Amendment 234

Environment Bill - Committee (7th Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 12th July 2021.

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Lord Chidgey:

Moved by Lord Chidgey

234: Clause 102, page 101, line 34, leave out “may” and insert “must”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment requires Natural England to prepare and publish species conservation strategies.

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I speak in particular to Amendments 234 and 241 in my name. The Government have shown a commitment to tackling the issue of the poor quality of our rivers and freshwater environment. Issues around pollution and declining freshwater biodiversity have been a constant refrain in the media for some time. Freshwater species have declined by 88% since 1970—a greater decline than seen for species in forests or oceans—and one-third of freshwater fish species faces extinction. England is the home of 85% of the world’s chalk streams; we have a global responsibility to protect these ecosystems.

Species conservation strategies can potentially play an important role in conservation, although there is a call to avoid them becoming a default setting for managing the impact of development on nature. The purpose of “must” instead of “may” in this amendment is to strengthen the clause and to underpin the requirement for a conservation strategy for improving the conservation of species. This is not intended to mean all species, but those whose conservation is probably most at risk; for example, salmon and sea trout, where it is thought that there is not as yet a clear conservation plan in place. There is a range of plans, such as the Environment Agency’s salmon five-point plan, but these have not led to any meaningful action in terms of the broad threats in our rivers and coastal waters.

Amendment 241 aims to create a new designation of protection for chalk streams. This analysis has been prepared with the assistance of experts from the Angling Trust and the Catchment Based Approach—CaBA—a restoration group under the chairmanship of Charles Rangeley-Wilson. It is preparing a report to government on the need for restoration and greater protection of chalk streams in England: the chalk stream restoration strategy. This group, made up of representatives from water companies, conservation NGOs and statutory agencies, including Natural England and the Environment Agency, will publish the chalk stream restoration strategy in September. The report will make a series of recommendations, looking at the three elements that make up action to restore our chalk streams to a near-natural state: action to reduce and mitigate the impact of overabstraction, to reduce pollution and improve water quality, and to restore the habitats and ecological functioning of chalk streams. The report is currently out for public consultation.

The first recommendation of the report is supported by all the companies and agencies involved in the report’s production and from stakeholders’ responses. This recommendation is for

“an overarching protection and priority status for chalk streams and their catchments to give them a distinct identity and to drive investment in water-resources infrastructure, water treatment and catchment-scale restoration”.

Currently, few chalk streams have protected site status. We have drivers, such as priority habitats status and the water framework directive but, thus far, these have failed to deliver enough improvements for chalk streams, principally because they lack statutory drivers for investment. Stakeholders are united in the view that there is a clear need for a status mechanism via designation, which can add impetus and drive investment across multiple policy levers. These include water company price review processes; ELMS local nature recovery and landscape recovery; local nature recovery strategies; biodiversity net gain; and protection through the planning process. A new designation should deliver an integrated approach to the protection of the chalk stream channel, its floodplain, surrounding catchment and aquifer, leading to nature and biodiversity recovery at the landscape level.

This amendment would require Natural England, along with Defra and the EA, to explore the appropriate mechanism for introducing a new category of protections, which may include the adaptation of application of an existing mechanism to protect chalk streams. In doing so it would consider including a statutory biodiversity target for chalk stream catchments in the Bill that would elevate the status of all chalk streams and provide long-term certainty about government ambition and commitment to protection and restoration. It would also consider a new form of designation or statutory protection for all chalk streams through a Green Paper on habitats regulation, and a stronger policy steer for chalk streams, for example through the ministerial guidance on river basin management plans and the strategic priorities statement to Ofwat.

Such a status for chalk streams would drive the investment and resources that have been severely lacking—not only for chalk streams, but, as the first report of 2020-21 from the Environment Audit Committee in the other place, Biodiversity in the UK: Boom or Bust, made clear, for the protection and advancement of biodiversity more broadly.

These are not exclusively chalk stream measures. Many other types of river and stream are also in great need of investment. An integrated approach to restoring all types of habitat and associated species through restoration of natural ecosystem function—particularly natural catchment function—will help to deliver multiple biodiversity benefits, alongside a wealth of natural capital associated with restored aquifer recharge, tackling pollution at source and natural flood management, to quote Natural England in 2018.

Nevertheless, the draft report argues that the global rarity of English chalk streams provides a potent justification for singling out this river type, among others. There are other justifications. One is the fact that chalk streams are under particular stress because they flow through a highly developed landscape. They have been particularly stressed by historic management and have distinct biodiversity, cultural and heritage value. For hydrological reasons, they are less capable of self-repair than higher-energy rivers.

There is also a common misconception that chalk streams exist only in the wealthier home counties of Hampshire and Berkshire. In fact, chalk streams are distributed from west Dorset to north-east Yorkshire, and many flow through less affluent parts of our landscape, and through numerous towns and cities, as well as the rural idylls most frequently depicted.

For example, the Eastleigh Angling Society has more than 850 members. Eastleigh, a constituency that I had the privilege to represent, owes its origins to railway development and manufacture, together with other heavy industry outlets. Yet the River Itchen flows through it. There are also several urban chalk streams, including the Wandle and Cray in Greater London. So I ask the Government to support these proposals for the designation of chalk streams. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Krebs Lord Krebs Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, Chair, Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and his eloquent advocacy for chalk streams. I will speak primarily to Amendment 235, in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. The aim of our amendment is to ensure that the primary purpose of species conservation strategies is to support the recovery of nature rather than to facilitate development.

At first sight, Clause 102 looks very good. It requires Natural England to publish a strategy for improving the conservation status of any species. It must do this for a “strategy area”, which could be as large as the whole of England. The strategy has to spell out which habitat features are important for the species in question and how they may be improved. Natural England must also give an opinion on any consents or approvals that could adversely affect the conservation status of a species, as well as measures that could be taken to compensate for any adverse effects. Planning authorities must co-operate with Natural England in preparing and implementing any conservation strategy, and “have regard to” the strategy.

That looks good, but when you kick the tyres you find that the protections for nature are not quite as strong as they might have appeared at first sight. The clause would enable an approach that allows individual specimens and populations of a protected species to be harmed, in return for a contribution to their conservation on a wider scale, for example by creating new habitat.

The great crested newt has become a cautionary tale for this approach. District-level licensing schemes for the great crested newt are not comprehensive conservation strategies that address all the conservation needs of this species: they are mechanisms designed solely to address the interface between newts and development in areas to which the schemes are applied. Experience of district licensing has been mixed, with varying degrees of success in the different programmes around the country. Overall, the jury is still out on whether it is an effective conservation approach.

