Amendment 19

Agriculture Bill - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:40 pm on 9th July 2020.

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Lord Greaves:

Moved by Lord Greaves

19: Clause 1, page 2, line 13, at end insert “, including where appropriate the reintroduction of native species of animals or plants which have become locally or nationally extinct;”

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in moving Amendment 19 I shall speak also to my Amendments 52 and 102. I remind the Committee of the interests I declared at Second Reading. I should have done this when I spoke on Tuesday, but I forgot. They are more relevant to our debates on Tuesday, but never mind.

Amendment 19 in this small group seeks to probe the Government on one issue, that of whether farm-based schemes could include the reintroduction of native plants and animals that have become extinct nationally or, what is more likely, locally. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on this point. I want to concentrate on an issue that is of growing interest to many people, that of rewilding. I shall explain in a minute what is meant by that.

First, I want to make clear what is not meant. A lot of misrepresentation has been made by tabloid media of a few proponents of rewilding who frankly go over the top and, in my view, do not do the cause any good. Rewilding as it is used here does not involve the reintroduction to the English countryside of animals such as bears and wolves. Unfenced reintroductions for some species may be justified—beavers may be a case in point, and who can deny the glory of peregrine falcons and red kites, as well as locally extinct species of butterflies and reptiles—but it is not what rewilding as such is about.

Rewilding is also not about the wholesale transformation of whole regions into some romanticised version of this country before its widespread cultivation by the Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and their descendants. Nor is it about the creation of nature reserves as we know them conventionally, where the ecology of the flora and fauna in a local environment is carefully managed, sometimes in tiny detail. However, a success rewilding scheme could in due course become a very special but different kind of nature stronghold. Nor, finally, is it a means to just abandon large areas of land that are devoid of economic value. Indeed, it can be a means by which landowners increase their income by diversifying in areas where farming alone may no longer be viable. If I can drop into government speak for a moment, it can deliver public goods at scale both efficiently and effectively.

Amendment 52 would add rewilding to the list of activities that can be financed under Clause 1. A two-tier scheme could involve the rewilding of all or much or a largish farm, if that is what the landowner would like. I keep prompting the Minister for examples of tier 3 schemes involving things other than peat restoration and tree planting, but perhaps the rewilding of a broad upland valley could qualify for such funding. Rewilding could mean allowing coastal land or floodplains to revert to wild marshlands. It may be that while the Government are not averse to rewilding schemes as I have described in appropriate places, they would prefer to them to be funded in other ways and through other budgets. If that is the Minister’s response, can he or she set out what those other ways could be?

I shall come back to the question: what is rewilding? Amendment 102 would add a definition based on that put forward by the Rewilding Britain, which I shall put on the record. It states that,

“‘rewilding’ means the large-scale restoration of ecosystems to the point where nature can take of itself within very light touch habitat management, involving reinstating natural processes and, where appropriate, missing species, allowing them to share the landscape and the habitats within.”

The group also says that rewilding

“encourages a balance between people and the rest of nature where each can thrive. It provides opportunities for communities to diversify and create nature-based economies; for living systems to provide the ecological functions on which we all depend; and for people to re-connect with wild nature.”

Rewilding is not appropriate to only one or two kinds of area that may already be semi-wild. Examples being promoted include a range of areas, from upland sheep grazing and grouse moors to lowland mixed farms. Any kind of rural areas is appropriate. It can be for large estates or for areas on small tenanted farms.

I have put this amendment into a specific group because rewilding is by and large a new concept. It is not something that I expect the Government will suddenly fall over and say, “Yes, we are going to do this”, but I wonder whether the Minister would agree to meet me, representatives of Rewilding Britain and other interested Peers to discuss the whole concept and thus understand it better. Perhaps the noble Baroness who is to reply might respond to that on behalf of the Minister.

