Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill: Consideration Stage

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 22nd June 2010.

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Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:00 pm, 22nd June 2010

I call the Minister of the Environment to move the Consideration Stage of the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

A number of the amendments that we will debate today arise from recommendations made by the Environment Committee

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

Members will have a copy of the Marshalled List of amendments detailing the order for consideration. The amendments have been grouped for debate in my provisional grouping of amendments selected list. Let me explain the groupings. There are four groups of amendments, and we will debate the amendments in each group in turn. The first debate will be on amendment Nos 1 to 5, which deal with strengthening the new biodiversity duty, enhancing reporting requirements and imposing related duties on public bodies. The second debate will be on amendment No 6 and related amendments, as set out in the provisional grouping list. Those amendments deal with the level of protection afforded to various species of animals, birds and plants. The third debate will be on amendment No 8 and other amendments set out on the provisional grouping list. That group deals with snares, hare coursing and other methods of killing or taking animals and birds, together with the Minister’s opposition to clause 15. The final debate will be on amendment Nos 21 to 24, which deal with enhancing the protection afforded to areas of special scientific interest (ASSIs).

I remind Members who intend to speak that, during the debates on the four groups of amendments, they should address all the amendments in each group on which they wish to comment. Once the initial debate on each group is completed, any subsequent amendments in the group will be moved formally as we go through the Bill, and the Question on each will be put without further debate. The Questions on stand part will be taken at the appropriate points in the Bill. If that is clear, we shall proceed.

Clause 1 (Duty to conserve biodiversity)

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

We now come to the first group of amendments for debate. With amendment No 1, it will be convenient to debate amendment Nos 2 to 5. Those amendments deal with the new biodiversity duty to be placed on public bodies.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I beg to move amendment No 1: In page 1, line 12, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

No 2: In clause 2, page 2, line 8, leave out subsection (4) and insert

“(4) The Department must—

(a)  not later than 5 years after the coming into operation of subsection (1), and

(b)  at least once in every period of 5 years thereafter, publish a report regarding the implementation of any strategy designated under that subsection.” — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 3: In clause 3, page 2, line 20, leave out “the Department” and insert “a public body”. — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 4: In clause 3, page 2, line 21, leave out “Department” and insert “body”. — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 5: In clause 3, page 2, line 24, at end insert

“(4) In this section ‘public body’ has the same meaning as in section 1.” — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

A number of amendments that we will debate today arise from recommendations made by the Environment Committee. I want to express my appreciation for the work that Committee members have done and for the timely manner of their consideration of the Bill.

The first group of amendments is concerned with the new statutory biodiversity duty. That duty is being placed on all public bodies. Amendment No 1 relates to clause 1(4), which gives the Department discretion to issue guidance to assist public bodies to comply with the new biodiversity duty. Although it is intended that the Department will issue such guidance, the Environment Committee felt that the Bill should make it obligatory. I agree that such an obligation should be placed on the Department.

Clause 2 concerns the biodiversity strategy, and clause 2(4) places a duty on the Department to publish reports regarding implementation of the strategy “from time to time”. The Committee expressed concern during Committee Stage that the reporting period was not explicit. It felt that the Department should be obliged to publish such reports at least once every five years. I fully acknowledge the importance of knowing what progress is being made in implementing the biodiversity strategy. That information is crucial to inform adherence to our national and international obligations to reduce biodiversity loss. Therefore, I agree with the Committee’s recommendation and the amendment.

The final amendments in the group — Nos 3, 4 and 5 — concern clause 3(3). The Environment Committee considered that the obligation to conserve flora and fauna should apply to all public bodies. That stance would be consistent with the overriding general biodiversity duty. It also places focus on the habitats and species that are under greatest risk in Northern Ireland. I propose to amend clause 3(3) in line with the Committee’s recommendations. Those are the amendments in group 1.

Photo of Cathal Boylan Cathal Boylan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. On behalf of the Committee, I welcome the Consideration Stage. I am sure Committee members will agree that the Bill offers an opportunity to improve the protection of our environment. That is timely and welcome. Having looked closely at the Bill and what it has to offer, I am confident that it will take us a significant step forward in how we look after our wildlife and maintain the many beautiful places that make the North so special.

The Bill was referred to the Committee on 13 January 2010 to ensure that there was enough time to scrutinise the wide-scoping legislation. The Committee sought a 13-week extension and, as members will confirm, it needed that time to go through the Bill’s many complexities and hear what people had to say about its proposals. The Committee received written submissions from more than 35 organisations and individuals and took oral evidence from those representing the widest possible range of interested parties in the time available. Its report was concluded on 15 April 2010.

The Committee’s detailed scrutiny led to 16 recommendations. I am pleased to report that most of them have been accepted by the Minister and are reflected in the amendments we are considering today. I thank the Minister for his co-operative approach and for taking so many of the Committee’s recommendations on board. However, not all the Committee’s recommendations have been addressed, and some have been addressed only in part. The Committee has, therefore, tabled its own amendments. I will go through them in more detail during the long consideration ahead of us.