It is also far from clear that this kind of policy would work for many other species. For example, many species of bat are long-lived, have low reproductive rates and rely on a complex mixture of habitat features. Many are faithful to site-specific roosts and would not simply move down the road to a new roost in a habitat-compensation arrangement. I would therefore be interested to hear from the Minister which species he thinks would benefit most from a species conservation strategy, and why. It is possible for a good strategic approach to play an important role in conservation, but, for that to happen, the priorities need to change. The strategies must be led by the interests of nature, not commercial interests.

Amendment 235 seeks to strengthen the protection of nature and to ensure that the strategies are used primarily to benefit species in need of help, not developers in need of land. First, it includes reference to the mitigation hierarchy proposed in Amendment 168A by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. Secondly, it narrows and clarifies the objective of a species conservation strategy to ensure that it is about protecting nature and not about achieving an ill-defined balance between conservation and planning approval. Thirdly, it ensures that, unlike district licensing, species conservation strategies are about more than the crunch point between species and houses. It requires a strategy to define favourable conservation status for the relevant species, and the barriers and opportunities for ensuring that that species can thrive.

As with other parts of this Bill, there is a balance to be struck between the protection of nature and the commercial interests of developers. Amendment 235 aims to ensure that the balance is not weighted against nature. As Sir Partha Dasgupta said on Radio 4 this morning, in a slightly different context:

“In this small, densely populated island, we need to make a special effort to ensure that the interests of commerce don’t continue, as they have in the past, to override the interests of nature.”

I look forward to the Minister’s response on this amendment.

However, while I am standing up, I will refer briefly to Amendment 293A in this group, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. I am not quite sure why this amendment is in this group, but, according to my list, it is, and it is all about the prohibition of lead ammunition in the killing of wild birds and other wild beasts.

I first became aware of this issue about eight years ago, when I was asked to chair a research conference at Oxford University on the scientific evidence pertaining to the harms of lead shot, not just to wildlife but to humans. It is literally a no-brainer, in the sense that we now know with strong scientific evidence that the brains of our children can be damaged by consumption of lead shot through shot game. The scientific estimate is that somewhere between 4,000 and 48,000 children in this country are suffering a lower IQ as a result of consuming lead shot.

I support the intention behind the amendment because, despite clear advice from their expert advisory group, the Government adopted a voluntary approach, and we know from a paper published by Rhys Green and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge in February this year that no progress whatever has been made since nine hunting and shooting organisations said that they would aim to reduce the use of lead shot. Equally, retailers—I have spoken to two of our major food retailers about this over the past few years—are still selling game killed with lead shot. A very small warning says, “May contain lead shot”, rather than, “May reduce the IQ of your children”. I shall not speak any further on this, because I am sure others will speak at greater length, but I support that amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 3:15 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lord, I am delighted to follow my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, because the 10 amendments I have in this group very much follow the line of thinking that he just enunciated. Before I speak to my amendments, I will comment on Amendment 293A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. I support what he is trying to do; it is time that the shooting interests got rid of lead shot in shotguns and we moved to a different form of ammunition. I know that my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury will wax more lyrical on that than I can, but I support what the noble Lord is trying to achieve.

I can break down my 10 amendments into different groups, but their purpose is to try to make this part of the Bill work better, in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is trying to do with his amendment. It is right that the Government are adopting strategies to protect nature. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned district-level licensing of the great crested newt.

My Amendments 237 to 240 are designed to make certain that the measures are integrated into local nature reserve strategies and are fit for purpose. By that, I mean that we need to look to wider considerations than just surveying, zoning and compensating or mitigating measures against impacts from activities such as development. My amendments suggest that species conservation strategies need to encompass all factors, as identified by scientific evidence, not just habitat, and that management measures need to reflect that. I have gone on before about management being the forgotten part of the way to improve nature and biodiversity, but it will be hugely important in areas such as this.

There ought also to be a defined basis for favourable conservation status, so that progress can be judged against it and a timescale for the strategies’ application established. That seems logical. Without that, species cannot continue to receive special protection, despite success in improving their conservation status. As we all know, managing nature is difficult to get absolutely right. In some cases, a species may be a factor in the decline of another at-risk species, so if the conservation status target has been achieved, that could make its management in support of the conservation of a more threatened species more acceptable. There is undoubtedly a role for us humans in all this.

I turn to Amendment 242. The Explanatory Notes to Clause 102(4)(e) suggest how Natural England applies the mitigation hierarchy in relation to activities such as development. I am concerned by the clause’s wording of

“adverse impact … that may arise from a plan, project or other activity”, because I think it could limit the use of management tools that, based on scientific evidence, are needed. My amendment would include more than just the development impacts and merely requiring Natural England’s opinion on a matter.

Amendment 244 is similar to my Amendment 236, which is an amendment to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. As I said, I support his amendment, but I believe the Secretary of State should publish

“and make available for consultation” his guidance. It is all very well the Secretary of State publishing guidance, but unless it is properly consulted on, it might not be as effective as it should. Both my amendments require consultation on the guidance. I do not mind whether it is reflected in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, he supports me, or we support each other, as long as we get this clause changed.

Amendments 248 and 249 are to Clause 103. The point of Amendment 248 is that the conservation and management of protected sites need to be based on science rather than opinion. I hope that the Minister will agree with me on that. His fellow Minister, my noble friend Lord Benyon, certainly agrees on that, because, when he answered a Question on pesticides—I do not have the quote with me—he said that scientific evidence was essential to get it right. If scientific evidence is right for pesticides, it is also right in this instance. Amendment 249 seeks to include “landowners”. It is right that everybody with any legal interest is properly covered in this clause, and the omission of landlords does not help.

Amendment 252 to Clause 104 refers to new subsection (3B), which applies to all species licences issued under Section 16(3) of the previous Act. I feel that the existing wording of “no other satisfactory solution” is weak and without meaning. I suggest a different form of words, taken from the general licence, so I hope it will be acceptable to my noble friend. I also feel that

“detrimental to the survival of any population” needs legal definition, so I propose the use of “status” instead of “survival”. “Population” can mean anything from an individual site colony to the total number of that species in the UK. Therefore, scale should come into any definition of “detrimental to the survival”, as reducing a population at local level may not have a bearing on the overall population due, for example, to infill from the current year’s young of that species.