Some will say that that rewilding sounds like a modern version of impractical hippy idealism, but the reverse is true. It is growing in popularity from small beginnings and it is here to stay. Holding a brief debate about it today in the House of Lords is a useful thing to do. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Non-affiliated 5:45 pm, 9th July 2020

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on these three amendments and to support the arguments that he has advanced. It is encouraging that these are narrower amendments, which means that the debate will be less slightly less prolix. It is clear from the debates in your Lordships’ House on the Agriculture Bill that there is general agreement about the revolution going on in the countryside, which is not only technological, but intellectual, psychological and emotional. Against that background, what is known as rewilding, as defined by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is in fact a real part, although obviously only a part, of a new era for the nation’s rural landscape.

Of course, as the noble Lord said, the populist perception of rewilding means releasing sabre-toothed tigers on Hampstead Heath, or perhaps slightly less melodramatically, what is happening on the Knepp estate in Sussex. That kind of rewilding may well have a role in the future countryside, but it will certainly be only a part of that future. Rewilding covers a whole range of things from plants and insects to animals. Since the beginning of time, our environment has been evolving and changing, sometimes quickly and at other times almost imperceptibly. It is absolutely clear that our flora and fauna are always in a state of flux. Look at what has happened to the landscape and the plants and animals in it since the last ice age.

During that period, we humans, as part of creation, have been one of the vectors. In some instances, our involvement has been benign, and in others, particularly in the case of some alien introductions, it clearly has not. But it is as legitimate, subject to proper consideration, to interfere with the ecology of the relatively unaltered parts of our land as with that of the more intensively cultivated parts, when it is called farming or forestry. That is why I believe rewilding, however exactly you define it, should be an element, but only a part, of the future. Natural and rural agricultural policy should encompass it, and hence, it should become part of national policy.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I look forward to the Minister’s reply on Amendment 19. Our ability to repair the landscape is obviously crucial to getting our South Downs back in order. Kew is immensely helpful in this regard with its seed bank, which gives us some species we have long lost. We have to play an active part in getting our countryside back and not just wait for it to happen gradually over the next few centuries.

As for wider rewilding, yes, Knepp is wonderful—I have been there—but it requires fences. If you fence an area and you want nature taking care of itself, with very light-touch management, you need large herbivores and top predators. Otherwise, as in Knepp, we have to be the top predator. So, we have to accept our role in rewilding—we are the top predator. We have a role to play in a rewilded landscape. If you try to do it without boundaries, the herbivores leak; I do not think Knepp’s neighbours would be much pleased if all the Tamworth pigs started straying across their wheat crops. It is a concept that takes some very careful working out. We ought to learn the lessons of the rebellion in Wales, when the rewilding attempt failed. I encourage the Government to look in this direction, but with a good deal of scepticism.

Photo of The Earl of Devon The Earl of Devon Crossbench

My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. First, I would like to address the reintroduction of native species. Down in Devon, we have seen the relatively successful and very interesting reintroduction of beavers—ironically, in the River Otter. That has had some success but also some major challenges, not least for landowners, whose land gets flooded unexpectedly, requiring the proactive management of those beavers and moving them on.

Discussion is increasing around the reintroduction of pine martens as a means of controlling the grey squirrel population, although it is pointed out that grey squirrels live in urban centres where pine martens do not, so it would be very difficult to control grey squirrels that way. In the wilds of Scotland—the Glenfeshie Estate—the reintroduction of large herbivores is being considered. I was at a talk given recently by the brother of the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, the Minister, who made reference to the reintroduction of wildcats to Dartmoor. I have resisted the urge to stray into the Dartmoor Hill ponies area, since they are so ably represented by a number of noble Lords. However, I would resist the reintroduction of wildcats to Dartmoor, if only for the dear Dartmoor pony’s sake.

Rewilding is a very complicated issue. I congratulate the Knepp Estate on its huge enthusiasm and the interesting research it is doing, but nature does not take care of itself in this landscape. We have created this landscape, we are responsible for it and we cannot divorce ourselves from that responsibility.