I am sure that my Committee colleagues will support me in noting the good working relationship that was established between the Committee and the departmental officials during Committee Stage. That certainly helped the process along and paid dividends when it came to agreeing recommendations for amendments.

Before I talk specifically about the amendments in the first group, I wish to note three of the Committee’s key concerns that it believes are vitally important to the successful implementation of the Bill but which cannot be addressed in this primary legislation. First, on several occasions, the Department referred to guidance it would issue to ensure that interpretation of the Bill was accurate and consistent. To be effective, such guidance must be produced in a timely way and in close collaboration with the bodies it applies to. Secondly, the Committee repeatedly heard of the need for the punishment to fit the crime for wildlife and environment offences. Penalties must not only reflect the cost of repairing and restoring damages caused by these crimes but act as a strong deterrent to others and show that, when it comes to protecting the environment in the North, crime does not pay.Thirdly, the Committee is aware that other regions are already in the process of putting their updated wildlife protection legislation in place.

Lessons are being learned across these islands, and the Committee urges the Department to keep an eye on progress elsewhere, picking up examples of best practice for implementation here. The Committee is particularly keen for the Department to take cognisance of and apply Scotland’s novel approaches to preventing and controlling invasive alien species.

I will now comment on the first group of amendments. Many organisations and the Department itself noted the importance of guidance on how public bodies will meet the new biodiversity duties to be introduced by the Bill. The Committee suggested that the wording for the production of such guidance should be made much stronger so that, rather than indicate that the Department “may” produce guidance, the Bill will provide that the Department “must” produce guidance. The Committee was pleased that the Department tabled amendment No 1, which will change clause 1 to that effect.

The Committee also considered the suggestion from many stakeholders that the wording of clause 1, which requires species and habitats to be restored or enhanced, should be augmented to include “maintaining and protecting”. In Committee, the Department advised that it would consider tabling an amendment to achieve that. However, the Minister recently informed the Committee that no such amendment would be tabled. Instead, a full definition of what was required to meet the biodiversity duty would be included in the guidance that I referred to earlier. The Committee agreed that it was content with that approach.

Amendment No 2, which the Minister tabled, also reflects concerns that the Committee raised. As drafted, clause 2 would require a report on the implementation of a biodiversity strategy to be published “from time to time”. The Committee felt that to be far too vague. Although the Department indicated that the reporting period for the current biodiversity strategy is every three years, the Committee wanted a specific time frame included in the Bill to ensure that there could be no slippage on the reporting periods with future strategies. The Committee suggested that the reporting period should be no longer than every five years, so it welcomes the Minister’s amendment, which will require a report to be published “not later than 5 years” after a biodiversity strategy comes into operation and:

“at least once in every period of 5 years thereafter”.

Amendment Nos 3, 4 and 5 relate to clause 3 and again reflect concerns that the Committee raised. The Committee understood that the Bill would introduce a new biodiversity duty on all public bodies in the exercise of their functions. Members were concerned that the obligations in clause 3 would apply only to the Department. On behalf of the Committee, I therefore welcome amendment Nos 3, 4 and 5, which will extend that duty to public bodies.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

I congratulate the Minister and his Department on the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill. It is an important Bill to come before us for legislative debate. I have been involved at every stage of the Bill and know how much work and consultation has been carried out. That is the first point that I would like noted.

I declare an interest as a country sportsman, as a member of the Countryside Alliance and of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), and as one person among thousands who contribute to the value of conservation across the Province. The input of those bodies and people is very important. I am one of the thousands of men and women who take pleasure in country sports and pour thousands of pounds into our economy through their pastimes and hobbies. I am one of those, along with thousands of others, who takes seriously his conservation duty and considers it an intrinsic part of country sports.

An independent study and report by PACEC showed that shooting contributes £45 million to the Northern Ireland economy, £10 million of which is spent on habitat improvement and wildlife management. Therefore, I fully support much of what is in the Bill, and I will speak to all the groups of amendments. The first group of amendments concerns clause 1, which relates to the biodiversity duty.I wanted to make those introductory remarks, and I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to do so.

Conservation is one of the issues that we in the Province must take seriously. We undoubtedly have the richest beauty in the whole United Kingdom, and we need to protect and enhance that. Amendment No 1 will amend clause 1 so that the Department “must” issue guidance. That firms up the notion of guidance. My only issue is the prohibitive cost of issuing guidelines to every public body. At the same time, I can see the benefit of each body being aware of its biodiversity duties. I have only a short comment to make on biodiversity duty.

Amendment No 2 puts in place a timescale, as opposed to “from time to time”. That is good, because a Bill must be clear and specific, leaving no grey areas. It is important that we put things down categorically in black and white, rather than leaving it to someone to decide at some time in the future what they want to do. I agree that five years is a good timescale in which to work, taking into account the cycle of nature itself.

