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Restoring Nature and Climate Change — [Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:57 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 5:57 pm, 28th October 2019

I thank my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner for introducing the debate so well. He spoke with passion in his calm-mannered speech, and many of the points he raised set us up nicely for what was a good debate on all sides of the Chamber.

It is quite common for there to be consensus across all parties in Westminster Hall. If only BBC Parliament and the news channels showed more of what goes on here and less of what goes on in the main Chamber, people would see politics at its best. Many of the debates that take place here get into the detail and intricacies. They encourage Ministers to look at the details that matter, not just the soundbites. When we look at rewilding and restoring nature, it is in many cases the detail that matters. It is easy to put big picture phraseologies around how we want to restore and rewild nature—let us insert a very large number of trees and say we will plant this—but it is the detail and delivery that makes a really big difference.

It has been said by colleagues on both sides of the Chamber that climate change is real. In Parliament, businesses, local government and in all our communities, we are confronted by a pressing question: since Parliament has declared a climate emergency, what are you doing differently? If the answer is nothing, as frequently it is, that is not a good enough answer. When it comes to restoring nature, it means not only looking at how we reverse the biodiversity loss in rural areas, but how we reverse it in urban areas as well. It is about what role our brilliant local councils can play, as well as central Government. It is about businesses, voluntary groups, the third sector, and co-operatives and mutuals as well. There are lots of challenges and it is up to each and every one of us to do something.

That is why, when the shadow DEFRA team talks about the climate emergency, my hon. Friends the Members for Workington (Sue Hayman) and for Stroud (Dr Drew) are always keen to mention the phrase that my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy used in her remarks: this is a climate and ecological emergency. If we focus solely on carbon, we will miss part of the debate. That is why we need to look at habitat loss, biodiversity loss, the problems with our soil and so much more besides.

The issue matters to all of us, no matter where we live. We know that catastrophe awaits us if we do not act sooner. As my hon. Friend Justin Madders mentioned, we are already seeing the effects now. If we do not drastically cut the amount of carbon we produce, the result will be sea level rises, extreme weather, population movements, and large parts of our planet—our home—becoming inhospitable and unliveable. There will also be greater biodiversity loss, habitat loss and the extinction of countless animal, insect, fish and plant species.

[Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Indeed, while the debate has been going on, according to the latest biodiversity loss figures we will have lost a couple of species around the world. That shows just how pressing the matter is. Many of those species might not be household names. We had good debates on the ivory ban, in which the Minister played a part, regarding the loss of some flagship species—the elephant and the rhino—due to hunting activities. However, as we saw in the debate about the loss of insects led by my hon. Friend Alex Sobel, small insects that many of us will not know the names of are just as important to our environment.

That is why it is good that so many Members have spoken about why rewilding is good. My hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East and for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and Caroline Nokes talked about activities in their constituencies, highlighting best practice. Other Members discussed the big themes. I was very glad that Tracey Crouch mentioned green walls in schools and roadside planting. Frequently, it is not just about big schemes; small things add up as well.

My hon. Friend Bambos Charalambous said that we need to have more nature-based solutions, which is at the heart of what we are talking about. Frequently, we get very good language, but not enough action follows. That is why we need to say that rewilding and restoring nature is good, and we should promote it much more. It is a really important part of a nature-led solution to the climate and ecological emergency.

The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North spoke passionately about the importance of trees, and Opposition Members made contributions about the variety of trees as well. We need not only to plant more trees, but to ensure that the species that we plant do not contribute to a mono-species environment in which it is harder for insects, birdlife and other plants to thrive. We need to have a mixed approach because, in some cases, not ordering a million trees of the same species makes it slightly more expensive. However, ordering different species is what creates a truly unique environment, and we know from the research that planting multiple species alongside each other sequesters more carbon and provides a home for more animal species than having tree species of the same variety in the same location. When we talk about tree planting, we need to ensure that we are talking about true diversity.

The Government say a lot of good words on tree planting. Indeed, their manifesto commitment to plant so many trees, as my hon. Friend for Ellesmere Port and Neston mentioned, was positive. It is a shame that we have not seen action on it. I know that the Minister will not accept any greenwash in his Department, but unfortunately, we have lately had very bold soundbites and very poor delivery on tree planting. I would be grateful if the Minister set out how he intends to reverse that.

Sequestering carbon in our forests is really important. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East spoke about the importance of, and the opportunity to, sequester so much more in our natural environment, which could come from a potential change in agricultural setting. I look forward to the introduction of the Agriculture Bill and, as the shadow Minister for fisheries, that of the Fisheries Bill. Those two very important Bills have been hamstrung by the Brexit paralysis, but we need them because of the impact on our natural environment and on coastal and rural communities.

Many Members spoke about the importance of rewetting our peat bogs and preventing the burning of our grouse moors. My party launched that policy during the summer, and I spent an entire day at BBC Plymouth talking to different radio shows and TV stations about why moving driven grouse shooting and changing the economy and approach surrounding it could create additional biodiversity in those rural areas.

That approach works not only on driven grouse shooting, but on rewilding other forms of our natural environment. It is important to make the case not just for a rural environment, but for an urban and rural environment. We need to enhance biodiversity in all settings. As the majority of our population live in urban environments, it is important that our activities as individuals can take place in the areas where we live, not just the areas we want to visit or that we might think of when we talk about natural environments.

Sir Oliver Heald, who is unfortunately no longer in the Chamber, very boldly called for a policy for water. Indeed, the Government’s policies for water are far too managerial when it comes to our response to climate change. I encourage the new Minister to give his Department a little kick in that area, because there is an opportunity to go much further. The over-extraction of water from our chalk streams, for instance, rightly carries an awful lot of headlines. Severe damage is being done to our chalk streams, and it is not just fantastic figures such as Feargal Sharkey who campaign in those areas. Local groups right across our chalk stream communities are really concerned about what is happening in those precious and unique environments. We need to do so much more about that.