Rewilding is not a new concept. Three hundred years ago, the landscape around me was heavily farmed and ornately gardened. About 270 years ago, it was rewilded with the creation of a deer park, which exists to this day. That is a form of rewilding, creating a primordial, idyllic landscape with deer grazing under trees and eating conkers and acorns. It is, I agree, a fantastic landscape with remarkable biodiversity and it provides a healthy harvest of venison, but it is not profitable. It is heavily subsidised by HLS and ELS, and even then, it is not profitable. The only way we make it break even is with a series of concerts, which were so ably promoted on Tuesday by the noble Lord, Lord Mann.

Rewilding does not necessarily create a profitable and vibrant landscape, and we need to be very cautious in imagining it does. However, there are areas of the country that may benefit from it—I am thinking of marginal areas that are not profitable farmland but that should not be allowed to go completely to wilderness. They could be rewilded, but only if it can be done on a landscape scale, creating landscape-scale environmental corridors and providing remarkable benefits for all in joining up environmental and species habitats.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Conservative

My Lords, Members of the House will probably know of my interest in this Bill through my family business, as listed in the register.

Noble Lords may also know that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was a sparring partner when I was a Minister in Defra and, of course, a former comrade in arms when we were in opposition together. His rhetoric always encourages me to speak, but I must challenge some of his assumptions. His view of landscape and local nature, as defined in these amendments, is principally retrospective, and I am not sure I can agree with this approach. The contribution of other noble Lords has raised similar doubts.

I do not disagree with the noble Lord’s view, as Amendment 19 proposes, that the reintroduction of native species can be laudable, but he rightly uses the word, “appropriate”. That judgment is much harder to make if its purpose is to re-create a sustainable wildlife and ecology in changed landscape scenarios. Undoubtedly, landscape and ecology in relation to place are of the essence, but this is not static, and nor is man’s interaction with it.

Perhaps, I can illustrate this. Much has been done to address the need for natural ecology even in the fens, an area of the most intensive cultivation and agricultural and horticultural production. That landscape is my home. It is a consequence of human intervention: almost perfectly flat and an acquired taste. It is none the less an important centre of commercial production; pastoral, it is not. But every aspect of that landscape—the rivers, dykes, banks, fields, roads and droves—are man-made. Some of the best-known reserves of natural habitat are situated in the Vermuyden washlands; our legacy is a consequence of the 17th-century adventurers who created them. Turning the clock back in such a situation is not an alternative.

Some noble Lords familiar with the east coast main line will see, south of Peterborough, a project stretching through the Fens, as far as Wicken Fen near Ely, to re-establish a fenland ecology. This can be achieved only by a recreative process just as complex as the original drainage itself. Meanwhile, the on-farm projects which the Bill encourages are equally studied and managed. These illustrations are not rewilding but deliberated. I support this process and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to say that this is exactly what the Bill recognises in Clause 1(1)(c).

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, is not on the call, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 6:00 pm, 9th July 2020

My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to follow my old and noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach; a fellow Lincolnshire man who is regarded with great affection in all parts of your Lordships’ House, he struck a note of caution.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for giving us an opportunity to debate this subject briefly, but I am not absolutely sure whether we need to amend the Bill. If we look back over the last two or three decades, we can see a number of changes, some of which have been very good and others perhaps less so. I remember when I used to drive through the Chilterns, on my way from Staffordshire to London, and suddenly those wonderful red kites would emerge; it reached the stage where one never had the journey without seeing red kites. They were of course despised scavengers in Elizabethan London, but, in the Chilterns, they are wonderful, soaring, graceful birds. There was a time when the buzzard was on the verge of extinction, but no more; that too is marvellous. But much as I admire the largest of all our birds of prey—the sea eagle, or the white-tailed eagle—I understand that farmers on the Isle of Wight are somewhat apprehensive for their flocks.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for making it clear at the outset that he is not one of these nutters who advocates bringing back the wolf. Although he did not stray on to that territory, I also suspect and infer from what he said that he is not necessarily championing the return of the lynx—about which farmers are again somewhat apprehensive. However, we should bring back, and replace, certain things. There cannot be a Member of your Lordships’ House who does not inwardly weep at what has happened to the elm tree and the ash. At the moment, dieback is ravaging a tree that has been admired in this country for centuries. Then again, we have to ask ourselves what exactly is indigenous or native. If we were to go outside and ask people, many would immediately say the rabbit, but the rabbit came here with the Romans and was then cultivated by the monks as a source of food. One has to be very careful and balanced in all this.