Amendment Nos 3, 4 and 5 put the onus on public bodies, as opposed to just the Department. That will ensure continuity of approach and strategy across the different sectors with reference to flora and fauna. I support the group 1 amendments.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP 2:15 pm, 22nd June 2010

I, too, declare an interest. I am a farmer looking after about 200 acres of land and the historic buildings and wildlife that go with it. I am extremely pleased to speak on this subject; it is vital that we do so. It is a year since I made my maiden speech, in which I said that I would fight hard for the rural community when I felt that the urban community was taking over or threatening it. This Bill has one or two items in it that we need to fight extremely hard.

I shall start with one or two general points. This is where the Assembly is at its best — making Northern Ireland a better place to live for us and for the wildlife. However, it falls on us to make the decisions. Many stakeholders have come and spoken to us, and it is our job to balance all the information in order to make the right decisions. Sometimes that information is not perfect, and sometimes it is laced with emotion. Therefore, we have to be the wise ones here; we have to try to be Solomon. The Environment Committee is fortunate because we have a Minister who listens, on which I congratulate him. In some Departments, it is evident that the Committee and the Minister do not work well together.

We are here not just to protect wildlife but to preserve ways of life, and that is the balance that we have to get, without being draconian. We have to listen and decide, and we have listened to evidence about hares, traps, ASSIs and other things. Today, we make those decisions. As the Chairperson said, we have to find the best practice. All along, we have known that much of this will fall on the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland, whom I congratulate. However, many will break the rules and ignore what we are doing, so we have to find ways of catching them.

With respect to the biodiversity duty — Members may get bored hearing me say this — I want to make sure that we put things in language that we can all understand. I have raised this many times. We and some people in councils may understand what “biodiversity” means. A year ago, I picked up my ‘Oxford English Dictionary’, and I discovered that there is no such word as “biodiversity”. We have to find a plain English way to communicate this down to those on the ground.

I welcome amendment No 1, which proposes to change the word “may” to “must”. However, a word of warning: there is no point in having “must” unless the guidelines are right or as close to being right as we can make them. We have to have a balance in this; I will come back to that word all the way through. In Europe, the Germans will bring in many rules that we all have to follow; the French will bring in rules that we all have to follow but they do not; and many other cultures are getting involved in things that are going to affect us in the wildlife world. Our job is to get the right balance. I would like to see the word “must” included, but there is a warning with that.

Amendment No 2 introduces a time limit of within five years. That is vital. We do not want the Bill to be passed and then forgotten about for 25 years. It has to be reviewed all the time — every five years at most. The Department and all of us should learn all the time as new information comes forward, and we should review our decisions as we progress. I welcome the amendment.

I also welcome amendment Nos 3, 4 and 5, which change references to “the Department” in the Bill to “a public body”. I spoke at a biodiversity conference in Newtownabbey, and seven of our 26 councils have some type of biodiversity officer. However, a whole mass of them do not have anyone who concentrates on what we are trying to put into law, so we must work with the councils. Again, I have a warning: public bodies must be educated to know what we are trying to put across. I welcome the amendments, but I warn that we may have to prioritise because of cost cuts that will be coming at us. We must always keep it in mind that we will have to make difficult decisions as we learn and change over five years.

I welcome and support the first group of amendments.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I support all the amendments in group one. I appreciate that we have a detailed agenda to go through in respect of this Bill, so I will keep my remarks brief, certainly at this stage. I place on record my party’s praise for the very close working relationship that we have seen between the Minister and Department on one hand and the Committee on the other in relation to the revision of the legislation, which is very welcome. We look forward to a productive afternoon.

We welcome the further strengthening of the specific duties in respect of biodiversity in the amendments before us. In particular, it is important that we try to extend the statutory duty from the Department to all public bodies. It is also important to recognise that the circumstances in which diversity may need to be protected or may be under threat do not fall purely within the remit of the Department of the Environment; they can emerge in a whole host of scenarios. We must reflect that in the approach taken by the legislation. I note that that approach is much more broadly based than the more narrow approach in the recent forestry legislation. That was a minor flaw in what was otherwise an excellent piece of legislation from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Equally, arising from that, we welcome the commitment to work on a cross-cutting basis on the protection of wildlife and the natural environment. Again, that reflects the fact that this issue does not sit in individual silos; it requires collaboration across society.

Biodiversity is important, not just in flora and fauna but in our society and our future development. I note that Mr Kinahan made remarks about respecting traditions. It is absolutely fine to respect traditions, but we have to acknowledge that standards and attitudes in society change. In the twenty-first century, there is much greater acknowledgement of the importance that wildlife provides to our society. There is a much greater interest in protecting wildlife than in simply viewing it as a resource to be exploited. Our attitude is much more sophisticated than the traditional attitude towards wildlife through the ages, and I think that most people welcome that.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

I have no problems with the amendments. It is important that we instil in Departments and public bodies generally the importance of the protection of wildlife and nature conservation. It is one thing putting that on paper; ensuring that it is implemented on the ground is totally different.

