things
together and make the different parts of government talk to each
other and devise cost-saving schemes.
147. You have already referred to the vagueness
of the cost element of this and I do not want to explore that
again; I think we have thrashed already the fact that it is pretty
hard to define how much this is going to cost to do. What I would
expect you to have done, though, is to define more clearly the
benefits. The advice that we have had is that by defining an outcomewhich
is to produce fairly near pristine water conditionsdoes
not necessarily indicate precisely what ecology you will achieve
as a result of that in terms of the kind of things that people
will then be able to see for themselves: birds, fish, et cetera.
What steps have you taken so far to define those outcomes in terms
that consumers and other interested parties could understand?
(Ms Davis) If I could take maybe the ecological side
of that and I think my colleagues might have something to say
about what that means in terms of actually putting a figure on
the outcomes. I am not quite sure where you have been getting
your advice that suggests that what we are trying to do is restore
waters to pristine conditions.
148. No. Near pristine.
(Ms Davis) Near pristine, in a way that will not necessarily
deliver any ecological outcome. I think it is really important
to remember that actually the way you monitor outcomes in the
Directive is through their ecology and through nothing else. What
you are looking at is biological outcomes. Unlike any other European
149. But those are not actually defined.
(Ms Davis) They are beginning to be defined relatively
clearly now, I think. For instance, if I can go back to the issue
of eutrophication that we were discussing earlier, I am not an
ornithologist, I am a botanist, and probably the reason why I
get so passionate about phosphorous is because I can see the results
of phosphorous pollution on the flora of the UK. If you go and
look at the recently published atlas of the UK's plants, you will
see that everything which is sensitive to high phosphorous and
nitrogen levels is taking a crash and everything which can deal
with high phosphorous and nitrogen levels is rising. This is producing
a profound change in the flora of the British Isles and is resulting
in local extinctions at a really quite alarming scale. I do care
passionately about that, that is fair enough, and what I expect
to see in terms of the outcomes of the Directive is a stabilisation
and then an improvement in the situation of thoseat the
momentfairly endangered biota.
150. Would you feel, then, that it would be
wise to quantify those likely outcomes? At the moment, as I said,
the goal is set in terms of the water quality, not in terms of
the ecological outcomes that may occur as a result of those water
quality changes. Is that not so?
(Ms Davis) That has been the case in the past and
profoundly the reason why we care about the Water Framework Directive
so much is because it will not be the case in the future. This
is the single piece of European legislation that deals with water
which focusses on outcomes rather than focussing on a set of potentially
relatively arbitrary targets which might relate to the per centage
above background levels or whatever. That is not what we are looking
for. What we are looking for is a water quality which will support
a functioning ecosystem. But I do think you are right, that it
is very difficult at the moment to be able to talk about that
in terms which make sense to somebody standing and looking at
their river and looking at their pond. That means enough to us.
Internally, within the RSPB, we are taking some steps now to try
to describe what good status might look like, and describe it
in a way which means something to our members. We are saying that
good status means a river which does not have such high levels
of nutrients that you get persistent algal blooms and where you
can see clear water, fish, plants, the kind of things that actually
make sense to people. On the whole, my conviction is that when
you describe those things people are prepared to make a huge effort
and put their hands in their pockets to pay for it.
151. But the advice we have had so far is that
much of river ecology can be quite robust. Indeed, you referred
to some species which copedif you likewith increased
levels of phosphorous and nitrogen, even in quite extreme quantities.
What we need, I thinkand you are suggesting this is sois
something which says, "But we can see beyond this" in
quantifiable terms so that people can say, "We are going
to see this kind of species which we do not currently see; we
are going to see rather less of this than we do". Would it
not be helpful to define that?
(Ms Davis) Yes. I do think it is really important
to be able to describe a picture of what it is we are actually
trying to achieve.
152. And I would have thought that is definitely
an NGO role.
(Ms Davis) That is precisely why we are engaged in
trying to do that at the moment, to draw a picture of good status,
to have a vision for it, to say that this is pretty much what
we think our membership and the public in the UK might want to
go for. I do have to keep pulling you back in a way when you have
been advised that river ecosystems and lake ecosystems are rather
robust. I cannot give you a huge description of those declines
in British plants and insects that I was talking about; it is
not an appropriate place to do that. What I can do, for instance,
is give you a report that was produced last year demonstrating
precisely the fragility of our aquatic flora in the face of the
kinds of pressures that we are currently putting on it. You were
talking about sound science; sound science is only the science
that resonates with your own particular prejudices on the whole
and I think it would maybe be useful for us to give you some balancing
information about it.
153. You rightly referredI am not sure
if it was you, but the group of youto the fact that there
has been quite a lot of publicity about the apparent water quality
we have now and the ecological outcome of that, which is that
you can see fish of certain kinds all over the place where you
previously did not see them. What is required is a qualitative
definition of the change that is expected, because people would
say, "Well, we see fish in water now". There may be
rather different varieties that we expect with the changes you
are talking about.
(Ms Davis) Absolutely so.