While I would greatly welcome the conservation and increase in numbers of wildcats in Scotland, I entirely sympathise with what the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said about wildcats on Dartmoor. Of course, it is difficult to find a true wildcat, as there has been so much interbreeding with feral cats; again, that is something that we have to bear in mind. Similarly, although they are in many ways attractive and exciting to watch, I am not sure that the reintroduction of the wild boar, through escape, has been exactly what we would have wanted, yet they are now prolific in parts of Gloucestershire. If ever a subject deserved the moto “festina lente”—make haste slowly—it is this one. It is right for us to be discussing this, but it is also right to realise that it is not something we should accelerate without very careful consideration.

The noble Earl, Lord Devon, talked about the beaver—wonderful creatures; there was a wildlife film about them on television the other week. They are totally fascinating, but some people who live in the areas where they have been introduced would not exactly rejoice, as the noble Earl indicated in his speech a moment or two ago. Of course, we have seen what has happened when non-indigenous creatures have been introduced. There is the grey squirrel, which has put our native red squirrel in such peril, and, of course, the mink, which is a scourge. I fear that we in Staffordshire played a part in that, because a mink farm was broken into by animal liberationists and the mink spread all over the place. What was the result? Mink and no otter. I think one has to have balanced reflection and discussion.

I conclude by saying that I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. It is good to raise the subject, but I urge caution upon the Minister. I very much hope that we will bear in mind that conserving and preserving our indigenous wildlife is what we must concentrate on.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is now not intending to speak, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Greaves tabled these amendments, because it has given us a chance for debate and for the Minister to give us an idea of the Government’s thinking on this particular form of land management.

I recognise that, as the noble Earl, Lord Devon, mentioned, rewilding—whatever we called it then—has been around for a long time. The other week I was in Wicken Fen: I am not sure if it was ever unwilded, but it is certainly pretty wild there now. This is not new, but we have to recognise that rewilding is now being discussed more, and there is a lot more thinking about the role that landscape management can play in improving diversity, which we all know is in pretty steep decline. I am very pleased that these amendments, which I regard as probing, have been tabled.

I was struck when, in winding up on Tuesday evening, the Minister talked about balance, and we have heard a lot about that today. Among the things that make a Bill such as this so tricky are the multiple balances we are trying to strike; for example, between public access and safety, and between food production and biodiversity, and so on. Rewilding has a part to play, albeit a modest part, in helping redress some of those balances. It is possible to have a long-term approach to some habitats which will improve biodiversity but will not have a big impact on food production. They can be accessible and enjoyed by the public in a way that does not bring biosecurity risks and so on, which we discussed the other day.

I know that most noble Lords are concerned about the economic outlook in rural communities. There is a contribution to be made by rewilding, even if it is modest and hyper-local. Today’s Independent, for example, carried a story about a rewilding project near Loch Ness. It will involve some 500 hectares of land, with the restoration of peatland, native tree restoration and a focus on biodiversity. The estate will employ local rangers, and a small number of eco-cottages are being built by a local firm. In that small area it can make a big difference. Wildlife tourism is actually quite a big generator of income. In Scotland, interest in ospreys is estimated to bring in about £3.5 million a year in revenue. Rewilding can have huge benefits to individuals, who can better connect with nature, whether it is to relax or to learn about the countryside, which we spoke about in earlier amendments.

I recognise the problem of rewilding as a contested concept, with the fundamentalists on one side and the realists on another. There is a really good balance to be struck, which is about some of the concepts of rewilding and conventional environmentally friendly land management approaches.