Although we in Northern Ireland to some extent pay lip service to the importance of conserving our flora and fauna, the situation on the ground is far from encouraging. Many people’s views on the environment in Northern Ireland are similar to those of the man who bought a new Range Rover to take his bottles to the recycling plant. In other words, we are quite prepared to do the soft things. We are quite prepared to plant the trees, to do the odd bit of litter picking and, perhaps, to do a bit of recycling. However, whenever we as a society are asked to do something that affects our pockets, our commerce or the urbanisation of our countryside, we are not so keen on the environment.

We must instil the importance of our natural environment into every level of government. Quite frankly, whenever I drive round the countryside in Northern Ireland, I absolutely despair about what is happening to it and to our wildlife. For a long time, Northern Ireland was booming. We had a house-building frenzy in urban and rural areas, we had a major increase in our roads infrastructure, and we had a great deal of concreting of our countryside. Nevertheless, the tide has turned to some extent, and there have been some welcome developments, the obvious one being the single farm payment scheme and cross-compliance. Those developments have turned the tanker, as it were, from a situation where there was production for production’s sake in agriculture and everything was geared towards producing the maximum return from our land to one where we are now giving landowners and farmers incentives to protect the countryside. That is a good thing, and it has stopped the massive loss of hedgerows in the Province and the drainage of our wetlands, for example. However, an awful lot of damage was done, and it will take many decades to restore Northern Ireland’s countryside to what it was in the 1950s, for example.

Nevertheless, we must start somewhere. Putting the onus on government bodies to take the lead is a good thing. I welcome the fact that the Minister has accepted the amendments. The changing of the word “may” to the words “shall” and “must” is also a good thing. It means that whenever Departments step out of line and do something that is clearly to the detriment of the countryside, at least the Bill can be quoted to prove that they are not honouring the basic tenet of faith on what we should be doing in our countryside. Northern Ireland has lost so much, and it is now important that we turn that tide of destruction and start to rebuild our countryside.

We have lost important species. When I was young, which was a long time ago in the 1970s, I remember — [Interruption.] Some Members have good memories. In fact, it was the 1960s — possibly even the 1950s. I recently told a group of Queen’s students that my political career had been interrupted by the Boer war, and they said to me, “Mr Wells, please tell us more”. The Boer war took place between 1896 and 1901. However, to be serious, I remember walking to school through fields in north Armagh where six or seven pairs of corncrakes were calling. Such events do not happen any more, and the species is practically extinct in Northern Ireland. We have only one nesting pair of chough left in Northern Ireland. Species such as lapwing and ground-wading birds such as redshank and snipe have disappeared from much of our countryside. We have lost so much, and Northern Ireland is the poorer for it.

Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Minister has, on this occasion, decided to beef up, as it were, the legislation to compel Departments to do better. I will speak at much greater length on the other clauses and amendments. The Minister will find that there is unanimity in the House on the matter and that we are sending out a clear signal as to where government agencies and public bodies should be going in the future.

Photo of Brian Wilson Brian Wilson Green

Like other Members, I thank the Minister for responding to the issues that the Committee raised. The Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill is important legislation, and we can all support it. However, on a previous occasion, I raised the fundamental issue of policing and enforcement, and I am still concerned about that. It is all right having the legislation, but I am concerned as to whether it can be enforced and policed.

I will talk about amendment Nos 1 to 5.

In my speech at Second Stage, I called for a tightening of the legislation on biodiversity, and the Minister responded quite well to that. The change from the Department “may” to “must” in amendment No 1 is a fundamental change. Doing nothing has now been ruled out, and that is a major improvement. I also asked that there be a progress report on the implementation of Department’s biodiversity strategy every three years. However, amendment No 2, which calls for that report to be published every five years, is acceptable. Amendment Nos 3, 4, and 5, which extend the biodiversity duty to other public bodies, also represent fundamental changes. Therefore, there has been a significant tightening of the legislation in respect of biodiversity, which I support.

Photo of Gerry McHugh Gerry McHugh Independent 2:30 pm, 22nd June 2010

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Most of the points on the amendments to the biodiversity duties of the Bill have been made for me by other Members, and I agree with much of what has been said. However, biodiversity is, in a sense, a movable feast. Jim Wells mentioned the change in biodiversity that has occurred over many years, yet no one has been able to confirm what caused that change among our birdlife, our flora and fauna. However, a tightening of biodiversity duties will happen regardless.

Farmers currently undertake cross-compliance and it is debatable whether that will continue if the single farm payment is discontinued. Indeed, it is possible that there will be a reversion to practices in farming which may not protect species. Farmers have management agreements in those areas, and, although the Government does not actually own the land, in some instances farmers would say that they may as well because they have so little control over it.

Species including the curlew, the corncrake and many others have disappeared from Fermanagh and elsewhere. However, elements outside of this country may be responsible for that, rather than any practices that have been undertaken here. Crom Estate in Fermanagh is an ASSI. Indeed, almost all of County Fermanagh is protected in that way, and what Members are being asked to support in the Bill will mean that people will not even be able to walk in protected areas. However, there is one area in Crom Estate in which protected flora species have disappeared, despite the area having been fenced off and not farmed. It is all down to research and follow-up, but I agree with much of what has been said.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Most Members seem to be in almost complete agreement with the proposals on biodiversity; therefore, I do not intend to prolong this part of the debate. However, there may be more vociferous debate when the next group of amendments is debated.