I have not put down an amendment on my next point, but I raise a question for my noble friend, for clarity. Could he tell me—as it is not clear in the Explanatory Memorandum or when I read this part of the Bill—what are the Secretary of State’s powers? Does the Secretary of State retain the power that he needs? This has not happened in Wales, and there has been a major problem, because the Secretary of State has not been able to retake control, as has been seen here in England in 2019, for general licensing relating to Sections 16(1)(c) and 16(3)(c). I support the Secretary of State being able to take control and I hope that my noble friend will be able to confirm that this is in fact the case.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 3:30 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 293A, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, for whose support I am extremely grateful. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and I thank him and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for their support for the interloper amendment in this group, which I hope does not divert too much attention from their respective meritorious amendments.

Lead ammunition use creates multiple problems for which a straightforward solution exists, and that is to ban its use, and by so doing further catalyse the manufacture and sale of available non-toxic alternatives. In accepting that there are other ways to achieve the same objective, what is proposed by Amendment 293A is—by an amendment to Section 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981—to ban the use of toxic lead shot

“for the purposes of killing or taking any wild animal” and requiring this regulation to come into force on 1 January 2023. In the circumstances, this is sufficient time for such a change.

There are no safe levels of lead, which is why regulation has ensured removal of lead from petrol, paint and drinking water. The last largely unregulated release of lead into the environment is from lead ammunition. Some 6,000 tonnes of lead shot and lead bullets are released annually into the UK environment, putting at risk the health of people, wildlife, and livestock, and causing persistent and cumulative environmental contamination. The body of evidence of risks from the toxic effects of lead ammunition is overwhelming and growing, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. Perhaps 10,000 children from the UK hunting community alone are estimated to be at risk of impacts on their IQ and other deficits due to frequent household consumption of lead-shot game meat. Lead poisoning from ammunition ingestion kills an estimated 75,000 water birds per year, plus hundreds of thousands of gamebirds and numerous birds of prey. Domestic livestock is put at risk when feeding on ground which has been shot over through direct ingestion of shot or when feeding on harvested silage from such ground.

Regulation of this sort would benefit the health of people, the intellectual development of children, the health of wild and domestic animals and food safety in restaurants and retail outlets. UK policy is lagging significantly behind the practices and organisational policies of many ammunition users. The vast majority of the shooting community is now behind this change too. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, who has a lifetime of expertise in this regard, will pick up on this point. The National Game Dealers Association has committed to sourcing all game, including gamebirds, duck, venison, and wild boar, from lead-free supply chains from 1 July 2022. Supermarkets and game dealers are suspending sales of lead-shot game meat and our own food outlets here in the Palace of Westminster will not sell you food containing this poison. To continue to allow the circumstances which potentially may occasion the sale of poisoned game from other outlets is no longer justifiable. Yet up and down the country, the health of children is being put at risk wherever lead-shot game meat is consumed by them. In recognition of this and the hundreds of thousands of wildlife lead poisoning deaths each year, health professionals, conservation and shooting organisations and wild game retailers are calling for change.

Non-toxic ammunition is widely available. It is effective and comparably priced. In the 1990s, both Denmark and the Netherlands banned the use of all lead shot, with no impact on the number of hunters, proving that a change to using sustainable non-lead ammunition is possible without impact on the sport. The UK Government have been dealing with the issue and legislation around the problem of lead poisoning from lead shot since 1991. The detail of the multiple costly stakeholder groups, compliance studies, risk assessments and reviews set up by Defra and the Food Standards Agency are well known to the Minister. In 1999, partial regulation focused on protecting wetland birds. However, studies have found the current law to be ineffective at reducing lead poisoning in water birds due to a high level of noncompliance.

Now is the time for policy change. It is now 30 years since the first UK working group on lead shot in wetlands, and one year after the nine main UK shooting organisations—recognising the risks from lead ammunition, the imminent impacts of regulation on lead ammunition in the EU, and the likely impacts on UK markets for game meat—called for change on lead shot.

An identical amendment was debated in Committee in the other place on 26 November 2020. Rebecca Pow, in responding to my honourable friend Fleur Anderson, who moved the amendment, supported the intent of the amendment, and appeared to agree with all the arguments for the ban. Indeed, I expect that the Minister knows and agrees with all the arguments too. He is a well-known advocate of this policy, and probably has deployed all of them himself at one stage. In the debate in the other place, Rebecca Pow, while conceding all the arguments, did not accept the amendment because it did not extend to single-use plastics, of all things. She said that all aspects of the sport needed to be considered and that, as it did not “cover clay pigeon shooting”, it was therefore deficient. She alleged difficulties of detection or enforcement action and, as its extent concerned devolved matters, required legislative consent motions from devolved Administrations—all reasons not to accept the amendment.

These are all alleged impediments that can be overcome, if the Government are willing to engage with the amendment. Set against the continuing known risk to children’s health, none of them can be allowed to be fatal to this amendment, particularly since banning toxic lead gunshot is now the Government’s stated position too. On 23 March, the Government agreed to move further towards a ban, and, in Rebecca Pow’s name, Defra published a press release. In it, she is reported as having said:

“Evidence shows lead ammunition harms the environment, wildlife and people”.

But then she went on inexplicably to announce the commissioning over a two-year period of yet a further review of the evidence and a consultation. During that time, lead ammunition will continue to harm wildlife, the environment, and people.

The effectiveness of an amendment of this nature, as a similar ban has proved in Denmark and the Netherlands, is that it will, at a certain date, remove the demand for lead shot. Only regulation will provide a guaranteed market for ammunition manufacturers; ensure the provision of game, free of lead ammunition, for the retail market; enable cost-effective enforcement; and, importantly, protect wildlife and human health. Action on this issue was recommended in 1983 in the report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on lead in the environment. As Fleur Anderson in the other place said, action is clearly

“long overdue. Now, at last, is the time to act.” —[Official Report, Commons, Environment Bill Committee, 26/11/20; col. 704.]

My simple question to the Minister is, if not now, when?

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord as a fellow advocate. I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, in moving his Amendment 234, on the need to ensure balance in chalk streams, and their protection. We should recognise how popular the sport of angling is and what a wide ecosystem the chalk streams serve.

I particularly support Amendments 235, 236, 242 and 244 and congratulate my noble friend Lord Caithness on his work in this regard; I lend my support to him and my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury in this regard. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said about Clause 102. I will concentrate on subsection (5), which says:

Natural England may, from time to time, amend a species conservation strategy.”

