Amendment 387

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (13th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 18 May 2023.

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Lord Randall of Uxbridge:

Moved by Lord Randall of Uxbridge

387: After Clause 151, insert the following new Clause—“Purposes and plans of protected landscapes(1) National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty must be managed in order to contribute to—(a) restoring, conserving and enhancing biodiversity and the natural environment;(b) meeting environmental targets under Part 1 of the Environment Act 2021 and the Climate Change Act 2008;(c) the implementation of any relevant local nature recovery strategies under section 104 of the Environment Act 2021;(d) the delivery of an environmental improvement plan prepared under section 8 of the Environment Act 2021; and(e) equitable opportunities for all parts of society to improve their connection to nature of those areas and the enjoyment of their special qualities.(2) The purposes included in subsection (1) must be prioritised in addition to the purposes listed in section 5 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, section 2 of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988 and section 87 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.(3) Relevant management plans must include targets and actions intended to further the purposes specified in subsection (2).(4) Relevant management plans include plans under section 89 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, section 66 of the Environment Act 1995 and section 3 of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988.(5) In exercising or performing any functions in relation to, or so as to affect, land in a National Park, the Broads or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, any relevant authority must further the purposes specified in subsection (2) and the targets and actions in the relevant management plan.(6) The Secretary of State must maintain a publicly available list of relevant authorities who are to comply with subsection (5), publish a statement setting out instructions for relevant authorities, and review this list and statement at least every five years.(7) A management plan may not be made operational until it is reviewed by Natural England and approved by the Secretary of State.”Member's explanatory statementThis new Clause supplements the statutory purposes of protected landscapes by giving them additional purposes. Key parts of existing legislation, such as the Sandford Principle, would still apply. The amendment also places stronger duties on relevant authorities and updates requirements for protected landscape management plans, to ensure that all relevant authorities take more action to recover nature and tackle climate change within those landscapes. This implements key recommendations from the Glover Review of Protected Landscapes.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, the Government have set themselves a tremendous triple task: by the end of the next Parliament, we must protect 30% of the UK for nature; also, by 2030, we must halt the terrible decline in British wildlife, which has been marching on for centuries; and, by 2050, we must end the era of fossil fuels and create a net-zero economy. I am proud of the role that this House played in setting the world’s first legally binding target to halt the loss of biodiversity during the passage of the Environment Act. I am proud of the role that my noble friend Lord Goldsmith and others played in securing a new global biodiversity framework with the same ambitious objectives.

The question before us today is whether we will make the land management reforms we need to deliver those three big promises. Serious improvements in land management are definitely needed. The abundance of priority species in England has declined by a staggering 82% since I was a boy and continues to decline by a further 2% a year. Instead of locking away carbon, 87% of English peatlands are still net carbon emitters. By some expert estimates, just 3% of the land is properly protected for nature. If we are going to turn things round, the UK’s great landscapes will be critical to our success.

Together, the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty cover a quarter of England. They are home to nine out of 10 threatened bird species and contain half of England’s priority habitats. From the chalk streams of the Chilterns, which we have discussed, to the blanket bogs of Dartmoor, they contain some of the rarest and most extraordinary habitats in the world.

Many of us probably imagine that our protected landscapes are already a backbone for biodiversity protection. Unfortunately, the truth is quite different. Nature in many protected landscapes is seriously deteriorating. Only 26% of sites of special scientific interest in national parks in England are in favourable condition, compared with a national average of 38%. In other words, our most important sites for biodiversity are often in worse condition inside protected landscapes than they are elsewhere. Critical habitats, such as peatlands, continue to leech out carbon as they are dried, overgrazed and degraded.

To meet our climate and nature targets, I submit that we cannot let this continue. The national parks and AONBs were conceived before we knew the extent of the nature and climate crisis. I am extremely grateful to have the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Willis of Summertown and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville for my Amendment 387 and for the amendments I was unable to move when I was absent. Amendment 387 would bring national parks and AONBs up to date with a new statutory purpose dedicated to the delivery of those landmark legislative targets in the Climate Change Act and the Environment Act. To give those purposes effect, it would require national parks and AONBs to prepare management plans to help meet those targets, and it would require relevant public authorities to act in a way that drives delivery. I reassure the Committee that the new purposes would sit alongside established priorities, such as natural beauty and cultural heritage, in accordance with the long-standing Sandford principles.

In her recent letter to Peers, my noble friend the Minister suggested that the general biodiversity duty created by the Environment Act 2021 might suffice. While that change was welcome, a general biodiversity duty is notoriously soft and difficult to apply; it is a world away from a specific duty to contribute to the delivery of clear nature and climate targets. Instead, the duty in the amendment creates a critical legal link between the Government’s objectives and everyday land management decisions in protected landscapes, when they are made by bodies such as Natural England, Highways England, Forestry England and local authorities.

Noble Lords need not take my word for it: the proposals in the amendment are in line with the recommendations of the Government’s own Glover review of protected landscapes; they are in line with the views of Sir John Lawton and dozens of other scientists who have written in support; and they are backed by nature charities, including organisations such as the Campaign for National Parks. Making these changes cannot guarantee that the Government will meet their nature and climate targets—for that, we will have to go much further in supporting wildlife-friendly farming, curbing pollution and investing in sustainable development—but the evidence suggests that, without these changes, our chances of stopping climate change and saving nature will be dashed before we even begin.

I hope that Members of the Committee will remember the fantastic progress we made in the Environment Act and the Climate Change Act, and will join me in urging the Government to take this next, necessary step towards delivery. Protecting England’s great landscapes for their natural beauty was a masterstroke of political foresight in the post-war period. Now it is time for us to chart their next chapter and ensure that national parks and AONBs will be at the heart of climate and nature recovery. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Willis of Summertown Baroness Willis of Summertown Crossbench 5:30, 18 May 2023

My Lords, before speaking to the amendment, which I strongly support, I remind the Committee of my role as a director of Natural Capital Research Ltd.

I see the amendments as really important to meet not only our environment targets but the COP 16 targets, to which the Government signed up last December to achieve at least 30% of our landscape as “protected for biodiversity” by 2030. How close are we to this target? According to JNCC estimates of protected areas in the UK, 28% of our land is already protected. Although 3% in seven years does not seem too bad, that percentage includes national parks and AONBs; if we take those out, the total amount of protected land is reduced to around 11.35%. In fact, without including the national parks, many people, myself included, would agree that there is no chance we will achieve 30 by 30. I know that the Minister is very keen to reach that target; he told me that it is written above his desk, so I am holding him to that.