Without the legislation, there cannot be enforcement of environmental protection, and we must put the horse before the cart. Developing the role that public bodies have in addressing biodiversity challenges and ensuring that those are met is a good thing. The Bill also sets out greater enforcement measures, including custodial sentencing, which did not previously exist, and it is important that those who prosecute environmental crime have the power to impose custodial sentences as well as fines. The Bill will also provide the PSNI with greater powers to collect evidence and serve conviction notices.

There are quite a number of positive aspects in the biodiversity element of the Bill. I ask the House to support amendment Nos 1 to 5.

Question, That amendment No 1 be made, put and agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 (The biodiversity strategy)

Amendment No 2 made: In page 2, line 8, leave out subsection (4) and insert

“(4) The Department must—

(a)      not later than 5 years after the coming into operation of subsection (1), and

(b)      at least once in every period of 5 years thereafter, publish a report regarding the implementation of any strategy designated under that subsection.” — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 (Biodiversity lists)

Amendment No 3 made: In page 2, line 20, leave out “the Department” and insert “a public body”. — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

Amendment No 4 made: In page 2, line 21, leave out “Department” and insert “body”. — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

Amendment No 5 made: In page 2, line 24, at end insert

“(4) In this section ‘public body’ has the same meaning as in section 1.” — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 (Protection of nests of certain birds)

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

We now come to the second group of amendments for debate. With amendment No 6, it will be convenient to debate the related amendments on the protection of various species.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I beg to move amendment No 6: In page 2, line 37, at end insert

“Eagle, White-tailed

Haliaetus albicilla

Osprey

Pandion haliaetus

Owl, Barn

Tyto alba

Peregrine

Falco peregrinus

Kite, Red

Milvus milvus”

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

No 7: In clause 9, page 4, line 29, after “as” insert

“—

(a)      a common seal (phoca vitulina),

(b)      a grey seal (halichoerus grypus), or

(c)”. — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 25: After clause 32, insert the following new clause

“Special protection for game

32A.—(1) The Game Preservation Act (Northern Ireland) 1928 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 7 (close seasons) after subsection (3) insert—

‘(3A) If it appears to the Department expedient that any game birds should be protected during any period outside the close season for those birds, the Department may make an order with respect to the whole or any specified part of Northern Ireland declaring any period (which shall not in the case of any order exceed 14 days) as a period of special protection for those birds.

(3B) This section shall have effect as if any period of special protection declared under subsection (3A) for any game birds formed part of the close season for those birds.

(3C) Before making an order under subsection (3A) the Department shall consult a person appearing to the Department to be a representative of persons interested in the shooting of game birds of the species proposed to be protected by the order.’.

(3) In section 7C(1) (special protection order for game) after ‘purchase’ insert ‘or possession’.” — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 27: In schedule 1, page 20, line 10, at end insert

“Curlew

Numenius arquata”

— [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 28: In schedule 1, page 20, line 17, at end insert

“Lapwing

Vanellus vanellus”

— [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 29: In schedule 1, page 20, line 18, at end insert

“Plover, Golden

Pluvialis apricaria”

— [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 30: In schedule 1, page 20, line 20, at end insert

“Redshank

Tringa totanus”

— [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 31: In schedule 1, page 20, line 22, at end insert

“Whinchat

Saxicola rubetra”

— [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 32: In schedule 1, page 20, line 30, at end insert

“(4) In Part 2 omit the following entry—

Common name

Scientific name

Plover, Golden

Pluvialis apricaria”

— [The Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment (Mr Boylan).]

No 33: In schedule 1, page 21, line 2, at end insert

“(3) In Part 1 omit the following entry—

Common name

Scientific name

Curlew

Numenius arquata”

— [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 34: In schedule 1, page 21, line 2, at end insert

“(3) In Part 1 omit the following entry—

Common name

Scientific name

Plover, Golden

Pluvialis apricaria”

— [The Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment (Mr Boylan).]

No 35: In schedule 1, page 21, line 3, leave out paragraph 4. [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 36: In schedule 1, page 21, line 5, leave out sub-paragraph (2) and insert

“(2) Omit the following entries—

Common name

Scientific name

Bunting, Reed

Emberiza schoeniclus

Twite

Carduelis flavirostris

Yellowhammer

Emberiza citronella”

— [The Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment (Mr Boylan).]

No 37: In schedule 1, page 21, line 29, at end insert

“Hare, Irish

Lepus timidus hibernicus”

— [Dr Farry.]

