Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) & Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF)

The Trusts believes that the publication of the White Paper, following on from the Lawton Report and the National Ecosystem Assessment, is an important step towards the implementation of significant improvements to the natural environment.

In particular we support and welcome the following objectives

1. The commitment to publish a new Biodiversity Strategy for England. This will need to focus on species recovery.

2. The commitment to halt overall biodiversity loss through the establishment of ecological networks for the benefit of wildlife and people.

3. Recognition of the importance of working at “landscape scale”: nature does not recognise political or ownership boundaries. More can be achieved by working with catchments, Joint Character Areas and by groups of landowners and farmers acting in concert.

4. The establishment of Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs), which engage the support of local people and communities. We believe this could deliver more for nature and communities than the Integrated Biodiversity Delivery Area or any other designation approach.

5. The commitment of £1 million to fund LNPs. For these to be a success effective facilitators will be crucial. The commitment to increase access to nature through funding educational visits and supporting events like Open Farm Sunday will be important to communities to engaging in LNPs.

6. We consider the piloting of Nature Improvement Areas to be inspired. It is prudent to restrict this to 12 initial areas and learn from this exercise.

7. Following on from the Foresight Report, we are pleased that this White Paper contains a commitment through government, industry and environmental partners to reconcile our goals of improving the environment and increasing food production, and the commitment to conclude this within 12 months.

Sections which could be improved:

8. The sourcing of additional income through biodiversity off-sets could bring serious potential threats from development, particularly if coupled with a weakening of planning rules. This funding mechanism must not prejudice the protection of the natural environment through strategic and land use planning.

9. We believe that one of the keys to increasing food production will be a greater emphasis on better soil management and the undertaking to carry out a research programme on soil degradation is welcomed. However against the background of declining expertise and numbers of professionals we believe there is a strong need to establish a knowledge exchange network, as recommended in the Royal Agricultural Societies’ 2008 report: “The current status of soil and water management in England”.

10. Further clarification is needed for us to comment on the Green Area Designation concept. We await the detail of how this might work in practice.

Suggestions for further inquiry:

11. We would welcome further investigation by the Committee of the means whereby agri-environment schemes can achieve higher take-up and greater support from the farming community as well as more effective outcomes in terms of habitat and species diversity in the context of targets for 2020.

12. We recommend the Committee investigate further the means of reconciling increased food and commodity production with improved biodiversity.

21 June 2011

Prepared 16th July 2012