Natural Environment White Paper - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Response to main themes in the White Paper

1.  We recognise that both economic and intrinsic values need to be taken into account in valuing the full benefits that nature brings to society. We welcome the White Paper's ambitious aim of reflecting the value of natural capital in government policy-making and thus providing a more comprehensive set of data on which to conduct proper cost-benefit analyses. We further endorse attempts to apply new tools such as ecosystems services valuations to policy evaluation. We welcome in particular the White Paper's recognition that protection and enhancement of the natural environment delivers economic as well as environmental and social benefits. (Paragraph 13)

2.  Defra should accept the Independent Panel on Forestry's recommendation on valuing services provided by woodlands such that forest management which provides a range of ecosystem benefits is rewarded. (Paragraph 14)

Turning policy into practice

3.  We are concerned that Defra has not published an overarching action plan for delivery of the White Paper's aims, nor has it produced a timetable for delivering each of the White Paper's 92 commitments. There is a danger that such a piecemeal approach to implementation will lead to the White Paper failing to deliver its full benefits. We therefore recommend that Defra publish a timetabled action plan for delivering each of the White Paper's commitments, to be reported on quarterly with an explanation for any slippage in meeting deadlines. (Paragraph 18)

4.  We recommend that Defra identify a number (perhaps ten in total) of key input and outcome measures for its main ambitions of valuing natural capital, ensuring ecological resilience and engaging the public in the natural environment. The department should report progress against these in its Business Plan. Furthermore, Defra should explicitly identify the outcomes it expects its arm's length bodies to contribute to delivery of the White Paper's aims. (Paragraph 20)

5.  We are disappointed that the Government has failed to integrate the approaches in the White Paper into key policy areas such as planning and transport and that this has limited the actions undertaken so far by departments other than Defra. We look to the Government to remedy this at the earliest opportunity. (Paragraph 26)

6.  We recommend that HM Treasury require each government department to undertake an inventory of the natural capital assets it controls, or that its policies have an impact on, so as to provide an evidence base for their decision-making. (Paragraph 28)

7.  We further recommend that Defra, with HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office, lead an inter-departmental programme of training on the use of ecosystems services approaches in Impact Assessments. (Paragraph 29)

8.  We further recommend that HM Treasury undertakes and publishes an assessment of the use of the supplementary guidance to the Green Book by all government departments within 12 months. (Paragraph 30)

9.  HM Treasury should provide this Committee with an update on all of these issues in 12 months' time. (Paragraph 31)

10.  We were heartened to hear from Ministers at the Cabinet Office that recent reviews of environmental regulation have found that the regulatory regime is largely fit for purpose. We regret that certain Ministers have given a false impression about the impact of environmental regulation on the economy. A robust evidence base is needed to enable government departments take account of both positive and negative impacts of regulations. We recommend that reviews of regulation take an even-handed approach and that departments communicate both the economic benefits and costs of specific regulations. (Paragraph 37)

Growing a green economy

11.  It is too early to judge the impact of working groups such as the Natural Capital Committee and the Ecosystem Markets Task Force as they have only recently been established and are still setting out their work plans. Nevertheless, we recommend that Defra sets out with greater clarity the role of these groups, their methods of working and the protocol for publication of their advice, and most importantly, how government will respond to this advice. (Paragraph 40)

12.  We recommend that Ministers publish a response to any advice from the Natural Capital Committee within three months of its provision, setting out the full reasons where the Government decides not to implement the NCC's recommendations. We further recommend that the NCC makes an annual report to Parliament on its work and the implementation of its advice by the Government. (Paragraph 41)

13.  We welcome the White Paper's bold vision for linking the provision of natural services to beneficiaries through the use of mechanisms such as payments for ecosystems services. We accept that it will be difficult to gain widespread agreement on values and to create funding streams from beneficiaries to service providers, including farmers. However, this does not mean that it should not be attempted. The Government should establish staging posts towards a widespread adoption of payment for ecosystems services approaches. (Paragraph 50)

14.  We are concerned that there is no clear road map to integrate the evidence base of ecosystems services valuations (such as that as developed by the UK National Ecosystems Assessment) with the development of markets for such services. We recommend that the outputs from the next phase of the NEA be used to develop as a priority an action plan for the roll out of payment for ecosystems services approaches more widely in the UK. Defra should work with HM Treasury to encourage the private sector to engage in payments for ecosystems services schemes. (Paragraph 51)

15.  Given the potential benefits to the environment and to customers, Defra must give Ofwat clear guidance on how it can encourage water supply companies to adopt an ecosystems management approach, including the use of payments to land managers for implementing schemes that improve and protect water quality. We recommend that Defra and Ofwat ensure that within ten years the default approach to water quality improvement is the use of catchment improvements wherever practicable rather than 'end of pipe' solutions. (Paragraph 55)

Water Sector

16.  We recommend that Defra commissions, and publishes within 12 months, an assessment of the possibility of requiring licensed water supply companies to deliver specific benefits to the natural environment. These should include commitments to water quality standards in river catchments, biodiversity improvements, carbon emissions reductions and improved water flow management. (Paragraph 56)

