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Schedule 11 - Minor and consequential amendments

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 5th July 2005.

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Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 150, 159 and 162.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

Amendments Nos. 158, 159 and 162 have the collective effect of removing the current duty on the planning authority under the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act 1949 to consult the Countryside Agency, which, subject to the passage of the Bill, will be Natural England, before making access agreements. That cuts out the bureaucracy and inevitable delay of consultation, as the authorities already have the necessary expertise. These are, of course, agreements, and there will be consultation in the natural course of making them. It seems sensible to take such decisions without needing to consult Natural England, so I urge hon. Members to accept the amendments.

On amendment No. 150, Great Britain has a wealth of nature reserves, which are declared in the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act 1949. In England alone, there are 217 national nature reserves, which cover more than 87,000 hectares, and more than 1,000 local nature reserves, which cover almost 40,000 hectares. Times have changed since the original purpose of nature reserves was set out as the   preservation of their special interest features and the provision of special opportunities for study or research. They are some of the most beautiful nature conservation areas, and by far the most common reasons for visiting them are to enjoy their special qualities and for open-air recreation.

Amendment No. 150 maintains the intention behind paragraph 12 of the schedule, which is to enhance the current purpose of England's national nature reserves to more explicitly accommodate management for the general enjoyment of nature and open-air recreation. However, following consultation with the devolved Administrations and key stakeholder bodies in England, Scotland and Wales, the amendment extends that beneficial enhancement to all nature reserves, both national and local, and to such reserves in Scotland and Wales.

Finally, the amendment also sets out more clearly than the current paragraph 12 that management for that general purpose should not be at the expense of conserving the special interest features of the reserves.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for introducing amendment No. 150, on which my own eye had alighted. I want to ask him several questions about it, because of the choice of phraseology, although I am in no way against the principle of what it seeks to do.

First, I am concerned about the use of the word ''solely'' in proposed subsection 15(1)(a) to the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act 1949, which states:

''land managed solely for a conservation purpose'', although proposed subsection (1)(b) refers to

''land managed not only for a conservation purpose but also for a recreational purpose''.

My concern is that if a nature reserve is not classified as having a recreational purpose—a point to which I shall return—no other use of the land is consistent with being part of a nature reserve. What about agriculture? Grazing cattle or certain primitive breeds of sheep is often part of managing nature reserves. The chalklands alongside the Devil's dyke, the old Anglo-Saxon earthwork that runs from north to south through my constituency, are all grazed by primitive breeds of sheep in order to keep the flora and the banks in the condition that we want.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Labour, Bridgend

Would it be helpful to consider the word ''managed'' rather than the word ''solely''? Management plans for nature reserves may include selective grazing and draining to conserve their biodiversity. It is simplistic to think that conservation means simply leaving the land to grow wild. In fact, the management of land is critical to the conservation of biodiversity.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. I wholly reject the argument from some quarters that neglect equals conservation. It does not. The countryside needs to be managed, and the flora and fauna within it need to be managed.  

My example was of livestock being used to manage land for nature reserves. Nevertheless, grazing livestock is an agricultural activity, and I am concerned at the phraseology. The hon. Lady is right that the phrase that is used includes ''managed''; but it says ''managed solely''. I would have preferred to see ''managed primarily'', as it would have clarified the provision. However, these are not my amendments. I challenge the Government on their choice of words, with a view to discussing them later in our proceedings, and particularly on their use of the word ''solely'' rather than ''primarily'' or something similar to ensure that other activities can take place in a nature reserve.

My second question is about proposed subsection (2)(a), which defines land managed for a conservation purpose as land

''managed for the purpose of . . . providing, under suitable conditions and control, special opportunities for the study of, and research into''— and so on. That is a narrow definition of conservation. I do not equate conservation with protection—there is a subtle difference—but most people would define conservation more widely than

''the study of, and research into, matters relating to the flora and fauna of Great Britain and the physical conditions in which they live, and the study of geological and physiographical features of special interest in the area''.