Why can we not include national parks in that figure? That seems really counterintuitive. Although most people think of national parks as beautiful biodiverse landscapes, we need to think again. The vast majority of our national parks and AONBs are not currently managed for their biodiversity; in fact, biodiversity is not in their strategic plan and is not required of them. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, explained very well, this was pointed out in the excellent Glover review on national parks and AONBs four years ago. What the review suggested was that we need urgent changes to our legislation on national parks so that we make them focus strategically on biodiversity conservation and enhancing natural capital. But it gets worse: it is not that they just do not pay attention to doing that; if you looked at some of our national parks, you would think they were doing the opposite of what is required for biodiversity conservation and meeting our environment targets.

I will give the Committee some examples; the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has already given one on the SSSIs. One of the environmental targets we set this year was a clear target for clean and plentiful water. This is not being met in most of the rivers of our national parks. For example, the River Dove, one of the most scenic rivers in the Peak District, recently had its ecological status measured, and its surface waters reached 6% of what would be classified as “good ecological status”—that is pretty poor. This goes on. In the Brecon Beacons, 27 sections of the River Wye missed their pollution targets last year as a result of agricultural land run-off and sewage, as we have seen in the news today. These are not just cherry-picked examples; there are numerous examples such as these of the status of our rivers inside national parks.

The target for clean air is another case. We know that one of the most widespread causes of pollution is from traffic, yet in the last five years we have had three major roads agreed to either around the edge of a national park or through the middle of an area of outstanding natural beauty: the A27 bypass on the boundary of the South Downs National Park, the A47 link road outside the Peak District National Park, and the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine road, which runs right through the middle of an AONB.

Our third target is to enhance our thriving wildlife. The problems meeting that target seem even worse in national parks because, along with the SSSIs having a worse rating inside park boundaries than outside, 17% of the land in national parks is forested. That sounds good, until you realise that a third of that includes forestry plantations, many of which are managed by the Government’s own Forestry England. For example, in Northumberland National Park, 20,000 hectares is forestry planation. These are monodominant plantations managed for their timber, and they are really bad for biodiversity; we cannot pretend that they are not. A fantastic meta-analysis published about six weeks ago looked at data from 338 plantation sites across Europe. In every site, it found lower biodiversity, lower species richness and lower abundance for plants, animals and micro-organisms. Even more worryingly, it found low organic carbon in the soil. We are looking for those soils as a “get out of jail free” card for some of our climate offsetting, yet we are planting forests that do the opposite.

I have cited a few of the brief facts and figures. It might seem as though I am cherry picking but, believe me, I am not; these are real problems. Therefore, I see Amendment 387 as extremely important, because we simply cannot include national parks right now as protected areas. They will not deliver what the rest of world thinks of when we talk about protected areas.

This amendment flags up the whole issue and would give us a legislative structure to say what is really going on in national parks. So, for example, when permits are considered for intensive poultry farms, we would know that there is a legislative process for someone to look at and weigh their effects on water quality. When the highways authority considers putting a road right through an area of outstanding natural beauty, it would have to consider the effects on habitat and air quality. When Forestry England considers a planting regime for these monodominant coniferous plantations, the broadleaves would get a much better hearing because of this amendment.

To sum up, this amendment would lead to our great landscapes having better management in the future. They would then really start to contribute to that 30 by 30 process—otherwise, I really do not know how we will achieve it.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Conservative

My Lords, I have Amendment 471 in this group, which is on a different point. It would insert a new clause on the extinguishment of unrecorded rights of way; it is therefore about footpaths. I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Thurlow, for having put their names to this amendment. Like my noble friend Lord Trenchard, I have not participated in Committee until now, so I apologise for that. Before I get down to the business of the amendment, I need to declare an interest: I am a member of the Ramblers and have been briefed by it about the implications of this particular amendment.

So, to horse: if one opens up an Ordnance Survey map of England and Wales, one finds it criss-crossed with a mass of footpaths, bridleways and other tracks. It is a unique facility that allows anybody—and I do mean anybody—to travel the length and breadth of the country and do so without having to walk, or to walk only rarely, on any tarmac. I am currently walking from Land’s End to John o’ Groats for my private pleasure in stages of about 70 miles. We have just crossed the A66 that the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, referred to and have reached Haltwhistle, and we are travelling on to Scotland on our next session. During those 500 miles, you see every type of countryside, from every angle and, I must say, in every type of weather. Nearly all of the time, the paths are uncontested by the relevant landowner, but not always. Sometimes, obstructions are placed in one’s way. Some are subtle, such as nettles, brambles or thorns; some are not so subtle, in the shape of barbed wire.

An important aspect of this national network is its connectivity. Close a part of the footpath and the value of the whole is diminished, if not lost completely. One has to recognise that there is of course a trade-off between the rights of the landowner who wants to see their land respected and the walker who wants to enjoy our glorious countryside. However, there is a common interest between both parties in that they want certainty, and that is what this amendment and the background to it are all about.

The trade-off was recognised as long ago as 2000 by the then Labour Government. They provided in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act for a statutory right for existing footpaths and bridleways, but gave certainty to landowners by requiring that these be properly registered with the relevant local authority by 31 December 2025. Those not registered by that date would be lost for ever. At that time, a 25-year framework probably did not seem too demanding. In a Question for Short Debate on 2 April 2019, which was initiated by the late Lord Greaves and in which some noble Lords who I see today participated, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, said:

“I shall intervene only briefly. I was Chief Whip in the Commons when the legislation went through, and I assure everyone here that it was not anticipated that there would be a difficulty within that timeframe. It is the problems that arose later, particularly the pressures on local government, that have got us into the position today where it is vital that we look at the timescale again”.—[Official Report, 2/4/19; col. GC 32.]

In the period since, various efforts have been made to persuade the Government to look at the timescale again. Some amendments have been tabled in Committee on other relevant Bills, notably the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, moved an amendment on 21 June 2021. Others have been made by way of Parliamentary Questions.

The difficulty with the timescale, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, in her intervention that I just quoted, was made more pressing by the impact of the pandemic, which slowed—maybe indeed stopped —local authority registration processes. To be fair, the Government recognised this. Their revised position was set out in an Answer given to the noble Lord, Lord Birt, on 17 October 2022. My noble friend the Minister said:

“Repealing the cut-off date will require primary legislation. As soon as an appropriate legislative vehicle has been identified we will use this to repeal the cut-off date”.