No 38: In schedule 1, page 21, line 34, after “Common” insert

“(in respect of Article 10(1) only and with respect to coastal waters only)”. — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 39: In schedule 1, page 24, line 17, at end insert

“Deer, Chinese water

Hydropotes inermis”

[The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 40: In schedule 1, page 24, line 18, at end insert

“Deer, Roe

Capreolus capreolus”

[The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 41: In schedule 1, page 25, leave out line 16 and insert

“Knotweed, Giant

Fallopia sachalinensis

Knotweed, Himalayan

Polygonum wallichii

Knotweed, Japanese

Fallopia japonica”

— [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 42: In schedule 2, page 26, line 12, at end insert

“1A. After section 7F insert—

‘Relationship of this Act with Wildlife Order

7G. Sections 7(1) and (2), 7A(1) and 7D(4) do not have effect in relation to a hare included in Schedule 5 to the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.’.” — [The Minister of the Environment  (Mr Poots).]

No 45: In schedule 2, page 28, line 2, at end insert

“18. In Article 29(3) (orders) after ‘any order’ insert “(other than an order under Article 4(10))’.” — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

No 48: In schedule 3, page 28, line 10, at end insert

“In Article 4(12) the words ‘Without prejudice to Article 29(3),’.” — [The Minister of the Environment (Mr Poots).]

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

We oppose the amendments that have been tabled by the Chairperson of the Committee for the Environment to give protection to the golden plover and to remove three species of birds from schedule 4 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. We also oppose amendment No 37 to give the Irish hare full protection.

Clause 4 introduces new all-year-round protection for the nests of certain birds that habitually use the same nest year after year, as their loss could seriously affect the breeding success of such birds. The Committee for the Environment considered that that protection should be extended to other species of bird: the white-tailed eagle, the osprey, the peregrine, the barn owl and the red kite, which, in the past two years, has been subject to a reintroduction programme in Northern Ireland. I fully agree with the Committee’s recommendation, and amendment No 6 adds those species to the new schedule that is provided by clause 4(3).

Clause 9 introduces new protection for basking sharks from intentional or reckless disturbance. Due to their ecology, basking sharks do not have a normal resting place or place of shelter, hence the new protection. The Committee for the Environment recommended that such protection should also be afforded to seals, particularly when they are away from land. I fully agree with that recommendation, and amendment No 7 expands that protection to the two species of seal that are found in Northern Ireland.

Amendment No 25 concerns powers to make special protection orders to protect wildfowl during periods of extreme weather. As Members will be aware, the past winter in Northern Ireland was the most severe since the early 1960s. As a consequence, my Department issued a severe weather order made under powers contained in the Wildlife Order. The severe weather order is designed to protect all birds that rely on wetland habitats, such as wildfowl and wading birds. Due to a legal technicality, it is not possible to include two important species of waders, namely woodcock and snipe. They are game species protected under separate game laws, which do not contain any provision for making severe weather orders. It is important that all species of wading birds can obtain protection during periods of extreme weather. Therefore, I propose to amend extant game laws to allow such protection. That essentially means replicating existing powers contained in the Wildlife Order within the game laws.

Amendment Nos 45 and 48 are also concerned with severe weather orders. There is a requirement on the Department to consult district councils affected by those orders prior to making them. By their nature, the orders need to be made urgently in severe weather conditions, and there is simply not enough time for the Department to meet its obligation to consult. The amendment, therefore, removes that obligation. The requirement to consult shooting interests will continue to apply as it is an integral part of the protocol for agreeing to the need to make severe weather orders.

Amendment No 25 also amends section 7C(1) of the Game Preservation Act 1928. That section gives me, as Minister, the power to issue special protection orders on any game species for a period not exceeding one year. Such orders can prohibit the taking, killing, sale or purchase of any game specified in such an order. The Environment Committee recommended that such orders should be augmented to make possession an offence. I am content to accept that recommendation and to propose the amendment.

Amendment Nos 27 to 34 concern changes to schedule 1 to the Wildlife Order. The Environment Committee has recommended adding a number of species of bird to schedule 1 to the Wildlife Order. Those include the curlew, lapwing, redshank and whinchat. The curlew is currently listed on schedule 2 to the Wildlife Order, which is commonly known as the quarry list, and can be hunted. Adding it to schedule 1 to the Wildlife Order will remove it from the quarry list.

I have been aware of competing arguments from relevant interests about the future status of that species. Having considered the conservation pressures on the species, I have concluded that greater protection is required. Therefore, I agree with the Committee’s recommendation to support protection for the four species that I have mentioned, which are amendment Nos 27, 28, 30 and 31. As a consequence, the curlew should be removed from schedule 2 to the Wildlife Order, which is amendment No 33.

Amendment Nos 29, 32 and 34, which were tabled by the Chairperson of the Environment Committee, call for the removal of the golden plover from the quarry list. I oppose those amendments, as available evidence from between the 1980s and 2008 indicates little overall change in the wintering population of golden plover. The evidence indicates a stable wintering population of golden plover in Northern Ireland, with more than 21,000 birds counted in the 2008 peak month. I understand that, on average, over 10 years, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation membership recorded a bag of golden plover of 12 birds each winter. Such a low take cannot negatively impact the population and would be clearly sustainable. Removal from the quarry list is, therefore, not required for the conservation of the species at this time.