154. Right. The other outcome you have touched
on is potentially on flood plain management and possibly flood
protection. The impression that we have had is that a significant
part of flood protection will not really be touched by this Directive
and that is land use planning and how we decide what can or cannot
be constructed within the flood plain. Is that your perception,
(Ms Lewin) I think that as we speak minds are changing
on this within DEFRA and there has been quite a lot of controversy
because flood mitigation is mentioned right up in Article 1 of
the Directive but it is never mentioned anywhere else. There has
been a lot of discussion about whether flooding should or should
not come within the auspices of the Directive. Our feeling from
the very beginning was that it should because it is part of the
water cycle; flooding has a direct impact on water quality as
described by the Water Framework Directive, and to try to manage
water as a holistic whole without considering flooding is insane,
dangerous and inefficient. There had been some problems within
DEFRA in terms of the flood management division and the water
quality division keeping the Directive separate from flooding,
but yesterday there was an extremely positive meeting in terms
of discussion around what we call wetwashland creation; storage
areas on flood plains close to rivers that deliver both some flood
storage and biodiversity, specifically birds in our cases, and
contribute to this good status as we have been talking about before.
So the links are very clearly there. The tricky bit is about how
we bring our flood policy together with the Water Framework Directive.
As I am sure you are aware, flood policy is extraordinarily complex,
extraordinarily so. One of the issues around the Wise Use of Flood
Plains Project is going to be to decipher those flood policies
to reduce risks to householders and to have a more sustainable
155. Turning to a different kind of benefit
that might be perceived by consumers, lower flood risk is definitely
in that category. And if we are looking for something to touch
a button with a significant number of consumers in my area, for
example, that would be one. If you could demonstrate some ways
in which this Directive would be implemented would benefit them
in terms of lower risks of their homes being inundated, then I
think they would be very prepared to listen.
(Ms Lewin) The Scottish Parliament have recently had
their inquirythe Transport and Environment Committee have
held an inquiryinto the Water Environment and Water Services
Bill (Scotland) which will transpose the Water Framework Directive
and they talked quite a lot about flooding. Their final report
has come out over the last couple of weeks. In the report the
committee have said that one of the most obvious ways in which
it would be possible to judge whether the Water Framework Directive
has made a difference to their livelihoods is directly in relation
to Scotland's ability to take preventative measures to reduce
the incidents of flooding. So there is a very clear link their
in the committee's minds and we were really, really pleased to
156. We have talked throughout the morning about
the importance of agriculture on the water courses. It does seem
to be the case that it may be necessary to change the CAP. This
is very topical. How far do you think the Directive itself is
a driver for change within the CAP?
(Ms Davis) In the context of the Commission it rather
depends on who you talk to.
157. Who have you been talking to? Who have
you been arguing with?
(Ms Davis) Pretty much everybody. I think there is
a perception that it is possible that the Water Framework Directive
will be the tug that turns round the super tanker of the CAP.
In my more optimistic moments I would like to believe that that
would be the case. But we have had an awful lot of other environmental
objectives over a long period of time which have not necessarily
resulted in that. However, I do think there is an acceptancecertainly
on a European levelthat without change in agriculture and
the structure of agricultural support collectively we will not
achieve the environmental objectives of the Directive. You have
got two pieces of European policy and legislation in a direct
head-on collision course. What the outcome will be is anybody's
guess I think at the moment.
158. Clearly one would try and encourage good
agricultural practice, however that is defined. Good agricultural
practice will change in different regions.
(Ms Davis) Yes.
159. Have you got a vision of how things are
going to change?
(Ms Davis) I think it is really interesting when we
talk about agriculture. Listening to the debates last week and
a little bit this morning, I think it is important to try to distinguish
those things which we can do in terms of agricultural reform which
are low-cost or no-cost. Robert was talking about the potential
savings which farmers can actually make from putting in place
a whole range of relatively simple options. But at the same time
we also need to be aware of the fact that there are certain intractable
problems in the agricultural system at the moment which will need
us to go beyond those low-cost no-cost options, and particularly
in the dairy sector I think there will be an acceptance that actually
if we are going to continue the stocking levels which are necessary
even for dairy farmers to keep their heads above water given the
current economic structures, either that is going to result in
huge transport costs, shipping manure round the country, eventually
creating a kind of manure mountain (I was going to use a slightly
coarser word, but I will not) which who knows what we are going
to do with. Or we are going to find ourselves in a situation where
farmers are going out of business. I think it is a very important
message that the dairy sector may be the single most significant
one in terms of trying to deliver the sorts of improvements we
need in the context of the Directive, and yet it is the most intractable
and the proposals at a European level for reform of the dairy
sectoras I understand itare kind of put off quite
far down the line. In the short term that may mean that what we
have to do is think really clearly about whether we need some
kind of agro-environment measurea higher tier of agro-environment
measurewhich is going to help dairy farmers out of that
problem because we have to be realistic about the fact that we
have created a situation now where a certain part of our agricultural
sectorthrough no fault of its ownis incapable of
meeting the environmental standards which we all expect of it.