No ifs, no buts, no maybes.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch house, we are now just over 18 months away from the cut-off date. We have some 40,000 miles of footpaths currently unrecorded and over 5,000 separate applications, all of which are awaiting local authority registration. To give a few examples, Devon, North Yorkshire and Herefordshire each has over 2,000 miles of unrecorded rights awaiting registration. In the White Paper that led to the Bill we are discussing today, the Government emphasised the importance of health, well-being and pride of place. It is difficult to argue that the achievement of all of these objectives would not be helped by ensuring that we have and preserve our footpath network. Hence my Amendment 471, which would remove the cut-off date and fulfil the commitment given by the Government last November.

Recent rumours, suggestions and stories suggest that the Government are now thinking again and may, at best, propose an extension to the deadline rather than its elimination. To that, I reply that I have been in this House long enough to know that, when half a loaf is available, you should take it. However, such a decision does not help to resolve the basic reason for the delay, which is the inability, incapacity or unreadiness of local authorities to process the applications already made. The Ramblers, other interested voluntary groups and, indeed, individual walkers such as myself have no power to influence events. They watch powerless from the sidelines as this valuable national asset is put at risk. Surely, to remove the cut-off date and end this suspense would cause no real difficulty. I therefore look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Government’s considered response.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 5:45, 18 May 2023

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, and to continue the trend of the afternoon of unusual coalitions across your Lordships’ House after my noble friend Lady Jones agreed fervently with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, on the last group. I entirely agree with everything that the noble Lord just said. I also very much agree with the two initial speeches in this group on Amendment 387, to which the Green group would have added our backing if there had been space. In the interests of clarity and making progress, I will constrain myself to speaking to four amendments: Amendments 467H to 467J in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb —she unfortunately cannot be in your Lordships’ House because she has had to dash off to an emergency dental appointment; I think that we all feel her pain—and my own Amendment 480.

I have a slight structural problem in that those first three are amendments to government Amendment 467G, so I shall try to explain the situation—I hope the Minister will forgive me if I cross over some ground on the government amendment as well—and then briefly set out the details. The background is that maps of access land show people where they are allowed to exercise their current very limited right to roam in England. Public access to these areas of mountain, moor, heath and downland are mapped according to criteria drawn up by Natural England. These maps were published in 2004. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act requires them to be reviewed every 10 years, so this review should have happened in 2014. Then—we are back to the issue of deadlines—the Government extended that deadline by another 10 years and are now seeking to extend it to a full 25 years after the maps were first produced. The first maps took only four years to produce, so why is there this delay in updating them, especially in the light of the Government’s commitment to ensure that everyone lives within 15 minutes walking distance of a green or blue space?

The Government admitted in the other place that

“not all downland was mapped satisfactorily”.

This concession proves what organisations such as the Ramblers have said for a long time: there are areas of the countryside where people should and do have the legal right to roam but are wrongly prohibited from exercising that right because of the failure of the maps. The organisations that have been working on this issue have extensive lists of mapping errors and omissions, many of which have been recognised by Natural England but cannot be corrected until the mapping review takes place. Examples of this span from Cumbria to Northumberland, Somerset to Sussex.

Another failure in the current maps is that there are access islands, where the public have a legal right to roam but no legal means to access the land. Unless you can parasail yourself down into it, there is no way of getting there. These valuable recreation spaces could be opened up and connected to the access network. One example is Letcombe Bassett in Oxfordshire. The mapping review could also open up more downland, particularly in southern and eastern England, which has much less right to roam than upland areas. For example, only 0.6% of land in Kent has a right to roam, compared to 72% of the Peak District.

This mapping review might also open up access to waterways and woodlands, such as the majority of Forestry Commission land that has been voluntarily dedicated as open access land. This could open up access for a good half of the population who do not have it now. The need for a mapping review is clear, as it will give more people rights to access incredible nature sites. Given that it took only four years to do the original mapping, it is nonsense that it should take almost eight more years for the first review to be completed.

The government amendment seeks to remove the duty to conduct further reviews after this one—it will set things in stone when this final review is done and that is it. This looks like an exercise in the Government removing a statutory duty that they have continually failed to deliver, rather than having any real justification. These reviews should be regular and seek continual improvement, because there will of course be mistakes that are not recovered until after the next review. Noble Lords can read the details for themselves but, very briefly, Amendment 467H would allow five years instead of seven to complete the mapping review, Amendment 467J would allow extra rights for appeals and Amendment 467I would allow for a continuous review process. Those are the amendments in the name of my noble friend.

I come now to Amendment 480 in my name. It is interesting that it is very rare that the two Houses are talking about the same issue at the same time: my honourable friend Caroline Lucas had a debate today in the other place on the right of access to nature, which is fitting for these issues that people are very concerned about and which are very much at the forefront of the public’s mind. This Bill gives us the opportunity to address them.

My amendment is a “Let’s have a review” amendment. Noble Lords may say that this is a sign of your Lordships’ House modifying my instincts and making me look for a middle way, which goes entirely against my instincts. In September 2021, when we were debating what is now the Environment Act, I put down an amendment that said: “Let’s have a right to roam in England”. That is still where I want to go, but I am looking for others to back me and ways in which we might make progress in your Lordships’ House, so all this amendment does is say: “Let’s have a review in England about people’s right of access to nature”. Let us not forget that in Scotland, people have the right to roam over most of the countryside: not in front gardens or gardens, not in places growing crops or where you will do damage, but otherwise you can go where you will. By contrast, in England 1% of the population owns half the land—quite a few of them are very familiar to your Lordships’ House—and the other 99% have the right to roam on just 8% of the remainder. My noble friend’s earlier amendments would marginally improve that situation; this is looking for a really big improvement.

I will not talk at length, as I am aware of the time, but I have three quick points on the benefits we could all see from a right to roam. I was at an event this morning where the Rural Policy Group released its annual Sustainable Food report, and we were talking about citizen science, which the Minister was just praising in wrapping up the previous group. We were also talking about the internet of things; someone said how brilliant it would be if we could plant electronic sensors all over the countryside. Someone pointed out that we would have to really fix rural connectivity to the internet before this would go very far, but we could use those electronic sensors to map the numbers of dragonflies, certain birds or butterflies. Of course, if we had a right to roam, we could also have groups of citizen scientists roaming around the countryside doing that mapping for you at considerably lower cost and without all the issues around electronic technology.

Also on the Environment Act there was a great deal of discussion about litter. Much of the litter in the countryside is blown or washed there, and people exercising their right to roam can clean some of it up. Undoubtedly, the biggest argument of all is the issue of public well-being and public health. We know so much now about the need for public health to improve, and we know that the right of access to nature gives that improvement.

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

My Lords, I support and shall speak very briefly to Amendment 471 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. It is really important to recognise at the outset that his amendment is about one specific thing. It is not about the merits or otherwise of public access; it is about the future of the estimated 40,000 miles of historic public rights of way that were omitted from the definitive map in 1949 because the mapping was done in a great hurry. It is not about creating rights that have not previously existed; it is really important to recognise that.