17.  We recommend that, in the lead up to the 2027 deadline for meeting Water Framework Directive targets, Defra establishes a robust dialogue to ensure that the European Commission recognises UK progress on improving water quality. In particular, agreement on what constitutes disproportionate cost must be reached as early as possible since, without this, scarce funds could be directed to achieving technical compliance which have only marginal impacts on water quality. (Paragraph 58)

Flood Control

18.  We recommend that Defra commissions further research on the development of schemes where the flow of water can be regulated more effectively by the use of ecosystems management. Defra should establish a series of pilot schemes across England and Wales before the end of this Parliament. These should include a focus on the potential for payments for ecosystems services to encourage landowners and farmers to adopt management practices which reduce the impacts of flooding on local communities. (Paragraph 60)

Coherence with agri-environment schemes

19.  The Government must build a consensus with like-minded Member States to move towards a payments for ecosystems services approach. Alongside this, Defra should negotiate with the European institutions for sufficient flexibility to allow proposals for Ecological Focus Areas to be implemented at a national level in the most beneficial manner for both the environment and food security. We recommend that Defra provide the Committee with an update in six months on the steps it has taken. (Paragraph 65)


20.  Given that peat extraction destroys irreplaceable habitats and causes greenhouse gas emissions, there is a lamentable lack of ambition in the White Paper's proposals to phase out peat use. We recommend that the Peat Task Force finalise an approach that ends the use of peat as soon as practicable and that a review of progress is brought forward to 2014. (Paragraph 70)

21.  We recognise that it is important to enable those growers still dependent on peat to minimise the economic impact of the phase-out on their businesses. Defra should undertake an awareness campaign that promotes those alternatives to the use of peat that are already available and to encourage the public to grow plants which do not require the use of peat. (Paragraph 71)

Protecting and improving the natural environment: local delivery

22.  We recommend that Defra uses the pilot stage to clarify specific objectives for Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships and to set out how performance will be assessed. These should link to the approaches set out in Professor Lawton's Making Space for Nature report—including the reduction in the number of threatened species, the improvement in the condition of degraded areas, and the extent of the joining-up of protected areas. (Paragraph 77)

23.  We accept that the Government is unlikely to commit significant additional sums of public money to such schemes as Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships. We recommend that Defra set out how the various approaches in the White Paper, including payments for ecosystems services, can be expected to contribute towards the up to £1 billion needed each year to ensure ecological resilience. We recommend that, having assessed the lessons from the NIA and LNP pilots, Defra publish an action plan by the end of 2014 with identified funding streams to be spent on expanding programmes nationally. (Paragraph 80)

24.  It is disappointing that the opportunity was not taken to integrate the principles and policies in the Natural Environment White Paper within the National Planning Policy Framework. We recommend that the Department for Communities and Local Government publish guidance as to how planning bodies should take into account the benefits of the natural environment when determining planning applications. In particular this guidance should set out how planners and developers can protect the environment in areas designated as Nature Improvement Areas. (Paragraph 84)

25.  The Government must ensure that local planning bodies finalise their local plans which should demonstrate a link between the principle of protecting and enhancing nature and planning decisions. (Paragraph 85)

Biodiversity offsetting

26.  The biodiversity offsetting approaches set out in the White Paper have the potential to deliver a considerable positive impact on the natural environment providing that the first priority is that biodiversity is enhanced. However, it is essential that Defra designs an approach that secures long-term benefits from individual offset schemes so that habitats are maintained for the future. We recommend that Defra instigates regular monitoring to ensure that biodiversity benefits are being delivered and that a sufficient geographical spread of offset locations is maintained to minimise the impact of threats to species and habitats. (Paragraph 89)

Reconnecting people and nature

27.  There is evidence that an increased focus in recent years on involving people with the natural environment is paying dividends but this work needs to be accelerated. We welcome the White Paper's focus on local initiatives but many bodies, including NGOs, charities and local authorities, are facing budget constraints and need to be able to demonstrate measurable outcomes if they are to secure funding. We therefore recommend that Defra set a firm target for increasing public engagement with nature, such as the percentage of children of primary school age regularly engaging in nature activities. (Paragraph 96)

28.  We further recommend that the Department for Health and the Department for Education set out in their Business Plans appropriate outcome measures for health and education improvements through increased public engagement with the natural environment. The departments should jointly publish progress against these measures after 12 months. (Paragraph 97)

29.  The lack of progress in designating the coastal path around England is disappointing. We recommend that Defra review, together with Natural England and local authorities, the timetable for designation and reschedule efforts so that the coastal path around England is fully complete within ten years. Defra should also provide us with an update on progress in one year's time. (Paragraph 102)


30.  We recommend that successful delivery of the Natural Environment White Paper be promoted across government, with leadership from the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, as central to the Coalition Government fulfilling its commitment to be the "greenest government ever." (Paragraph 105)

31.  We further recommend that the Cabinet Office Minister responsible for government policy advice, working closely with HM Treasury, oversee a cross-government campaign to raise the awareness of all who work within and with government of the value to the economy and society of the services delivered by the natural environment. This needs to go beyond the issuing of guidance and to extend its reach beyond central government department officials to business, local authorities and the third sector. The Cabinet Office must ensure that all government policy and legislation is proofed for consistency with the Government's aspirations that natural capital values are fully reflected in decision-making. (Paragraph 106)

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Prepared 17 July 2012