The Bill proposes to make a number of additions to schedule 4 to the Wildlife Order. Schedule 4 lists those species of birds that people are permitted to possess for avicultural purposes under licence issued by DOE. Such birds have been bred in captivity and ringed with an authorised form of ring. The Environment Committee cited reports of illegal imports into the UK of wild birds from the continent.

The Committee was concerned that the addition of more birds could pose a risk to the wild bird population in Northern Ireland. Subsequently, the Chairperson tabled amendment No 36 to remove three species from the extant schedule 4; reed bunting, twite and yellowhammer.

Although there is no evidence of any illegal activity in Northern Ireland, I initially decided not to pursue the proposed additions, but to maintain the status quo with regard to the list of birds that people can possess legally; hence amendment No 35. I am conscious that anyone who possesses any of those birds under the existing schedule is subject to regular monitoring by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. To date, there have not been any problems concerning non-compliance with conditions of licences. I have given further consideration to the matter and have decided not to pursue my initial amendment because there is clearly very limited risk to the wild bird population in Northern Ireland. I will, therefore, not move amendment No 35. For that reason, I will oppose amendment No 36, which has been tabled by the Committee Chairperson.

Amendment No 37 proposes to give full statutory protection to the Irish hare by placing it on schedule 5 to the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. Ecological evidence indicates that the main factors that limit the Irish hare population are availability and quality of suitable habitat. Activities such as hunting have negligible impact on the overall population. Ten years ago, the Irish hare population was one hare per sq km. My Department developed a species action plan to address conservation concerns. That plan included two key targets that related to the overall population, including a target to double the population in as wide an area as possible over a 10-year period.

Data from the annual survey show that targets that are contained in the action plan have been achieved. Research also shows that there has been no regression of the population’s genetic strength. Therefore, my Department considers the Irish hare population stable. On that basis, I do not believe that it is necessary to give it full statutory protection. My Department will conduct a review of the current action plan with a view to developing a new plan that will aim to continue to focus on the key actions that will help to maintain the population that we have achieved throughout Northern Ireland.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

With the help of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s schemes and other projects, my Department aims to improve those numbers over the next 10 years.

We will engage in debate, during which other Members can make their cases. I will be quite happy to give way during my winding-up speech if that is required.

At present, therefore, I am not prepared to support amendment No 37.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

As I explained, I am not happy to give way now. However, I will give way during my winding-up speech at the end of the debate. People will have an opportunity to make their cases, as opposed to starting debate at this point.

Amendment No 38 is a technical amendment that relates to protection for the common skate. As a commercially exploited species, the common skate falls under the scope of the EU common fisheries policy, which applies in the region of Northern Ireland’s territorial waters beyond six miles. It is, therefore, permissible to afford protection under the ambit of the Wildlife Order only within the six-mile limit.

Amendment Nos 39 and 40 relate to the proposal to add two species of deer to schedule 9 to the Wildlife Order. It is an offence for anyone to release or to allow to escape into the wild any species that is listed in schedule 9. Chinese water deer and roe deer are highly invasive species. If they become established in Northern Ireland, significant damage will be caused to agricultural interests and biodiversity. I agree with the Committee for the Environment that those species should be added to schedule 9 to the Wildlife Order.

Amendment No 41 is a technical amendment that has been agreed by the Committee and intends to clarify in scientific terms the specific species of knotweed that should be listed in schedule 9 to the Wildlife Order. That schedule lists highly invasive non-native species.

Amendment No 42 arises as a consequence of that which was tabled by members to give the Irish hare, a game species, full statutory protection under the Wildlife Order. Although I do not support the amendment to add the Irish hare to schedule 5 to the Wildlife Order at this time, that amendment will facilitate consistency between game laws and future wildlife Orders in the event that the Irish hare is ever given full protection.

Photo of Cathal Boylan Cathal Boylan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. On behalf of the Committee, I welcome amendment No 6 to clause 4, which, as we heard, introduces new statutory protection for the nests of particular birds all year round. The Bill listed only the golden eagle, but various specialist groups advised the Committee that the list should be extended to include other species found in the North that also return to their nests year on year.

Consequently, the Committee recommended that the red kite, the osprey, the peregrine and the barn owl be added to the list. Amendment No 6 provides that recommendation. There was some debate about the extent to which the barn owl can be considered in this category as being nest loyal. Unlike the other species to which I referred, which consistently return to and use the same site year after year, the barn owl might appear to be a little less consistent. However, evidence presented to the Committee suggested that, although barn owls elsewhere have demonstrated flexibility in their choice of nesting sites, their pattern in the North is more rigid. Consequently, the Committee felt that the vulnerable population of barn owls would benefit from inclusion on the list.

Amendment No 7 is also welcomed by the Committee. It adds to clause 9 the two species of seal that are found in the seas around the North. Clause 9, as drafted, creates a new offence for anyone intentionally or recklessly disturbing basking sharks. The Committee supported greater protection for basking sharks but, picking up on advice from several specialist groups, recommended that the protection should be extended to seals.