In layman's language, most people would say that conservation is about protection—managing rather than neglecting—but it is about more than study and research. For most people, it is about maintaining or enhancing populations and the wider good of the community and the world in which we live, as well as about study and research.

My third question relates to the phrase ''recreational purpose'' in proposed subsection (3). Exactly what does that mean? I shall not rehearse the arguments about recreation being contradictory to conservation needs, because they are covered in other legislation. The Minister will not be surprised to hear this, as we referred to the same subject earlier in our proceedings, but I am more concerned about the implications for traditional activities, and particularly game shooting and grouse shooting. Many would argue that such activities are recreation. If he is going to say that it is the Government's intention that such things should be considered recreational, that is fine; but I would like it to be on the record.

At the outset of the Committee's proceedings, I declared my role as a trustee of the Game Conservancy Trust. Work yet to be published provides even more proof of the interrelationship between higher populations of many bird species on managed grouse moors and managed shoots than those in areas that are completely unmanaged—areas that have been allowed to become derelict, where nature is allowed to take its course.

There is a clear correlation between the objectives of conservation and the role of shooting. I am anxious to ensure that we will not exclude that interrelationship by using the recreational definition, because shooting interests involve conservation as well as pest and predator control. I would not want to see   that definition work against those interests. My concerns are not about the objective of the amendment, but about the Government's choice of phraseology. I would be glad to hear the Minister's comments.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, but I would not restrict recreational activity to shooting. We have activities such as coarse and game fishing, ferreting, hunting using birds of prey and—this is dear to my heart—motor cycle trials.

It could be argued that any ingress on to a nature reserve compromises that nature reserve. If I were a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, I would have the right to enter a nature reserve, and the fact that I had entered it might compromise the way in which the birds there behaved. The absence of my subscription to finance the work of the RSPB would still further compromise such a reserve, however. The same argument applies to shooting. The facts that gamekeepers operate on a moor and that people go and shoot on that moor could in some way compromise the other wild life on that moor. Many people might say that that is a cost too far. However, if the income was not being received from those activities, the moor really would be compromised.

Which recreational activities would the Minister wish to list as permitted recreational activities on nature reserves or land managed for conservation purposes, and to what extent is there compromise between allowing the ingress of people engaging in activities and accepting the income without which many of the nature reserves would not exist?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

Hon. Members have raised some interesting and useful points. I shall try to deal with them one by one.

The word ''solely'' was mentioned. Does it preclude other activity within the nature reserve? Not at all. It draws a distinction between proposed subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b), in order to preserve the original purpose of nature reserves. It is important when we think about nature reserves to remember that their primary and ultimate purpose is to preserve that precious natural environment. The use of the word ''or'' in the amendment adds the recreational purpose to the conservation purpose; thus, management for enjoyment or recreation does not become a necessary requirement before land can become a nature reserve. There is nothing to prevent other legitimate uses of the land from continuing as at present, provided that they do not prevent its management for the purposes of a nature reserve. The good management of the land through farming or the creation of habitats for shooting would be appropriate as part of the management of the reserve, to protect its special conservation status.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire suggested that proposed subsection (2) might be too narrow. I point him towards the word ''or'' at the end of subsection (2)(a). It is clearly not just about providing suitable conditions for study and research. The ''or'' is about  

''preserving flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features of special interest in the area.''

Ultimately, that is what we need to safeguard in our nature reserves.

Finally, on the questions in respect of recreational purposes and shooting, we envisage such forms of enjoyment as walking, cycling, educational workshops, art and woodcraft activities and poetry events. Some reserves have audio, tactile and visual interpretation experiences to enhance the public's enjoyment of them, and in some places people enjoy the areas by carrying out sports such as angling and shooting. So long as the activities are in sympathy with the conservation and good management of the reserve, they certainly count as recreational. I hope that, on that basis, hon. Members will be happy to support the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 150, in schedule 11, page 70, line 12, leave out paragraph 12 and insert—

'12 For section 15 (meaning of ''nature reserve'') substitute—

''15

Meaning of ''nature reserve''

(1) In this Part, ''nature reserve'' means—

(a) land managed solely for a conservation purpose, or

(b) land managed not only for a conservation purpose but also for a recreational purpose, if the management of the land for the recreational purpose does not compromise its management for the conservation purpose.