I enjoyed the noble Lord’s cautionary tale on newts and I will share with him a cautionary tale that caused a lot of grief in north Yorkshire at the time. This was a case of bats in the belfry of St Hilda’s church in Ellerburn, in the constituency of Thirsk, Malton and Filey, which I had the honour to represent for the last five years that I served in the other place.

I entirely endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said about achieving balance; part of that balance has to be the rights of humans—in this case, to worship in a place of worship in the normal way. The level of protection that was afforded for years by Natural England defied all logic. I know that this caused a lot of grief within the Church of England and I pay tribute to the work done not just by local parishioners but the Church of England nationally. I do not think that St Hilda’s church at Ellerburn was alone in this regard. The parishioners and worshippers had to evacuate the church, which was effectively closed for human use. There was a huge cost to clean up the church—noble Lords can imagine the damage that was caused by bats flying around in the numbers that there were. As far as I understand it, eventually an accommodation was reached with Natural England.

My greatest concern is that these species should be kept under review. Badger baiting, for example, was finally outlawed in 1968—I forget the actual date—when badgers became a protected species. But these things should always be kept under review. Grey squirrels are now running out of control in many parts of the country and it is almost too late to go back and protect the red squirrel in its natural habitat. So I am very taken by Amendment 236, with its simple request that the proposals be made available for consultation. I would argue that this should be informed consultation for a substantial period of time—at least 12 weeks—so that all parties can be reached.

I hope that we can reach a balance not just between nature and human use but between rural life and urban dwellers. I am not an expert like the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but one could probably argue that bats now are fairly commonplace in many parts of the country, where they have extensive natural habitats and do not have to occupy dwellings such as churches or, in many cases, farmhouses. Giving them have a higher order of protection than humans who are trying to ply their trade or, in the case of Ellerburn church, to worship, is frankly beyond the realms of logic and common sense.

So I endorse the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and, in particular, my noble friend Lord Caithness, and I hope that, by reviewing the level of protection and the health of an individual species, common sense and logic will prevail.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 3:45 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. There is a huge amount of good in this group and I will be somewhat selective in what I cover. I begin with Amendment 241, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and thank him—on behalf of many people in the UK, I am sure—for his championing of chalk streams. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, referred to how these are held in great regard by anglers, but we should not forget the great regard in which they are held right across the country.

I note that, just last month, the River Cam became the first UK river to have its rights declared, in a special ceremony organised by the local group Friends of the Cam. At that ceremony, a version of the Universal Declaration of River Rights, drawn from indigenous principles and river victories around the world, was read out. A lawyer at that event noted that, while of course legally this had no effect, it showed the strength of feeling and the desire to protect the River Cam and its tributaries. I note also that the River Frome in Somerset recently had a by-law drawn up to offer it some protection. It is now for your Lordships’ House to encourage the Government to show a similar level of concern to that we are seeing in affected communities.

Amendment 234, also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, is a classic “must” replacing “may” amendment. We are talking here of course about species conservation strategies. As other speakers have done, I will focus briefly and in particular on Amendment 235, which has cross-party and non-party support; had there been space, the Green Party would certainly also have attached our name to it. We have already heard in considerable detail how important this is, but it really is worth reflecting that the experience of species conservation strategies thus far has been that there is a real risk of focusing on facilitating development rather than protecting species and, crucially, the ecosystems that are fundamental to the continued existence and importance of those species. The great crested newt has already been referred to, but that is just one case where we have failed to see alternative, less damaging solutions considered, including on-site avoidance or mitigation of impacts. What these amendments, particularly Amendment 235, would do is ensure that the mitigation hierarchy is always followed in species conservation strategies. This is absolutely crucial. I also particularly note my support for Amendment 248, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness; the stress on evidence is pretty hard to argue with.

Finally, I will take a little bit of time on Amendment 293A, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred to this as an “interloper amendment”, but I think rather that it is a simple, clear, effective, deliverable amendment to the Bill, and it is hard to see why the Government should not accept it. We have already heard a little about how damaging lead ammunition is, and it is worth going back to the history. Nearly six years ago, Defra got the completed report of the Lead Ammunition Group, which recommended that lead ammunition be phased out. That group was set up at the suggestion of the RSPB and the WWT. The evidence is that, when lead shot goes out into the environment, birds—particularly those who feed on grain over fields—collect and eat it, then predator and scavenger species such as crows and raptors can eat those carcasses, accumulate the lead and die. We know how much pressure many of our raptors continue to be under from illegal persecution, and it is crucial that we protect them from this unnecessary threat.

In putting a sense of scale on this, I am indebted to Tom Cameron, a lecturer in aquatic community ecology at the University of Essex. He has calculated that, if a commercial shooting estate offered a single day of hunting pheasants with an expected bag of 200 birds, a 1:3 kill ratio might be expected. Using a standard game load of 32 grams of No. 5 lead shot, with each cartridge containing around 248 pellets, that would be 25 kilograms of lead shot from just one day of fairly typical shooting. As the academic says, you could argue for doing a full calculation across the country, but

“it’s clear that it’s a lot” of lead being put out into the environment—and wholly unnecessarily.

I also note a new study published in the British Ecological Society journal People and Nature, which showed, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that significant numbers of shooters are comfortable with moving away from lead shot. I also compliment the noble Lord on discovering that noble Lords in this House are protected from the risk of ingesting that lead; however, many children in our society still are not.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to a study conducted last year in lockdown that showed that the voluntary phase-out, which was supposed to begin in February 2020, was not working. It is worth noting a detail from that study on pheasants bought from game dealers, butchers and supermarkets around the UK. Of 180 birds examined by the scientists, 179—all but one—had been shot with lead. A year into this voluntary five-year phase-out, it clearly is not happening. This amendment is simple, clear, extremely deliverable and—to come back to the word “evidence”— extraordinarily well-evidenced. I very much hope that we see the Government taking action.

Photo of The Earl of Devon The Earl of Devon Crossbench

My Lords, I rise to offer a few words regarding the amendments of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, particularly Amendments 236 and 248, which seek more specificity around the objectives and methods of consultation for species conservation and protected site strategies. As I have repeatedly noted—maybe I sound a bit like a stuck record—the well-intentioned setting of environmental strategies and goals is in danger of belabouring beleaguered farmers and land managers with yet more confusing, conflicting and expensive mandates that will limit their ability to operate productively, if at all.