I have form when it comes to public rights of way. For a decade, I chaired Suffolk County Council’s rights of way committee and have spent many happy hours looking at public map modifications and all the things that go along with that. These things are very time consuming, and there are a number of reasons why. One is the complexity of rights of way law. I do not think we are ever going to tackle that, because it would be really difficult to know where to begin; it has been built up over so many decades and centuries and it is a very complex area of law.

There is also the matter of the historical record and the time that needs to be spent going to the Public Record Office, looking at tithe maps and other documents and so on to get an understanding of whether something is or is not an historic public right of way. That is important because, in highway law, when something has once been a highway, it will always be a highway until there is a legal Act to stop it. There are some very lengthy statutory processes. All these add up to a huge demand on local authorities, which have less capacity than they did back in my day. Finally, there is the capacity of the Secretary of State and the appeals process. All these mean that every claim takes a long time to process.

The difficulty is that having a cut-off date beyond which these claims can no longer be made is going to do nothing to address any of those other issues which are causing the capacity problems. In fact, the Deregulation Act 2015 brought in some changes which might have made a difference, but eight years later we are still waiting for the statutory instruments which would bring those in. Not for the first time, I find myself mystified as to why we go to so much trouble to legislate only then to be so laggard in bringing forward the secondary legislation that is required. I say to the Government that there is a very real possibility that a cut-off date, whether it is 2025, 2031 or whenever, could make the situation worse.

From heartfelt experience, I can tell the noble Lord that these user groups are among the most tenacious and determined campaigners you will ever come across. They will do everything they can to make sure that the 41,000 miles that is currently unrecorded gets recorded. They will not be able to do all of it, that much is clear, so some could be lost for ever, but many will go forward as claimed. That means that the current backlog of local authorities will be massively increased. The certainty that I know the Government are seeking to achieve simply will not happen, because these claims are going to sit there for so long. We could have the worst of all worlds, where certainty is not achieved but other public rights of way are lost. That would be a very great pity.

When I first took over as chair in Suffolk, I remember reading a ruling by Lord Denning, in which he said,

“nothing excites an Englishman so much as a footpath”.

I have learned the truth of that, and I hope the noble Lord will recognise that this really could create a huge amount of trouble for everyone if they press ahead with a cut-off date.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Conservative 6:00, 18 May 2023

My Lords, I declare an interest as per the register. I apologise to the Committee that I have not previously participated in these proceedings, but I have been away a lot with the Council of Europe, monitoring elections in Montenegro and Bulgaria, and other places. As an aside, I must say, with Lib Dem Peers here, that Bulgaria adopted a proportional representation system. It has 14 political parties, organised into seven coalitions, and this was the fifth general election in two years we monitored, with exactly the same result as the other four. It has got a completely ungovernable country and, once again, a Government who will shortly collapse.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, that we have 250,000 miles of footpath, and we will shortly have completed 2,000 miles of the King Charles III England Coast Path. That seems to me to be an awful lot of mileage for people to walk on, but of course there are some right to roam fanatics who want to make a political point about having the right to roam on anyone’s land. I think it is more important that we develop footpaths and make sure they are open for access by ordinary people in every part of the United Kingdom.

I really must congratulate my noble friend Lord Randall on an outstanding speech today, moving his amendment; it was highly persuasive. The current amendment is an important opportunity to further nature recovery aspirations across the 24% of England designated as national park or area of outstanding natural beauty. England’s areas of outstanding natural beauty and the national parks are even more important now as we face the climate, nature and well-being challenges of the 21st century. They are more important than when the iconic National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed in 1949, as part of the World War II settlement.

I have lived in the Lake District National Park for about 20 years—just outside it now—and I can honestly say that the biodiversity of the national park is every bit as bad as some of the silage fields outside it, which are crop-bare three times a year and the hedgerows cut down to almost nothing. There is no better biodiversity in the national park. That is something which the amendment seeks to change, and I know the Government want to change it.

There is widespread recognition, including in the 2019 Landscapes Review commissioned by the Government, that aspects of the legislation need updating if our protected landscapes are to be able to rise to these 21st-century challenges and deliver the crucial benefits people and nature need. My noble friend’s amendment is a crucial opportunity to make these important changes, fulfilling the welcome intentions of the Government announced in last January’s initial response to the review. However, if the Government are minded to add a reference to nature recovery and biodiversity, it should be added, in my opinion, with equal priority to the current statutory purposes, not given primacy over the existing purposes. That is where I depart slightly from my noble friend: it should not be given priority over the other purposes but have equal weight.

I suggest also that the duty of regard placed on public bodies is strengthened and extended to encompass delivery of agreed statutory national park and AONB management plans. It is possible that a similar effect to the amendment, regarding statutory purposes, could be achieved if the Government and Defra, and my noble friend the Minister, asked Natural England, the statutory adviser on landscapes in England, to provide further advice or guidance to clarify interpretation of the current wordings, although I accept this would not give the same strength or security, or the signalling, desired by some concerned with the issue. However, I suggest that it might be an acceptable compromise if my noble friend’s amendment is not acceptable in any way to the Government. Without a slightly tweaked amendment or the compromise I have suggested, I am afraid we may miss the opportunity to build in appropriate and more effective tools to protect these landscapes at this critical time.

In my final comment, I say to my noble friend Lord Hodgson that I live near the A66 and, if I had known he was coming, I would have invited him in for a glass or two of Highland Park. I would hope that, after a few glasses, I could have persuaded him to give up this mad idea of walking the whole length and breadth of the country.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their 30 by 30 target. It is an enormous and ambitious thing to take on. In that context, I urge them to support my noble friend Lord Randall’s amendment. We have large areas of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, a lot of which does not sensibly qualify for 30 by 30 at the moment. We have structures within them which could help drive them in that direction, if we pass the sort of amendment that my noble friend has suggested. I like proposed new subsection (5) in particular, which would make other agencies join in the purpose of the national park.

My Amendment 504GJC—after 30 years, I still do not understand how the numbering works, but that is where it is—concerns other effective area-based conservation measures. We are not, I think, going to get to 30 by 30 on the basis of national landscapes. We need a structure which allows not for nature protection to be provided somewhere else but for nature protection to be something that all of us can influence and be involved in.

Fortunately, the Convention on Biological Diversity has provided the concept of an OECM, which I think we can adapt in very positive ways. An OECM could be a corner of a park in a city, or a corner of a school playground that is developed in conjunction with the National Education Nature Park, which I see from the Natural History Museum is starting to be rolled out. It could be this great network of connection that we want farmers to develop across the landscape, so wildlife can move across it. It could even be golf courses, for goodness’ sake—I believe there is one golf course which allows daisies on the fairways. There is real scope for getting wildlife back into golfers’ lives—I have not yet met one who wants it but we will get there in the end.