(2) Land is managed for a conservation purpose if it is managed for the purpose of—

(a) providing, under suitable conditions and control, special opportunities for the study of, and research into, matters relating to the fauna and flora of Great Britain and the physical conditions in which they live, and for the study of geological and physiographical features of special interest in the area, or

(b) preserving flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features of special interest in the area, or for both those purposes.

(3) Land is managed for a recreational purpose if it is managed for the purpose of providing opportunities for the enjoyment of nature or for open-air recreation.''.'.

No. 159, in schedule 11, page 71, line 42, at end insert—

'In section 64 (access agreements), omit subsection (5).'.

No. 149, in schedule 11, page 80, line 32, at end insert—

'( ) In that subsection, after the definition of ''poultry'', insert—

'' ''premises'' includes land (including buildings), movable structures, vehicles, vessels, aircraft and other means of transport;''.'.

No. 160, in schedule 11, page 84, line 21, leave out from 'Omit' to end of line 23 and insert '—

(a) Article 21 (committee of investigation), and

(b) Article 22 (action following report by committee of investigation).'.

No. 161, in schedule 11, page 90, line 9, at end insert—

'Agriculture (Northern Ireland) Order 1993 (S.I.1993/2665 (N.I10))

Omit Article 22 (functions of certain bodies in relation to agricultural marketing schemes).'.—[Jim Knight.]  

Question proposed, That this schedule, as amended, be the Eleventh schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons) 12:00 pm, 5th July 2005

I wish to make just a small point about schedule 11, about which the Minister will perhaps be able to help us. Paragraph 41 of schedule 11, on page 74, contains the title

''General functions of the Countryside Council for Wales''.

Further on in the paragraph, the schedule gives the power that the Countryside Council of Wales may

''make such charges for any of their services as they think fit''.

That probably gives too great a power for even a Welsh body to carry out. I seek assurance from the Minister that such a power would be subject to secondary legislation by the Welsh Assembly and would require consultation.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

I am just reflecting on that, but it gives me a good opportunity to say some things about schedule 11 that I think would be helpful and important, and with your permission, Mr. Forth, about schedule 12. Both schedules are introduced by clause 95. I am not entirely clear whether we have covered clause 95 yet.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity)

Very good.

Schedule 11 contains minor and consequential amendments, the vast majority of which simply reflect the creation of new organisations—Natural England, the Commission for Rural Communities and others—and the abolition of existing organisations, such as English Nature and the Countryside Agency. Some new provisions can be found among the remaining paragraphs in schedule 11, and it is important that I highlight them.

Paragraph 4 ensures that it is no longer an offence for levy boards to disclose information to others. That will promote the sharing of data between levy bodies and with other organisations to aid streamlining and modernisation in line with freedom of information principles.

Paragraph 11 removes duties on the countryside agencies to advise on the administration of national parks and the development of visitor facilities. That is a deregulatory measure that reflects the fact that national park authorities have been independent bodies since 1995 and would not expect that degree of involvement from Natural England.

Paragraph 12 enhances the purpose of national nature reserves in England to accommodate more explicitly enjoyment of nature and open air recreation, as we have been discussing. Paragraph 96 declares for the avoidance of doubt that, within England and Wales, the definition of plants in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 includes algae and fungae. The schedule also contains a number of tidying-up and consequential amendments.

As regards the specific and interesting point raised by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, I need to think a little longer about a sensible answer. I will therefore respond to him by letter and copy the Committee into that correspondence.  

Schedule 11, as amended, agreed to.