Very close to me, the Suffolk Wildlife Trust is doing this very well in the Black Bourn Valley on former arable land. It is letting the former fields rewild to a certain extent, but there will be some grazing, which will help with the complexity of the vegetation structure. Turtle-doves, which we know are in steep decline, have really benefited from the development of these scrubby areas. Even here, within what is thought of as rewilding, there will need to be some intervention to keep the valley’s pond habitats in good health and to keep the variation there, so that the current biodiversity does not decline.

It comes down to this word: balance. For me, the key thing is not so much having everything absolutely nailed down in the Bill—you never get that—but having the assurances that this sort of approach will not be ruled out.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for introducing this topic. It is obviously one that can do with some discussion. I thank the noble Lord for picking his words carefully and reading out the content of Amendment 102, because that illustrates what he is looking for. Following my noble friend Lord Cormack’s argument, I feel it must all be done with great care and attention.

I will add to my declaration: I am a member of NFU Scotland, and I do not know if I dare mention that I fairly regularly have an osprey nest in my property. Most of my experience and evidence of various kinds of rewilding are in Scotland. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned, there has been an extreme element to that movement, which he is obviously trying to rein in. I live on the edge of the highlands, and some people once regarded the whole highlands as due for rewilding. Anyone familiar with Scotland will have heard of the Langholm Moor experiment, in which all management was withdrawn. It was most amazing. From a peak of grouse, it became a peak of hen harriers. Then there was nothing for the hen harriers to eat, so they crashed. Luckily it is being left to nature at the moment, and we all wait to see what develops.

Another thing that other Peers mentioned is that we have big areas in Scotland dedicated to various forms of rewilding: millionaires are buying up vast acres to carry out rewilding without any assistance from the Secretary of State. Given the nature of this Bill, I wonder whether they will benefit from the money the Government are likely to make available if they have a large number of animals, birds or whatever they reckon to encourage.

One element we need to be aware of is that some people’s idea of rewilding is to see the removal of anything that cannot be described as totally native. Where I live, it is quite hard to take in that we are told that we must remove all sycamore and beech trees, because somebody has done some research and seems to reckon they were not around immediately after the last ice age, which other Peers have mentioned. I back the proposal put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that it will take more than a light touch of management.

A number of Peers have mentioned beavers. It is worth just putting on the record that in Scotland, we have had quite a bit of experience with them. At first, it was with people privately keeping a few beavers in a fenced area; almost inevitably, some of them escaped so their formal introduction by Scottish Natural Heritage took place in 2009. Scottish Natural Heritage now supervises all releases and controls the management. A recent report by the Scottish Wildlife Trust contained the information that the river catchment of Tayside currently has 450 beavers, and the damage to watercourses in the arable areas has been so bad that it has issued licences to cull 87 beavers. At the same time, about 40 have been rehoused in other places. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will pay attention and watch out for the unintended consequences of a policy of unbridled rewilding.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 6:15 pm, 9th July 2020

My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, who speaks with great authority and knowledge on these issues. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for introducing this little group of amendments and for the opportunity to discuss native—and, perhaps I might say, non-native—species. I will limit my remarks to Amendment 19. The biggest threats to native species, as I see it, are the uninvited, unwelcome guests of non-native species. For example, I have seen first-hand the damage that Himalayan balsam can cause, particularly along the length of a stream; how difficult it is to eradicate; and the time and expense taken up by land managers in this regard.

When I was on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the other place, we looked at this in a report on Chalara, which causes the ash tree dieback. I hope that when my noble friend the Minister sums up she will confirm that the practice by which, for some bizarre reason, seeds used to be exported from this country to others such as Denmark, Poland and others where the disease existed, and then we reimported those trees as saplings from those countries, has been stamped out and will not be repeated. It brought a high level of infection to this country. We now have a number of endemic diseases in the horse chestnut, which I fear may go the same way as elms did. We heard only this week in the Lords of a new threat, particularly to lavender and other plants, from Xylella fastidiosa.

