Amendment 110

Part of Environment Bill - Committee (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 30th June 2021.

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Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative 4:30 pm, 30th June 2021

My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Curry, with his deep scientific knowledge of agriculture and soils. I declare my interests: my family runs a livestock farm and owns a series of SSSIs in two areas of nature reserves.

In this clause, we get to define the extent and, where necessary, the boundaries of what we want the Bill to influence. On soils, I support my noble friend Lord Caithness’s Amendment 110, which is necessary because the government strategy for carbon sequestration is considerably dependent on the soil and peat. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will respond positively to either of these amendments.

I will produce a quote from a rather different angle: 300 years ago, in Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift expressed the old saying that

“whoever could make ... two blades of grass … grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.”

That was in his day. This has inspired our farmers for 300 years. To me, it is an environmental principle, but in the Bill the Government have given us as their environmental principles a set of prohibitions, protections and penalties.

The judgment, from the measures contained in the Bill, is that that earlier principle has now gone too far. The protections listed will be necessary, but we need to be sure that our purpose is not simply to put all the processes of the countryside into decline. It would be nice if someone could come up with a phrase that would draw all our aspirations together and point the way forward. The outcome will hang on the wording in these clauses and what we interpret as the meaning of “natural environment”.

I support Amendment 113, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the others who have signed it. This draws our attention to the whole marine biosphere, an area that is under great threat at the moment. It is essential that this is not overlooked. The various marine organisations are still drawing up their inventories of what is in the natural environment at present, and a great deal of expense and research will have to be dedicated to that area. I too served on the EU Environment Sub-Committee that my noble friend Lady McIntosh mentioned, and I contributed to the work that was put in. There are huge areas where we have hardly any information.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh spoke of the importance of the marine area to the UK. In December, Scotland published its latest marine assessment report, which has to be updated every three years and which, in turn, covers an area six times greater than the Scottish landmass—so biodiversity is a very important field for that Administration.

At the same time, the Bill will incorporate the policies of species abundance and the encouragement of biodiversity. We have spent so much time discussing targets. Given the role that mankind has taken upon itself over the centuries, targets are necessary. The Secretary of State can introduce almost unlimited targets under the Bill, but Clause 3 has a number of subsections that must be observed if the Secretary of State wishes to reduce them.

However, there is no requirement for the Secretary of State to pay any attention to taking actions if a crisis develops when one element becomes prolific or threatening and the need to cull numbers requires some urgency. The nearest experience that I have had did not have the urgency in question: it was decided that the deer population in the huge Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, which is next door to me, was well above what was good for forestry purposes and that it should be reduced to four deer per square kilometre. They then set about culling 4,000 deer out of this area, which is not something that I would readily support, but it was a necessary management action and is an indication of what might be required if proliferation becomes extreme. In the spirit of the Bill, it will always be preferable to employ nature-based solutions, but, if diseases or threats to biodiversity occur, we must be prepared to act in whatever way will be effective.

My noble friend Lord Caithness’s second amendment raises the important question of defining biodiversity. “Biodiversity” in the Bill seems limited to the abundance of species, particularly in Amendment 22, moved by my noble friend the Minister on day 2 of our deliberations. Amendment 113B would mean that attention could be given to how far biodiversity should be supported.