As the NFU has long stated, it is not possible to go green if you are in the red. However worthy the objectives of species and site protection laid out, they will never be met if we drive farmers and rural businesses out of business. I trust Defra will keep this in mind as it develops policy under these provisions, and I hope the Minister provides substantial assurance that a balance will be met between nature and rural business.

Separately, I will address Amendment 293A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and others regarding the necessary prohibition of toxic lead shot. It comes as no surprise to your Lordships that Earls of Devon have hosted and supported shoots for many centuries, including of both wildfowl and reared game birds, in which both lead shot and, more recently, non-lead alternatives were used. Contrary to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, I understand that the industry is taking positive voluntary steps to move away from lead shot, as well as single-use plastics, and on a five-year timeline that allows for the development of suitable alternatives that can equal the effectiveness of lead. I do not, therefore, see that it is necessary to legislate for such a change, particularly in such a short timescale.

The principal danger of setting an unduly short timescale is that the industry is left with inadequate alternative loads, which will only increase the likelihood of injury and suffering to quarry. The essential development of alternatives will take time, and the industry, on which many thousands of rural jobs depend, particularly in deprived areas of north Devon, should be permitted to take the time necessary to make these essential changes.

Finally, I note the considerable concern about children eating lead. If we can get children and families eating game—pheasants and partridges—it will be a blessed thing. If we can remove lead from the game before they do so, it will be even better.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and to hear his expertise. I offer my support for Amendment 235, so ably addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others. I have sat with the noble Lord for a number of years, recently in our environment and energy committees, and his grasp of environmental issues and experience influenced many of our conclusions, so it is a pleasure to follow up by supporting this amendment.

The Bill would be improved if the objectives on which the conservation strategy should focus were in the second paragraph of this clause. I, like many noble Lords, would like to see the Government bring forward their own list of objectives at the next stage of the Bill, as most of us would not like to see the Secretary of State hand Natural England a completely blank sheet, as if it were the inheritors of the desired Henry VIII powers.

The Bill goes on to list the activities that Natural England will be required to fulfil in setting out its species conservation strategy. These would be clearer and more focused if the objectives were listed. Of course, any list may turn out not to be perfect and again, this spills over into what power there will be to make amendments and who will exercise it. This question is similar to that in a later group of amendments we will deal with, in which we will consider the powers a Secretary of State should have to amend regulations in the light of experience.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, is an example of the expertise he holds in this area. The House benefited from hearing from him.

My noble friend Lord Caithness has many amendments in this group, and I support him in his efforts to bring greater clarity to these clauses. His Amendment 252 relates to the clause dealing with wildlife conservation licences. When we were dealing with environmental targets, the Minister introduced an amendment that allows him to make regulations to manage species abundance. As I am sure he is well aware—other noble Lords have spoken of this—he may set the targets but, as is increasingly accepted, much of this can be achieved only by other species management. Making sure that the legislation is fully appropriate is increasingly important. In this area, management becomes a question of having feet on the ground.

Only a few days ago on the “Farming Today” programme, there was a report on an RSPB reserve—in Wiltshire, I think—which made sure that all its habitat was suitable for encouraging many endangered small birds. However, this did not happen until it began to deal with what were termed “generous predators”—I find this a rather descriptive phrase—such as foxes, all kinds of corvids and stoats. My noble friend Lord Caithness’s amendment makes sure that the issue of licences is approached in a practical way. Experience in this field will be what counts, so I will listen with interest to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords), Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords)

My Lords, I will add a few words in support of Amendment 235 in the name of my noble friend Lord Krebs and others. Of the various amendments in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I single out Amendment 242, which seeks to give an express power to Natural England to amend, update or withdraw a species conservation strategy.

The point to which my noble friend Lord Krebs’s amendment is directed is that a species conservation strategy—the “recovery of nature”, as he put it—needs careful planning if it is to achieve its objective. Natural England, which will be responsible for producing these strategies, is well equipped to do this. It already has expertise in dealing with protected species and sites for their conservation and protection, but the strategies will have to be shared with and explained to local planning authorities. Their full co-operation is essential to the success of this strategy.

There can be no doubt that this process will be assisted by a clear understanding of the objective, and the careful, step-by-step approach that the amendment describes. Of particular interest is the reference to informing the definition of the favourable conservation status of relevant species of fauna or flora. This is not just about mitigation of loss. It is about planning for the future, which every conservation strategy should seek to achieve. That requires a clear understanding of the level that conservation must achieve so that each species within the habitat may be secure against loss of that species in the future. That means that it needs protection against its possible competitors or predators and, indeed, against possible harm by commercial interests. Establishing this understanding and the research that will underpin it as one of the objectives will add real value to the success of this new strategy. That is why I am very much in support of this amendment.

As for the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about the power to amend, update or withdraw being given to Natural England, its value really speaks for itself. It may be said by the Minister that it is unnecessary, but there is no mention of any power to amend, update or withdraw in the recently published factsheet. An assurance by the Minister that Natural England will have this power anyway, and an explanation of where it is to be found, would be very welcome. Unless the Minister can do that, I hope that he will accept this very sensible amendment, to add clarity to the Bill.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative 4:00 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, I am delighted to be speaking in this short debate. I added my name to Amendment 235, so well introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but I have very little to add to what has been said.

The poor old great crested newt, which keeps getting mentioned, has had a bit of a bad press. I think it is because of its name, people saying that some of our laws and regulations make it difficult for developers and that “you only have to find a great crested newt and that will stop it”, but even if it is not a flagship iconic species, it is just as valuable. I mentioned the great crested newts of Uxbridge in my maiden speech in the other place in 1997. We have them in several very small pond reserves belonging to either the London Wildlife Trust or the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust.

I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, speaking as a member of the Bat Conservation Trust, that bats have a highly protected status. They are easily interfered with. There is an active “bats in churches” study group, because bats can cause disruption within churches, causing dismay to congregations, but they are far from common and increasing. Only the other night I was delighted to use my bat detector to discover some pipistrelles, the commonest species, flying around the garden. We must be careful.

However, I support the idea that we want to be flexible in some of these areas. There are species that may start off needing complete protection but do very well, and their position then endangers other species. My noble friend Lord Caithness put it very well when he talked about managing these things. It is a mistake to think that we can just let nature take care of itself. The majority of our landscapes and habitats are manmade. We interfere and if we are not careful, what we do can cause even more problems.