I again commend the work of Fera—I know that it has changed its name, forgive me—which does great work in this regard, as well as on ash tree dieback. If the Government were to look favourably on this little group of amendments, I invite my noble friend to consider whether farmers and land managers could be reimbursed for the work that they do in trying to protect our native species from these unwelcome and uninvited non-native species.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. Lord Marlesford? If the noble Lord does not wish to speak, we will move on to the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, this has been a very interesting little debate on this subject, which I am incredibly interested in. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for introducing these amendments. The debate has shown that the problem is to some extent with the term “rewilding”. Although he gave the definition, there are a lot of misconceptions about what it might mean because a lot of people have different meanings that they put on it. As we have heard, they go from the reintroduction of apex predators down to just changing an area. There have been some very successful examples of rewilding. However, we would do better to talk about restoring. A lot of that has been going on, and I have a feeling—the Minister will explain—that this is already part of the Bill. This would be something for public goods.

There have been some very successful reintroductions of formerly native species, not necessarily those that have been mentioned, but some of the butterflies, such as the large blue and the chequered skipper, and cirl buntings, which in the south-west were almost extinct. I was rather shocked when, a year or so ago, I mentioned to someone that I had seen cirl buntings in the Chilterns, and they looked at me as if to say, “I’ve actually met someone who saw cirl buntings in the Chilterns”. I did not think it was that long ago, but that is how we end up as we get older. I would love to see them reintroduced. It would not be a huge problem. Perhaps if farmers or land managers in those areas could be given some financial assistance. There also may be other people who could do it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, mentioned Wicken Fen. A large, unprofitable carrot farm, I believe, up near Lakenheath is now the RSPB Lakenheath Fen Nature Reserve, which was established because the RSPB was concerned about the rising sea levels affecting a lot of the species currently along coastal areas, such as bitterns and bearded tits. That has been highly successful. These are the sorts of things that I would like to see included.

I want to see a helping hand, and it does not have to be on a large scale. Some of us do not entirely mow the lawn but let some of it grow wild to encourage insects and other flower species; that could be called rewilding, but that is not large scale.

I am very impressed by the extensive knowledge of nature, which I should have known there would be, in your Lordships’ House. I have been passionate about nature since I was a boy, and I recommend to anyone interested another good book besides the rewilding one regarding Knepp. It is Rebirding: Rewilding Britain and Its Birds by Benedict Macdonald, which shows that some of the species that we are talking about were here go back further than just a couple of centuries. It is a very worthwhile read. I await the Minister’s remarks, but this has been a fascinating debate.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I call the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere. We do not have the noble Lord, Lord Clark, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, the amendments from my noble friend Lord Greaves in this group encourage financial assistance for the reintroduction of native species or animals and plants that have become extinct, and I thank him for the opportunity to debate this. He has set out what rewilding is and what it is not.

The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, mentioned the rewilding at Knepp. This has led to a large number of rare and beautiful butterflies and insects returning to the land. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust provides the information that, between 1900 and 1973, the United Kingdom lost 26 of its native breeds of livestock. I welcome the return of the red kite, the sea-eagle and the golden eagle in Scotland. The breeding programmes for these birds require a delicate balance. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about the beauty of these birds.

Currently, there are about 30,000 herds and flocks of native breeds in the UK. They contribute over £700 million to UK local economies. Native breeds were bred for the British landscape and can thrive on even marginal grassland with a minimum of expensive inputs. It is important to preserve our national identity and heritage and, where possible, to reintroduce native breeds. All this can assist biodiversity, as my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market has said. Balance is everything, and butterflies are much more welcome than beavers.

The Crop Protection Association tells us that the crops that our farmers grow must compete with around 30,000 species of weeds and 10,000 species of insect pests and countless diseases. However, statistics show that nine out of 10 adults in England are concerned about the increasing threats to the natural environment, with nearly two-thirds specifically worried about biodiversity loss. Farmland birds have declined by 54% since 1970. So is now the time to be thinking about rewilding schemes?