It was one of the underpinnings of the Dasgupta report that everybody should have an appreciation of and involvement in nature. The structure of OECMs allows us to create that, involving everybody in getting to 30 by 30. The structure I have proposed in Amendment 504GJC has a low threshold, because you want people to be able to join in to begin with, without going through huge layers of bureaucracy, but you may well need a fiercer award within that to qualify for 30 by 30. It identifies an individual who has charge of the area and a purpose for it. This should be something personal which is down to a group of people or an individual landowner, which they are doing themselves and for which they are responsible, for which we can thank them for taking responsibility, but to which we can also hold them to account. I therefore very much hope that the Government will democratise 30 by 30, spreading it out and making it a national rather than a purely institutional ambition, and that they will give us the tools with which we can do that.

Photo of The Earl of Clancarty The Earl of Clancarty Crossbench

My Lords, I support Amendment 387 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.

This is not an area I usually speak on, and I apologise for not having spoken at Second Reading. I am prompted to speak for two reasons. The first is that I live in a national park—which is not so unusual, given that national parks account for 10% of the land in England; many colleagues will live in or near national parks. The second prompt was the very concerned letter that Trevor Beattie, CEO of the South Downs National Park—the newest national park, where I live—wrote to the Guardian in November last year, following the reporting of the 40% cut in real terms in government funding to England’s national parks in the last 10 years. I found this quite shocking, particularly considering current environmental concerns, and I asked an Oral Question on this back in January.

On the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, I am grateful for the helpful briefings from National Parks England and the Campaign for National Parks. I thank Trevor Beattie, South Downs chair Vanessa Rowlands and the rest of their excellent team for the morning I spent in Midhurst last week hearing about the work they do, as well as their ambitions for the future. I very much stress “ambition”. Other noble Lords have provided the technical detail but my argument is really a simple one of principle, or ambition, being turned to practical effect. If we believe that the national parks and other protected spaces are to be considered key resources in the fight against climate change and for nature recovery—not just conservation but recovery and biodiversity—they should be given as many tools as is required to be as effective as possible in these significant and urgent ambitions. Certainly, from my visit to Midhurst there is no doubting the expertise and dynamism of those who work for the parks, and these are measures that they would like to see in place and on a firm legislative footing.

It is clear that we live in a world now with quite different perceptions about nature and our relationship to it than the one that existed when the national parks were set up in 1949, when neither climate change nor biodiversity were concerns, let alone truly urgent ones, and the public have certainly become more aware of the issues and the need address them. The parks ought then to be afforded the legal powers commensurate with our modern understanding of the issues involved. National parks are special places. Almost 30% of the area of national parks is recognised as internationally important for wildlife.

Having said that, it is true of course that the fight against climate change and for nature recovery is a global one without any respect for borders, particularly in the case of climate change. One of the important phrases I heard last week was “permeability”, the importance of the borders and parks being permeable—that people, particularly children from all backgrounds, be encouraged to come into the parks. Another was “taking nature to your doorstep”, which links with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was saying: that outside a park, there is movement in both directions because nature, or indeed environmental concerns, as I said, do not stop at the borders of the park. It seems that all this is about the NPAs having a strong voice that resonates both inside and outside their boundaries. Of course, access is not just about enjoying the parks for their own sake or in the interest of well-being, important though these aspects are. There is an immense educational value here too that needs to be tapped. So, maximising access to protected landscapes should play a significant role in levelling up.

Although our protected landscapes are therefore important in their own right, they are key resources which can act as hubs. However, simply in terms of the protection of these landscapes, much more needs to be done. It is shocking, as the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, that only 26% of SSSIs in England’s national parks are in a favourable condition, compared to a national average of 38%. Our parks need money for the day-to-day work, and they need to be allowed these extra purposes to effectively bring their projects up to date, and for the sake of levelling up. It is important that local authorities are a part of that.

Finally, Glover gives this amendment a strong following wind, and the Government’s own response to the Landscapes Review does so too. I hope the Government are therefore sympathetic to this amendment.

Photo of Lord Thurlow Lord Thurlow Crossbench 6:15, 18 May 2023

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for letting me add my name to his Amendment 471 concerning rights of way.

I have never been able to understand why the Government wanted to apply a guillotine to registering long forgotten and rediscovered public rights of way. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, made a number of interesting points but one in particular stood out for me. No one is attempting the equivalent of a land grab here; there is no rights grab going on. There are no compulsory purchase order-type approaches over land. Rights of way are simply a public asset, and that really is the focus of my short remarks this afternoon.

The Government are keen to open up the countryside to the public. The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, just used the wonderful phrase “taking nature to your doorstep”. Farmers are finding their subsidy linked to the greater good rather than acreage. Access to the countryside is increasingly and frequently cited as a provider of mental health benefits to urban dwellers, and rights of way are one of the very few means of rural access available nationwide. Rights of way have already been levelled up.

The Government have agreed to delay the cut-off date for registering public rights of way to 2031, a token extension, but there seems to be reticence to action their promise to repeal the deadline once and for all. The Bill offers the perfect opportunity for the Government to make good their promise. I would like to know who is prevailing upon the Government behind the scenes to create this anti-social interference with the existing rights of the public, and what entitles the Government to quash the revelation of former rights of way as they are brought to light. We are not requesting new rights of way, simply confirming those which may have existed for centuries. They may have disappeared from the record, but, if verified, have always been there. Surely it is the Government’s duty to protect these public rights.

The key to rediscovering ancient rights of way lies in long-forgotten archives or seldom-accessed archives belonging to public libraries, local authorities, the Church and similar institutions, and to folklore. In addition, they may be found on the ancient maps on the walls of estate offices on large estates. These important ancient rights will inevitably be revealed slowly as the evidence is discovered. Society should rejoice as the network quietly grows, granting greater public access to green spaces. Inevitably, this process of discovery will quietly continue over many years, indeed decades, and to close an ancient right of way is to remove a precious public asset. It is ironic that the Government should be in place to protect public rights, yet willing to abandon them.

As we have heard, there are already thousands of rights of way claims awaiting processing. Some have been in the works for years, and thousands of miles of unrecorded routes need further research. Why do the Government stand in the way of this public service, rather than welcome it? Lift the cut-off date, I urge the Minister, and make good the Government’s promises by supporting the amendment.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

My Lords, I offer support to my noble friend Lord Randall on protected landscapes. We need to know where we are going on this. We are trampling through the devolved competencies. Luckily, Scotland is adopting green policies with even more enthusiasm than local authorities in England, but we always need to bear in mind that the original legislation was the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, and originally, and even today, some see the second part as more important, as we were hearing from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty.