I had forgotten about Amendment 293A. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, said when introducing it, it is perhaps not in context with some of the others. I do not agree with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that we need more time. We have had as much time as possible. The toxicity and the need to stop it has been raised for years. I have been active on this for many years and my impression is that the game shooting organisations know that this is coming and will be prepared for it. I have spoken to cartridge makers and so on. They have alternatives. A lot of the ideas about the alternatives not being as good have been proved incorrect. To score some points back with my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the Danes have got it right. It does not interfere with the sport. It is a toxic thing that should be removed.

If my noble friend the Minister wants some help on this, perhaps he can speak to the Treasury. If it could put an incredible surcharge on lead shot, perhaps we could force it out of the market, but the best way is to start by saying that it should not be used for killing wild animals and birds. The toxicity of clay shoots is terrible because it is in the same area. In various places they have had to close while they detoxify the area. It is appalling and incredible that in the 21st century we still allow this toxic chemical to enter the food chain of not only wildlife but humans.

I say to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that I welcome the use of game in diet. It is a great thing, but we should not be doing it while there is lead in there.

Photo of The Earl of Shrewsbury The Earl of Shrewsbury Conservative

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 293A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, whom I congratulate on bringing this matter forward. I have added my name to the amendment. I declare an interest as a former chairman of the Firearms Consultative Committee at the Home Office. I am a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, a former chairman and former president of the British Shooting Sports Council, a former president of the Gun Trade Association and a member of BASC and the GWCT. I hope your Lordships will deduce that I know a little about shooting and lead shot.

As we have heard, lead is acknowledged as a poison. It is banned in paints, petrol, fishing weights, water and a raft of other products. Recently, nine major quarry shooting associations—as I said, I am a member of BASC—came together in a statement, saying that their intention is for the shooting sports to cease the use of lead shot, or toxic shot, within five years. Waitrose, the supermarket chain, has told me that it will sell only game shot with non-toxic shot from next year. The National Game Dealers Association, which sells the vast majority of game-bird meat and game meat in general intends to do the same by July 2022. The vast majority of my game-shooting friends and acquaintances, and the majority of those to whom I speak in the game-shooting world, are already planning to move to non-toxic shot in the coming season, including myself.

The technology of steel shot, biodegradable wads and recyclable cartridge cases is being rapidly moved forward by cartridge manufacturers such as Eley Hawk. Indeed, I am personally actively making the switch as quickly as I can. The move away from lead shot is gaining momentum all the way through America, Europe and other countries.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said, the Lead Ammunition Group recently conducted a major inquiry into lead in shooting. I have to say that it was not done just by the bird-watching enthusiasts, as she said; it was actually done by the shooting world as well. It was led by a gentleman called John Swift, who happened to be the chairman of BASC at the time, so I think that it ought to have a little credit for that.

We have been around this lead racetrack, so to speak, ad infinitum. I repeat that lead is a poison—we all know that. It should not be permitted to enter the food chain, full stop. I agree with noble Lord, Lord Krebs, entirely: Her Majesty’s Government need to place all in the game-shooting industry in a position where they know with what timescale they must comply. This would give assurance to them and mean that they can make the changes necessary. Many of them will have to retool equipment—as I say, lead shot is on its way out—and manufacturers such as Eley Hawk are having to change their ways, and are doing so very successfully.

However, this does not happen overnight. Many guns—London Best guns, for instance—that were built a long time ago to shoot lead shot cannot shoot steel shot, so that has to be looked into as well. This is quite a complicated subject—not an easy “We’ll do it today” job. If the Government were to make up their mind and push the shooting industry into this a little harder, with a date that we know we comply with, that would be a very good thing, and I would strongly support it.

The market for game and game meat is of course substantial. The game dealers and the supermarkets are changing their ways. Waitrose tells me that, by the time it goes toxic-shot-free next year, it may well be able to sell more than a million more game birds— that is just one supermarket chain. That is good for the shooting industry. We need to be able to find decent new markets where we can sell this excellent low-calorie meat.

I am very aware that this amendment probably requires further work, so I ask my noble friend the Minister—we had a brief conversation outside the Chamber before this debate started—if he would very kindly meet with the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and me as soon as possible to discuss this further before Report.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter.

Photo of Baroness Parminter Baroness Parminter Chair, Environment and Climate Change Committee, Chair, Environment and Climate Change Committee

My Lords, the discussion on this grouping has been quite lengthy. I echo the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, in thanking my noble friend Lord Chidgey for his excellent championing of chalk streams in this and earlier groupings. I very much hope that the Government will respond positively to the suggestion of this new designation for chalk streams. I will not speak for long because most points have already been covered.

I added my name to Amendment 235 of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on species conservation strategies, and I very much support his comments. We need to ensure that they support nature recovery and not faster development. It is right that, as the comments that have been made by noble Lords around the Committee showed, there is unanimous support for this amendment. That is indicative of the level of concern that we have about what the Government might be proposing in terms of future planning reforms coming down the track. If we can get this clear in the Environment Bill, that could give us some level of assurance. For those reasons, we on this Bench also support the 10 amendments of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who is looking to make these species conservation strategies work better. They are a good tool, but they need to work better, so we support all those amendments.

Amendment 293A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, on lead shot has drawn the support of the majority of the Committee, although not that of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, I note. Those noble Lords who know my background are aware that I hold absolutely no brief for supporting the game industry, but it is a sign when people on both sides of the Committee—those who support the industry and those who have had concerns about a number of country sports in the past—can come together to support this amendment, which I do wholeheartedly.

I take issue with the noble Earl, Lord Devon: there are plenty of alternatives, which the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, mentioned. I commend the evidence not only from Denmark but also from the Netherlands, which banned lead shot over 30 years ago. To my certain knowledge, this has not reduced the number of hunters in the Netherlands. The European Union is now looking to ban lead shot, and the industry is in step with that. It is to the credit of the responsible end of the shooting fraternity that it supports this amendment.

We cannot say that the industry has not had time to act. I have been in this House for 10 years and remember asking my first question when the Oxford symposium report of noble Lord, Lord Krebs, was published, and the Government were at that time being rather laggardly in putting a response together. The industry has known that this is coming—there are alternatives and it is time for it to act. I say to the industry—I am sure that that it will not want to hear this from someone like me—that if it wants the support of rural communities for rural sports, it needs to be responsible. Alternatives that work are out there. There are alternatives that will save the health and mental ability of our children.