A huge amount of investment is needed to get rewilding started, and often huge grants are required to keep the funding going. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has indicated, that could be through fencing. In the last couple of years, there has been an increased interest in rewilding from landowners, including farmers, not only here in the UK but throughout Europe and indeed across the world. However, it is not a short-term fix and it has proven to be economically unviable on a large scale. It is undoubtedly true that rewilding has a place in agriculture and in the make-up of our land as we go forward, but the way in which it will be funded is not straightforward.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust tells us that the meadows and pastures we value so much came into being because they were grazed by our native livestock. If we want to restore or even create more of them then the Government should be incentivising farmers to keep native livestock, but a softly-softly approach is needed. In addition, native cattle, with their unusual appearance, horns, long coats, colours and so on, add much to the quality of the landscape.

Wholesale rewilding without thought to neighbouring landowners and farmers is not likely to find favour. It is undoubtedly true that the countryside is a much more interesting and attractive place when it has been rewilded, but will that be sufficient for the practice to become more widespread than is currently the case? I look forward to the Minister’s comments, as I am in two minds about this group of amendments.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords)

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. We have had a very interesting debate on this amendment. While the core focus of the Bill is on agriculture and horticulture in terms of food production and environmental improvement, the cultural and heritage aspects of agriculture also deserve our attention. We therefore welcome the tabling of Amendment 19, which would support the reintroduction of native species that have become locally or nationally extinct. I note the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that that does not include bears and wolves but, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, we already have wild boars in nearby Gloucestershire. I am delighted to inform noble Lords that Wales is one of Europe’s best wildlife watching secrets and can rival anywhere in the world. These wonders might be anything: rare sightings of ospreys, a frenzy of red kites, the world’s largest Manx shearwater colonies or one of the best places in Britain to see puffins and porpoises.

On Amendments 52 and 102, we are indeed sympathetic to the arguments for providing some form of financial assistance to large-scale rewilding schemes where such schemes would bring tangible benefits in terms of biodiversity. Could the Minister confirm what schemes, if any, are already available? What kind of budgets do such schemes attract? Is it his opinion that such schemes fall within the scope of the Bill, or do powers to initiate or fund exist elsewhere?

We understand that there have sometimes been tensions between environmentalists and farmers on rewilding, as the latter fear that the restoration of land undermines the economics of agriculture. However, the introduction of the environmental land management scheme may go some way to addressing concerns where rewilding is done on a smaller scale, but Amendment 52 envisages bigger projects.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, mentioned the problems surrounding the introduction of non-native species. Again, in a local government context, I remember trying to deal with the huge problems constituents encountered in planning issues with the scourge of Japanese knotweed.

In recent years, Her Majesty’s Government have talked about improving how they use their own land holdings across the country. Can the Minister say what consideration has been given to devoting a proportion of those holdings to rewilding?

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:30 pm, 9th July 2020

Is the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, still on the call? No. In that case, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for Amendments 19, 52 and 102 on the subject of rewilding and native species. I am very grateful for his elegant elucidation of what he means by rewilding and what it does and does not include.

I can confirm that the Government are committed to providing opportunities for reintroductions where the environmental and socioeconomic benefits are clear. Perhaps at this stage I should draw noble Lords’ attention to Clause 1(1)(4). In the words of my noble friend the Minister, there is a balance to be struck. Clause 1(1)(4) says:

“In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”

We understand how the reintroduction of species can play an integral role in increasing biodiversity and restoring natural processes, as well as in other environmental outcomes such as climate change mitigation and adaption. The Government have already supported the reintroduction of native species in this country, such as the pine marten, the red kite and—as I am sure my noble friend Lord Randall and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, will be pleased to hear—the large blue butterfly. A number of noble Lords also mentioned other initiatives. We are keen to explore, through ELMS for example, where the reintroduction of species could be effective in delivering diversity and carbon benefits. My noble friend Lord Lucas mentioned the excellent work of Kew, with the provision of its seed bank.