I live in a national park in Scotland, and the Scottish Government are providing millions of pounds every year to staff it and provide facilities for the public. On my land, they have just provided £800,000 to improve a footpath. When we think of the value of national parks for nature, it is worth recalling that for a body called the International Union for Conservation of Nature, our park qualified only for level V, because the only limit they had in law was to preserve the topography. We need to make up our mind what level of nature conservation we desire.

A dedicated percentage of land for conservation and marine conservation areas was announced recently, and the Scottish Government have taken it up and announced a timetable for extension of their marine protected areas. This has brought a sense of desperation, particularly to the crofting counties on the west coast, because they see it as a hammer-blow to the crofting way of life, which requires buying livestock, cutting peat, fishing, weaving and crafts. This is a whole culture which could be lost. There are areas where we want to preserve the way of life, as well as nature. I hope that my noble friend Lord Randall’s efforts will point the way.

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

My Lords, I speak to Amendment 387 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, to which I have added my name, and to Amendment 475 in my name, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has added her name. As an aside, today seems to be the day when Conservative Peers take a pop at the Opposition Benches. Perhaps the recent election results are driving them.

However, I first address Amendment 475, which seeks to ensure that wild camping is included in open-air recreation. I tabled this amendment after hearing the news that Dartmoor National Park was banning wild camping on its land, and this ban had been upheld in the High Court—a win, apparently, for a hedge fund manager. That is a prime example of the wealthy preventing the less well off from enjoying the environment. I have since learned that, through crowdfunding, a judicial review of the decision has been mounted. I understand that the fact that a JR is in process does not prevent me from speaking on the subject.

For years, people have been enjoying outdoor activities on our national parks. In particular, Dartmoor has hosted—if that is the right word—the Ten Tors challenge each year, weather permitting. National parks are also the venue for thousands of young people embarking on their Duke of Edinburgh’s award. This is especially so at the bronze stage, when secondary children go out in groups to orienteer their way round the moors and experience at first hand the importance of working together as a team, witnessing the challenge and pleasure of wide-open spaces, often for the first time. The expedition is often the best part of the DoE award scheme for the young people. Young people involved also learn what nature is, how it behaves and how we interact with it. Hopefully, they learn that nature and the environment have not only to be appreciated but nurtured and looked after. This is something of a rite of passage for many young people, who may not otherwise have this kind of experience.

While national parks are a haven for plants and wildlife, they are also a tremendous tourist attraction, and some tourists bring their own challenges. Thoughtlessness has caused devastating wildfires on many of our heathlands and national parks. The litter left behind over a particularly sunny bank holiday weekend can be a real problem to clear up. However, there are measures that can be taken to raise awareness with the public of the dangers of barbecues, in particular, alongside notices encouraging visitors to take their waste home. That should be at the same time as providing sufficient bins for them to put their rubbish in—unlike in one of the country parks in my previous district council area, when, after one very hectic weekend, the rangers decided to remove the bins altogether. Not surprisingly, the result was even more widespread rubbish to clear up after the next sunny weekend.

Yes, there will be a lot of rubbish to clear up after a large influx of tourists, but this could be an opportunity for the community to come together to help clear it up. We were encouraged after the Coronation to take part to help out, and this included many communities going on mass litter picks. There are many ways both to alert tourists to ensure that their visit does not adversely impact others and make sure they leave the environment they have enjoyed in the same state they found it. Banning a section of them through preventing wild camping is neither helpful nor in line with the Government’s wish to see more people enjoying open spaces. I tabled the amendment in such a way as to ensure the action taken on Dartmoor does not spread to other national parks. Surely the motto should be “Use and respect”, not “Go home, we don’t want you”, which is the message being given out by some in Devon.

Returning to Amendment 387, the ethos of the amendment is straightforward. The national parks across the country, the Broads and AONBs should contribute to the country’s biodiversity targets. They are protected landscapes, and the amendments implement the key recommendations from the Glover review, which has so far not been given the prominence it deserves. I am particularly keen to see proposed new subsection (1)(e), in Amendment 387, implemented. This fits in with my comments on my Amendment 475.

All sections and parts of society should be able to enjoy the natural environment, and those areas which have been designated as national parks, the Broads and AONBs have a critical role in allowing that to happen. Whether you live in inner-city Sheffield, Birmingham, Bristol or Newcastle, you are not that far from a national park or an AONB. By encouraging the public to visit these areas and experience the pleasures that nature has to offer, we will see an increase in the mental and physical health of the population, as the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, indicated. This has to be a win-win situation.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:30, 18 May 2023

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, very much for his introduction to his amendment. It thoroughly covered the issues and concerns of everybody in this Chamber. We offer our full support to what he is trying to achieve. I also have an amendment around national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The noble Baroness, Lady Willis, made an excellent speech. As she said, at the COP 15 negotiations in December the Government agreed to the global biodiversity framework, to effectively protect 30% of land and sea by 2030—the 30 by 30 commitment. Protected landscapes are an essential part of meeting this target. As we have heard, our outdated legislation around this and the management that flows from that legislative underpinning means that so many sites, whether in AONBs or national parks, cannot currently be considered as effectively managed for nature. The Government have accepted this in their response to the Glover landscapes review, which has been referred to by a number of noble Lords. Like the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, I live in the Lake District. The noble Baroness, Lady Willis, made me think about biodiversity and the impact on nature that is local to me. She talked about river pollution, and we have a big issue with pollution in the lakes, which has come to the fore in recent times.

I would also like to talk about Forestry England, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis. I recently asked the Minister whether any impact assessments had been done of the effect on wildlife when swathes of the forest are cut down because of the disease that we have in the trees. If I remember rightly, his answer was that this does not happen. The number of trees being cut down in the national park near me, particularly because of larch disease, is horrifying. There are huge areas where there is nothing left at all, acres and acres. We asked locally what happens to the red squirrels and were told, “We don’t know”. I really worry about this. We need to think about how we work with, for example, Forestry England, which is making huge changes to the landscape, and how we can manage that impact on biodiversity. I am not expecting the Minister to have an answer to this now, but perhaps we can work on this more.