In a week when Henry Dimbleby will produce his food strategy, to which the Government will have to respond, which is all about producing healthy, sustainable and affordable food, it would be absolute madness for the Government not to act now. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, so rightly put it, this is a no-brainer. We need to do it to protect the health of our children and ensure the health and well-being of domestic animals and those in the environment. I implore the Government to listen to what has been said by the majority of people around this Committee and the consensus on both sides of the debate—and to accept this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:15 pm, 12th July 2021

We have had a really interesting debate—it has covered quite a lot of areas. I offer our strong support for Amendment 241 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey.

I am enjoying our Committee debates, particularly last week’s. Many concerns have been raised about the condition of our chalk streams. We know that they have particularly pure, clear and constant water from the underground chalk aquifers, and they flow across gravel beds, which makes them absolutely perfect sources of clean water and ideal for lots of wild creatures to breed and thrive in. However, we also know that too many have been overused and undervalued, drained almost dry in places and polluted in others. Research shows that a third of the water that we take from our rivers is wasted. The Angling Trust has said:

“The fate of England’s chalk streams is the litmus test in terms of how this country treats its environment.”

So we thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for tabling this amendment for better protections for our chalk streams, which are so badly needed. Again, I offer our strong support.

We also strongly support Amendment 235, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which would ensure that the primary purpose of species conservation strategies is to support the recovery of nature, rather than to facilitate faster development. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, the debate today has shown huge support for his amendment. A strategic approach to species conservation is essential to preserving biodiversity and enabling nature’s recovery. This should include protecting, restoring and creating habitat over a wider area to meet the needs of individual species. Strategic approaches to species conservation are clearly essential. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, talked about her experience of bats, for example. It is vital that we enable this recovery of nature. Between 2013 and 2018, 46% of conservation priority species in England declined. We know that many of these species would benefit from a strategic plan resulting in all relevant public bodies taking appropriate actions to save and restore them. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, asked for clear objectives to be set out, and this is clearly important.

The proposal for species conservation strategies must also be understood in the context of the net-gain offsetting that we already discussed in Committee last week. Our fear is that there could be unintended consequences. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, outlined his concerns that, sadly, the overall result could be to allow the destruction of habitats and protected species in return for new habitat creation elsewhere. A developer could be licensed to proceed with activities that destroy habitats and species in return for contributing to habitats that support the wider population of that species. We share the noble Lord’s concern that this could allow a developer to proceed without protecting every specimen of a protected species and without always undertaking the appropriate site-specific survey work. We do not want to speed up development and reduce costs, which would ultimately do the opposite of what the Bill is trying to achieve.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, mentioned the importance of planning authorities having a clear understanding of what is required, and this will be needed if these proposals are to be implemented well. We need to contribute to the conservation of certain species but, if that is managed badly or applied inappropriately, we could end up with it being nothing more than a shortcut to getting around some of the protected species obligations. Can the Minister confirm that, where species conservation strategies are used in cases of development planning, species’ needs will dictate the outcome, with the overriding presumption and priority being for on-site or local, rather than off-site, mitigations? Will he also confirm that biodiversity net gains will be additional to meeting the legal and policy requirements within the species conservation strategies?

We are looking for some serious reassurance from the Minister that the species conservation strategies will not lead to perverse outcomes. We need to ensure that they are delivering gains for nature rather than gains for developers. Can he also confirm that site-specific impact assessments at the time of planning or of other consent applications will still be carried out to ensure that all impacts are identified and addressed? We need assurance that each strategy will be framed around the conservation objectives of the sites concerned, as well as any other conservation considerations.

I will now move on to the amendments tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who made some very important points in his introduction. I am sure that noble Lords will support his important aim; all we want to do is to make this part of the Bill work better, and his amendments ably try to do that. We need to look to wider concerns that encompass all factors, not just habitats. The noble Earl made an important point when he talked about management being a forgotten activity that will help deliver success to our conservation strategies, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, supported him in that. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, also asked for assurances from the Minister about support for farmers and rural businesses. Again, this is an important area that must not be forgotten.

Turning to Amendment 293A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton, I thank him for his very detailed introduction. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, for sharing his extensive knowledge and experience of this matter. As the EU proceeds towards a ban on all lead ammunition, UK policy is lagging significantly behind the practices and organisational policies of many ammunition users. As my noble friend Lord Browne said so eloquently, there are no safe levels of lead—it affects all major body systems of animals, including humans. As the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, said, regulation has ensured removal of lead from petrol, paint and drinking water. The last largely unregulated release of lead into our environment is from lead ammunition. We have heard that non-toxic ammunition is widely available, and guidance on its use is provided on the website of the British Association for Shooting and ConservationBASC.

We have also heard in this debate that the UK shooting community is preparing for change, which is coming, but voluntary efforts to move away from lead shot have always failed. We need leadership from government, with legislation, if this change is going to happen. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said, this amendment is deliverable. Finally, I ask the Minister: what progress is his department making in bringing this legislation forward and ending this practice?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I will start with Amendment 234, tabled by the noble Lord, Chidgey, and Amendment 235, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but first I will offer some words on the overall objectives of species conservation strategies. The strategies will be developed by Natural England for species that are under threat and would benefit from a more strategic and focused approach to improve their conservation status. They will identify priorities for the species and bring together relevant public authorities, ENGOs and any other interested parties to identify the bespoke solutions needed to tackle the threat each species faces.

I understand the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to ensure that the strategies contribute to nature’s recovery, but Clause 102 already guarantees this. In line with the intention behind the measure, subsection (1) specifically defines the purpose of a strategy as:

“for improving the conservation status of any species of fauna or flora.”

Subsection (4) elaborates on the elements that the strategy may contain, including creating and enhancing habitats with the explicit purpose

“of improving the conservation status of the species”.

The mitigation hierarchy is also set out in subsection (4), as we are clear that each species will require a bespoke approach to avoidance or mitigation of harm or the creation of compensatory habitat. It is important that Natural England is given a power in the Bill to create strategies where they are likely to have the biggest possible impact. Changing “may” to “must”, as suggested by Amendment 234, would therefore change that power into a duty to create strategies, and this would place an unreasonable obligation on Natural England to create a very large number of strategies, including for species which would see little or no benefit. We think that it makes more sense for Natural England to focus its resources where strategies can provide the most benefit for key species in decline.