However, my noble friends the Duke of Montrose and Lord Taylor of Holbeach and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, all injected a note of caution into the debate. These initiatives can often need more management than is anticipated. Beavers, mink and wild boar have all created some severe consequences for landscapes. Natural England is analysing the results of the Devon trial on the reintroduction of beavers. There are a number of other experiences of beavers across the UK and in other countries. Alongside the trials, there is a beaver management strategy framework that will help to inform decisions on the future of the Devon animals and the status of the beaver in England, including the Government’s approach for future reintroductions, management and licensing.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering raised issues to do with importing diseased trees. She will be reassured that the importation of invasive species is now prohibited. The Government already pay for the control and management of invasive species through an agri-enhancement scheme. We are considering how to manage invasive species as part of the whole ELM design. Clause 1 would allow this.

The purposes set out in Clause 1(1) are purposely drafted broadly and could cover the reintroduction of species, should it align with our strategic priorities, as set out in the Government’s multiannual financial assistance plan. We will publish the first report by the end of this year.

Several other rewilding projects are already under way in England. For example, as my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and others mentioned, at Knepp, in West Sussex, agri-environment funding has helped create extensive grassland and scrub habitats, resulting in significant benefits for biodiversity. At this stage, I also endorse wholeheartedly the plug from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for the opportunities for wildlife watching in Wales.

With these reassurances, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for giving us the chance to have this important discussion and the Minister for her answer. In what is ranked as the 189th most nature-depleted country in the world, this is surely something we have to be talking about.

I am really pleased that so many Members of your Lordships’ House expressed excitement about the pine martens. I confess that I saw these from a bicycle, so I got quite close up in France. They are truly wonderful beasts, and I very much hope that someday soon—when we see rewilding of the Peak District near Sheffield, from where I am talking—I will be able to see them closer to home. I will also comment briefly on some of the discussion about the lynx—perhaps to throw a cat among the pigeons, or a lynx among the deer—and say that we may well have to look at that in future when restoring an ecological balance.

I pick up particularly what the Minister just described as severe consequences from some of the rewilding experiences. I have asked the Government a Written Question on beaver strategy, and unfortunately we still do not really have a timetable for that; it would be lovely to see one for them to be reintroduced around the country. Those severe consequences are that when you let nature run free, what is going to happen is not always predictable.

The philosophy of the 20th century has been one of tidiness—putting things in straight lines and everything being under human management. That was perhaps one of the great faults that the common agricultural policy encouraged. Can the Minister reassure the House that the current provisions in the Bill—or possibly a provision such as the one the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, proposed—ensure that we can allow the countryside and land under management to do its own thing, operate according to all the natural systems and re-establish those natural systems?

In more practical terms, we talk a lot about funding for tree planting, but sometimes it is simply necessary to ensure that land is protected and you get tree regeneration. That can be far more productive and effective and produces an appropriate range of species—the right tree in the right place. I am really seeking reassurance that the Bill will ensure that letting nature go will attract financial support when necessary.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I can of course reassure the noble Baroness. Indeed, it is the first point of Chapter 1 that

“The Secretary of State may give financial assistance for or in connection with any one or more of the following purposes … managing land or water in a way that protects or improves the environment”.

The whole thrust of the Bill is to do just that.

I also take this opportunity to say to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that my noble friend the Minister is of course happy to meet him at any time.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

That answers the first thing I was going to ask. All I want to say is that I was bowled over by the encyclopaedic knowledge of British birds of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—the good ones, the bad ones, what they do and where. I could wax lyrical to him about the occasion in the Uig hills in south-west Lewis in bright, shining, sunlit mist, when I was the subject of interest of a wonderful golden eagle that could have known a bit more about social distancing for my state of mind. The great thing about birds is that they cannot be kept in by fences. Having seen the white-tailed eagles on the Isle of Lewis, I for one will be delighted if they penetrate to the north of England. That is nothing to do with the amendment, and what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said was nothing to do with rewilding as I am describing it.

I thank everybody who took part in this little discussion with great expertise and knowledge. It was an extremely useful discussion—I am thrilled by it—and on that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 19 withdrawn.

Amendments 20 to 25 not moved.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 26. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.