I move now to amendment No 25. The Department advised the Committee that, as a result of difficulties encountered during last winter’s prolonged cold spell, it would be making amend­ments to the Bill that would allow the process of protecting wading birds to take place more easily when necessary. That was accepted, in principle, by the Committee, so I am happy to accept, on the Committee’s behalf, the part of amendment No 25 and the technical amendment to schedule 2 provided by amendment Nos 45 and 48 that address that. More important to the Committee, however, was the need to close what it perceived to be a loophole in special protection orders that allowed a person to be in possession of a game species when its killing and taking were temporarily banned by an order. On behalf of the Committee, therefore, I welcome the inclusion of the word “possession” to special protection orders that will be introduced by amendment No 25.

I move now to amendment No 27, which amends schedule 1. It is true to say that that area exercised most of the Committee’s time while it was scrutinising the Bill. It became apparent early in the Committee’s deliberations that there was a need for greater protection of the curlew. The bird is currently on the quarry list, which is the list of birds in the Wildlife Order 1985 that may be killed or taken. Many organisations that provided evidence to the Committee called for it to be given greater protection to allow its population to recover. The Committee recommended that not only should the curlew be removed from the quarry list but that it should be added to the list of birds that are protected at all times in the 1985 Order. That will be achieved by amendment Nos 27 and 33, which are welcomed by the Committee.

On the basis of evidence of declining populations, the Committee also recommended the addition of the lapwing, the redshank and the whinchat to the list of birds that are protected at all times, and I am pleased to welcome amendment Nos 28, 30 and 31, which will deliver that.

I move now to the fifth bird in that set. As was the case with the species that I just mentioned, the Committee was advised by experts that the population of the golden plover was also struggling in the North and that its ongoing inclusion on the list of game birds should be reviewed. The Committee sought additional information from the Department, which suggested that, although the population of the golden plover is low in the North, it is stable. The Department told the Committee that it would be monitoring the golden plover populations closely and reviewing its status in five years’ time. However, the Committee noted that golden plover numbers in England were on the increase and that, to give it a better chance in the North, it would be more sensible to afford greater protection to the bird now and to review the situation in five years’ time, reinstating it as a game species if its population is healthier. With that approach in mind, the Committee tabled amendment No 29, which will add the golden plover to the list of birds that are protected at all times, and amendment No 34, which will take it off the list of birds that may be taken or killed.

Amendment No 32 removes the golden plover from the list that allows it to be subject to a closed period, as that would become a redundant requirement if that bird were to be given full protection.

I will move on to amendment Nos 35 and 36. The Bill proposes that an additional 16 species of wild bird be added to the list in the Wildlife Order of birds that can be kept in captivity and shown for competitive purposes. Expert groups that gave evidence to the Committee argued that the appropriate research needed to be carried out and that proper cases needed to be made before any more species are added to that list. They argued that it was not sufficient to look at the lists used in other regions and copy them here. The expert groups also said that there is evidence that keeping captive collections for showing encourages the illegal trafficking of those species in the wild, particularly on the European mainland, and that species with vulnerable populations should be excluded.

Stakeholders were particularly concerned about the pressure that would be placed on the twite, reed bunting and yellowhammer, which are among the most vulnerable species in the North today. Those three species are on the list of wild birds that can be kept in captivity. Departmental officials defended the addition of the 16 species, and those on the existing list in the Wildlife Order, by suggesting that the licensing system in the North was much tighter than in other regions. For example, one third of licence holders here are inspected annually. Nonetheless, the Committee felt that it was appropriate for the three most vulnerable species to be removed from the existing list and that no additional species should be added.

Amendment No 35, which was tabled by the Minister, would go some way towards the Committee’s position by preventing the addition of 16 new species to the list. The Committee is pleased that its concerns have been recognised in part. However, as amendment No 35 does not remove any species from the list, the Committee has tabled amendment No 36, which will prevent the addition of 16 new species and remove the twite, reed bunting and yellowhammer from the list.

The Bill is silent on the Irish hare. However, no one could accuse the Committee of being silent on it, nor the many organisations that lobbied us during Committee Stage: each was as determined as the other that its position was the correct one. Members considered at length the evidence put before them, which ranged from those who were adamant that the Irish hare should be afforded greater protection to those who provided scientific evidence that Irish hare populations thrive where sporting activities involving the Irish hare are traditional.

Departmental officials advised the Committee that the greatest threat to the Irish hare was loss of habitat and that an Irish hare species action plan to address that situation had doubled the population over recent years. However, the officials also noted that obtaining accurate and consistent data on the Irish hare was difficult. They advised the Committee that the Department has recourse to special protection orders to protect the Irish hare when populations become critical and that it has used that method satisfactorily to date. On balance, therefore, the Committee agreed that the Irish hare should remain on the list of game species, with temporary special protection orders being introduced when numbers decline. That position is in keeping with the Bill.

I was going to read out two or three more pages of comments in favour of the Committee’s position on the Irish hare. However, as the Minister intends to oppose amendment No 37, I will not continue that debate.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am sorry to interrupt the debate, but we will return to it after Question Time, which begins at 3.00 pm.