Therefore, we completely support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, to update this outdated legislation. It must happen. We must ensure that national parks and AONBs have a greater contribution to 30 by 30, with increased benefits for people as well as climate, and to cultural heritage. The Glover review is a blueprint for more effective management of protected landscapes. We need to legislate properly to deliver it. Again, the Government have accepted this in their response. At Second Reading in January, a number of noble Lords made the case for implementing the Glover review recommendations through this Bill, in an amendment similar to the one that the noble Lord, Lord Randall, introduced today. A follow-up letter on this to Peers from the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, suggested that the general biodiversity duty created by the Environment Act could deliver it without the need to legislate. However, it has come across clearly today that most of us do not think that this is the case. Any new statutory purposes for nature recovery, climate or access to nature, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, talked about, must be delivered through legislation. How else do we know that they will be delivered within the timescales that we need? They must be properly embedded so that a general biodiversity duty will require all authorities to give proper consideration of biodiversity at a high level and on a regular basis. The problem is that, without this being embedded in legislation, you do not get a proper sustained focus on targets to deliver those statutory purposes. That is what we need.

The amendments in this group represent an opportunity for the Government to deliver on their own promises more widely, as well as upholding the COP 15 commitments. Also, we need to revitalise our national parks and AONBs for nature. This is an opportunity for us to grab. It did not happen in the Environment Act in a way that satisfied everybody. That is something that we can look at now.

I support a number of other amendments in this group but I want to be brief because it is getting late. I offer our support to Amendment 471, so eloquently introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I walk an awful lot. Living in Cumbria, I walk up the fells a lot, so I use a lot of paths. The rights of way network is one of our nation’s greatest assets. We know the benefits to health and well-being. It helps communities to connect with each other and the wider neighbourhoods. It fosters a sense of connection and pride in communities, which is one of the levelling-up missions. Amendment 471 is quite an important amendment on the levelling-up agenda. I hope that the Minister considers it carefully.

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge for tabling Amendment 387, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for tabling Amendments 504GA and 504GB, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for Amendment 504B.

These amendments would give national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty additional statutory purposes and update the duties on relevant authorities. I am grateful for the quality of the debate that we have had on this and share noble Lords’ passion for our national parks and the beauty that they provide in landscape terms, as well as the human benefits that they give for our health and well-being. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, that our commitment to 30 by 30, and the inclusion of national parks and designated landscapes in this, is fundamental. She is right that I have a sign in my office saying “30 by 30” and then quoting NASA:

“Failure is not an option”.

It is about the quality of the environment as well as the line on the map.

My noble friend Lord Lucas has rightly raised, in another amendment, issues around OECMs. There are a variety of ways in which we will achieve this commitment, which is important for us domestically—and internationally, if we are to walk the talk that we have done in international fora on successfully encouraging countries around the world to commit to 30 by 30.

The noble Baroness, Lady Willis, also identified a point about the quality of our interventions as land managers and the types of trees that we plant. She identified perhaps a conflict between tackling carbon and biodiversity. The trees that she described in a pejorative way grow much quicker. They form parts of the furniture and other features in our rooms or whatever. That is keeping that carbon still locked up, and they sequester carbon much more quickly. However, the biodiversity that we want is largely absent from them, whereas the broadleaves, abundant in biodiversity, are slower growing and more susceptible to pests and diseases. We want to ensure that we are getting all that, the carbon benefits as well as the biodiversity benefits, and there is a landscape issue there.

The Government recognise how important our protected landscapes are for improving nature, tackling climate change, supporting rural communities and removing barriers to access. To deliver 30 by 30, we need to strengthen governance and management through the Environment Act 2021. We have strengthened the biodiversity duty on public bodies such as national parks and AONBs, and set ambitious environmental targets. We are also setting specific targets for protected landscapes and issuing guidance for public bodies with responsibilities in those areas.

We are extending land protected for nature through carefully chosen new designations and other habitat-creation projects. We are investing in restoring habitat through the successful Farming in Protected Landscapes programme and the biodiversity challenge fund, while working with partners to attract private investment in protected landscapes.

In opening this debate, my noble friend Lord Randall eloquently set out why he thinks this change is necessary. I hope I can prove that the Government are absolutely committed, because we have taken on-the-ground action to implement the excellent landscape review led by Julian Glover. As I said, our Farming in Protected Landscapes programme supports farmers in protected landscapes to deliver projects for nature, climate, people and place, addressing exactly the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis. It delivers good environmental and habitat management. Our Access for All programme is also helping local teams to improve accessibility in our protected landscapes. We are also investing in a new protected landscapes partnership to enable national parks, AONBs and—crucially for a subsequent amendment—national trails to collaborate on national priorities more closely.

The Environment Act strengthens the duty on public bodies to have regard to conserving and enhancing biodiversity. In addition, under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, public bodies already have duties to have regard to the statutory purposes of protected landscapes when exercising their functions. The Government intend to publish guidance to ensure that the existing duties on public bodies are correctly interpreted and applied when exercising their functions in protected landscapes.

I will study my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s words in the record, because he raised some interesting points where a compromise is perhaps achievable.

I hope I have said enough to convince my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge—I know he takes a lot of convincing—to move on these issues that he feels so strongly and speaks so eloquently about. I hope I have persuaded him to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment 471 repeals the 2026 cut-off date for recording historic rights of way. I draw noble Lords’ attention to our commitments on public access in our environmental improvement plan, our desire for everyone to be within at least 15 minutes of green open space, our commitments to complete the England Coast Path and to enhance national trails, and what we are doing on social prescribing. We are using the benefits of nature and access to it to divert people away from the NHS, with new access provisions through a variety of other measures, as well.

It is important to give users, landowners and local authorities certainty about recording unregistered rights of way. Regulations will provide for certain unrecorded historic rights of way to be excepted from extinguishment, such as where they are currently in use or applications to register them remain undetermined. The Government therefore intend to commence the cut-off date provisions, in line with the original intention of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

However, in answer to my noble friend Lord Hodgson, who spoke with great passion on this issue, given the delays caused by Covid and the impact it had on a great many areas of the public realm, but particularly local authorities, the Government will take steps to use existing powers and extend this deadline by five years to 1 January 2031. The Government are committed to delivering rights of way reform, which will make processes to add historic rights of way to the definitive map faster, fairer, cheaper and less bureaucratic. Our reforms will also give landowners a new right to apply to have certain routes diverted or extinguished. The regulations needed to bring these into effect will be introduced as soon as is reasonably practicable.

The Government are keen to promote responsible access, protect nature and support people who live and work in the countryside. We also recognise the importance of providing access to the outdoors for people’s health and well-being, and we are working to ensure this and that we are achieving that balance in all that we do. We will continue working with landowners and user groups to promote responsible access, so that we achieve our 25-year environment plan commitment to make it easier for more people, from every background, to connect with nature.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Conservative 6:45, 18 May 2023

I am grateful to my noble friend for the news of a five-year extension. Could his department try to explain to local authorities the importance of giving some priority to registrations? As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, said, they inevitably tend to get pushed down the hierarchy. We need to find as many ways as possible to bring them up to get this finished. However, I understand that there is a balance to be struck, and the Minister is fair to point that out.