Natural England is already working with relevant conservation groups to develop the first strategies; others are in the pipeline, including—to answer the noble Lord, Lord Krebs’s question—for the dormouse and water vole. I think he said that it is also the case that the district-level licensing approach is not considered to be something that would work for bats. That is our view as well, so we will not be using that approach.

On Amendment 241, I share the determination of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, to protect our chalk streams, as many noble Lords do. Restoring our internationally recognised and important chalk streams is already a government priority. Species conservation strategies, however, are bespoke, targeted measures to help protect specific species at risk. Although they will by their nature and design help restore the habitats and ecosystems without which those species cannot flourish, they are not the best mechanism for achieving that specific aim. While activities to help a particular species may involve necessary actions to improve habitats such as chalk streams, the focus needs to remain on the species itself.

For example, I mentioned that Natural England is working with NGO partners to develop a strategy for water voles. Given that water voles are often found living along chalk streams, any plan for their conservation will invariably include measures to protect chalk stream habitat, but it would need to go further and wider to ensure that all other vole habitat was included in the strategy. I know that the noble Lord is a strong advocate for chalk streams. I assure him that the Government are already working with stakeholders to develop an action plan to restore and protect our valuable chalk streams.

It was said powerfully by the noble Lord as well as by others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that chalk streams in their natural condition are home to an extraordinary profusion of natural life. Botanically, they are the most biodiverse of all English rivers. They offer a colossal range of habitat niches for invertebrates, fish, birds and mammals. Brown trout and Atlantic salmon are indigenous to all English chalk streams and they provide fantastic habitat for the otter, water vole, water shrew and more besides. As we know, the water vole has suffered extreme decline, mostly as a consequence of the release of the American mink. Chalk streams where the mink is absent or where trapping regularly happens provide extraordinary habitat where the vole can reach high densities.

One of the draft recommendations of the chalk stream restoration group is that chalk streams be given an overarching protection and priority status. The strategy is being consulted on right now. We will look at the recommendations when the final strategy is published, including any recommendations on providing further protection for chalk streams.

I welcome the interest from my noble friend Lord Caithness in the operation of the strategies. On his Amendment 236, we are keen to avoid adding rigid requirements for formal consultation that might delay putting the strategies into effect. We recognise that we will not be able to deliver the best strategies without consulting the experts, a point that he made. Natural England is already working closely with NGO partners such as Wildlife and Countryside Link to draft the principles for the design and operation of the strategies, which will be published in due course. However, adding requirements for formal consultation would delay putting those strategies into effect and add unnecessary hurdles to getting them into operation, which is clearly our priority.

I say in response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, that Section 14 of the Interpretation Act states that the power to make regulations implies the power to revoke, amend or re-enact them. In our view, that is analogous with the power for Natural England to prepare statutory strategies such as the species conservation strategies.

On my noble friend Lord Caithness’s other amendments, which I shall not list, the clause as drafted is intended to be flexible to allow strategies to be prepared for any species where it will help deliver better conservation outcomes. These proposals risk constraining that flexibility. Specifying elements which “must” be included in a strategy would be unnecessarily rigid, as some elements may not be appropriate; for example, not all species require “consents or approvals” related to granting planning permission, which is one of the elements set out in the clause. The power to amend a strategy includes the power to withdraw it, if needed. Requiring a formal review, including consultation, which could add weeks or months, could delay that process, hindering Natural England’s discretion to make improvements and its ability to make changes rapidly if needed.

My noble friend asked me whether the Secretary of State’s powers in relation to the general licence remain intact. The current system is being looked at; the commitment is that it will be updated if necessary. If there is an update beyond what I have just said, I will write to him with details after this debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked whether net gain is additional to the species conservation strategies or the protected site strategies. The answer is yes.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for his Amendment 293A. The Government fully support the principle of addressing the impacts of lead in ammunition. He is also right that I want action in this area and have spoken on this issue numerous times in the past. As he knows, the Government have asked the Health and Safety Executive to produce a UK REACH restriction dossier on the risks posed by lead in ammunition. We made that request in March this year. The noble Lord’s amendment would prohibit use of lead shot in shotguns for the purposes of killing or taking any wild bird or wild animal, but it does not address the use of lead ammunition in other situations, such as clay pigeon or target shooting, where lead poisoning will also occur. We want and need to tackle that too.

The Government have asked the Health and Safety Executive to consider a wider and more ambitious restriction than the amendment currently seeks. I appreciate the noble Lord’s intention in proposing the amendment. It is a key issue, and I warmly welcome this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, it really is a no-brainer. As a number of noble Lords have commented, the voluntary methods that have been in play so far have not worked. Reductions in the use of lead have been unimpressive, and, as my noble friend Lord Randall said, alternatives exist. I say with no disrespect to him that my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury made the same argument, and his CV is surely second to none on this issue. I am extremely happy to agree to meet him at a time that suits him and will be in touch after the debate.

Throughout our debates this afternoon, we have heard passionate speeches from noble Lords about the importance of conservation. I hope I have assured them of the role of species conservation strategies as just another, very important tool at our disposal to address the issues affecting our most sensitive habitats and species in a way that is tailored to local needs and encourages innovative approaches. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:30 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, I have received one request to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, I heard what my noble friend the Minister said regarding the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. Does he not agree that even if we banned the use of lead ammunition in killing wild birds and animals, although it would not address target and clay pigeon shooting, surely that would set the whole thing off? Would it not be a great first move to make?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am very keen for us to make progress as quickly as we can. I understand frustrations with the REACH process. My understanding is that that process is best placed to deliver the change we need despite the time that it takes. If it is possible to move more quickly, given that we know that the science is pretty clear and that alternatives exist, I would certainly be open to pursuing those opportunities. If my noble friend would like to join me in my meeting with my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury, he would be very welcome.

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat

I thank all noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken in support of my amendment. The vigour of the debate was very encouraging for me and my fellow Hampshire men and women who are trying to do something to protect our environment and the habitats that we have lived with and cherished throughout our lives.

I also thank the Minister for his remarks. It is encouraging that the Government are taking this issue seriously and are already debating with the proprietors of the chalk stream restoration strategy report, which I understand will be submitted to government in September. That being the case, I look forward to going with colleagues and friends into discussions with government beyond then to see whether we can address these issues, which are so important to our native land. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 234 withdrawn.

Amendments 235 to 245 not moved.

Clause 102 agreed.

Clause 103: Protected site strategies

Amendments 246 to 251 not moved.

Clause 103 agreed.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to Amendment 251A. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.