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank my noble friend. He and the noble Baroness made very important points, but this is a question of resourcing and of prioritisation in local authorities. Of course, some local authorities are inundated and others are less so. It is about supporting them to register these rights of way. I will work with him and all interested noble Lords to make sure that we assess how this is going against the new timescale.

Amendment 475 would have the effect of permitting the right to wild camp on open access land. The Government understand concerns about the ability to wild camp in Dartmoor National Park, as raised by the noble Baroness. As a result of the local court judgment, this has come into much clearer view for the wider public. Private Members’ Bills in the other place also seek to make similar legislative amendments to those proposed here.

For the record, it is worth saying that Dartmoor has never banned wild camping: there was just never a right to it. It is a question of which end of the telescope you look at this issue from. There was what I thought was a very fair report on “Countryfile” a few weeks ago, which gave the perspective of both those who want that access as a right and those who very often end up clearing up the mess from the small proportion of those who act irresponsibly and damage our natural environment. The amendment would have negative impacts, including potential legal conflict and complexity surrounding the rights of private landowners, concerns about health and safety and the liability of landowners, and the risk of damage to the natural and historic environment.

Amendment 480 requires the Government to review recreational access to land and open access land. The Government are already required by law to complete a review of open access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, and the next review is due by 2024-25. We will consult on extending the rights to open access land after having completed the review of our existing maps of open access land; this point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I understand the point that she raised, and I have been active in providing access to land close to where a lot of people live. I understand the tensions and problems. Much can be done by good joint working between land managers and the people who wish to use it. I am very happy to continue that debate.

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

I thank the Minister for giving way. I have a point of clarification. The term “recreational access to land” may have been interpreted as meaning open access land. This amendment is meant to mean all land, not just open access land, and I think that the way it is written shows that.

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I understand the campaigning point that the noble Baroness makes. That is perhaps for another occasion in this House; I am very happy to have that debate. I want to see more access but, over the next six years, the recovery of species in this country has to be our priority, as there has been a catastrophic decline. We have to work with people to give them more access where it is appropriate, but we also have to protect our countryside and rare habitats and make sure that hotspots of biodiversity are allowed to thrive, because the benefits from those will spill out right across our country.

Amendment 504GJC, so ably spoken to by my noble friend Lord Lucas, enables local communities, landowners and organisations to contribute directly to the 30 by 30 target through an internationally recognised structure—namely, the other effective area-based conservation measure. We understand the intentions behind this amendment. I provide reassurance that, as I said earlier, the Government are committed to protecting 30% of land for nature by 2030 and to developing the most appropriate approach to increasing and enhancing our protected areas and other land of value to nature.

We are working with partners across the country, including members of the public, the environmental sector, academics, farmers, landowners and the private sector, to deliver against this commitment. The nature recovery Green Paper sought views on our approach to 30 by 30. This included our plans to explore how land that is delivering for biodiversity outside of our designated protected areas can contribute to our 30 by 30 target. Many of the reforms explored in the Green Paper have fed into the Government’s environmental improvement plan, our delivery plan for protecting nature. The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise these points. More areas will be developed for nature as part of our reforms, and I very strongly believe that these should be included in our 30 by 30 calculations.

Government Amendments 467G, 504O, 509E and 515 address the requirement for Natural England to review the maps of open access land in their entirety at set intervals, with the first review currently due to be delivered by 2024-25 and subsequent reviews to be completed every 20 years following this date. These amendments allow Natural England to complete proportionate reviews, focusing on areas that were mapped incorrectly or have changed status, on an ongoing basis. While much open access land is already mapped correctly, some mistakes were made during the initial mapping process, and a first review of these areas is required to establish an accurate baseline. The amendments do not remove the first review deadline completely but move it to 2031 to allow for sufficient preparation of the review.

As I have said, we recognise the importance of enabling access to the countryside. That is why we have established 13 community forests, alongside substantial programmes to create more green open space and significantly expand national trails. We have also created and restored some 360,000 football fields of habitat since 2010. Our response to the Glover recommendations made clear that we will not consider whether CROW rights should be expanded until the review of the CROW maps is complete. Our stakeholders have been clear that reviewing the maps is a necessary first step before any consideration of expanding rights can be made. Once the first review is completed and a baseline established, the amendments will enable us to move to a continuous selective review system. Any changes in land use can be amended on the maps in good time rather than needing to wait up to 20 years for further review.

Amendment 467G inserts a new provision into the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 regarding when Natural England must carry out reviews following the issuing of open access maps, and the matters that such a review must cover. The amendment also makes provision for regulations to set out the procedure on a review and makes consequential amendments.

I hope noble Lords will support these important amendments. A substantial amount of planning is required if we are to ensure that the reviewed maps are fit for purpose, so that we can then switch to a system of limited continuous review rather than the periodic reviews required at present. Amendment 467H would reduce, by three years, the time we have to make sure that the first review of maps is completed to the standard needed. The Government have tabled amendments which remove the scope for regulations to push back the deadline for the review, so I offer the noble Baroness assurance that this date will not move again.

Amendment 467I would insert a legal requirement to make regulations to enable subsequent reviews of the open access maps. Once the Bill has achieved Royal Assent, the Government intend to make regulations to enable a continuous review following the completion of the first review, which I hope will reassure the noble Baroness that the ability to do this will not be lost.

Amendment 467J would take the opposite approach of the government amendment by returning to the existing power to invoke the original appeals regime so that it applies to the review process. The Government feel it is important that we have the flexibility to fit the details of the appeal regime to the very different circumstances of the review, and therefore do not feel able to support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate. I thank all those who have supported my amendment.

Because of the lateness of the hour I will not go into details, except to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, for her speech, which was not just passionate but full of expertise, which shows the strength of this Chamber. I also thank my noble friend Lord Blencathra, not just for his almost complete support but for two ideas. One is tweaking. I am always up for tweaking and I hope my noble friend the Minister is too. My noble friend’s other suggestion involved a bottle of Highland Park. Perhaps we could get together and tweak this amendment with the Minister, and perhaps even his boss, so that we can go forward. Then, if the Government do not come forward with the appropriate amendment on Report, I assure my noble friend that I will return to it. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 387 withdrawn.

Amendments 388 and 389 not moved.

Clause 152 agreed.

Clause 153: Nutrient pollution standards to apply to certain sewage disposal works