Departmental Update

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written statement – made on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Defra has wide and hugely important objectives: to protect and enhance our natural environment, to lead the world in food, farming and fisheries, to deliver a safe and ambitious departure from the EU, and to be an outstanding organisation. This means we play a major role in people’s day-to-day lives, from the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink.

I would like to update the House on some of Defra’s key domestic achievements since 2010, which have been delivered whilst maintaining the highest standards of preparedness for EU Exit.

On the Natural Environment, we have:

  • Produced a 25 Year Environment Plan setting out how the government will achieve the aim of being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. In 2019 we published the first 25 Year Environment Plan progress report with 90% of the plan’s actions delivered or being progressed.

  • Introduced the first Environment Bill in 20 years, setting out a domestic framework for environmental governance and legally binding long term targets as the UK leaves the European Union. This is a vital step towards delivering the 25 Year Environment Plan.

  • Improved or created 16,000 acres of water dependent habitat, creating 2,700 acres of intertidal habitat and improving 380 miles of river habitats

  • Published Julian Glover’s Landscapes Review of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, setting out how we can fulfil the vision for our ‘finest landscapes to be places of natural beauty.

  • Announced £60m to help plant new woodlands and urban trees to help meet the government’s targets to plant eleven million rural trees and one million urban trees by 2022, announced the creation of a Northern Forest and Northumberland Forest, and appointed a tree champion to drive tree planting rates.

  • Trees are an important carbon sink for the UK as we aim to meet our target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – with the UK the first major economy to legislate for this in July 2019. We’ve made a strong start, planting over 16 million trees since 2010.

  • We have cleaned up the air: since 2010 toxic emissions of nitrogen oxides are down 29%, sulphur dioxide emissions are down 62%, and fine particulate matter emissions are down 10%.

  • Announced funding for the restoration of 6,498 hectares of degraded peatland, much of this in the uplands, allocating £10m to 62 sites across England. Peatlands are the UK’s largest terrestrial carbon store.

  • Designated the 3rd tranche of 41 new marine conservation zones, marking the most significant expansion of England’s ‘Blue Belt of protected areas to date, protecting [half?] of UK waters.

  • Committed to protect 30 per cent of world’s oceans by 2030 and created a global alliance with 10 countries signing up to the UK led initiative protect at least 30% of the world's ocean and its wildlife.

  • Launched a review into Highly Protected Marine Areas, Sea life, and Marine Habitats as well as publishing an updated Marine Strategy showing progress towards good environmental status.

  • Launched the Clean Air strategy which the WHO praised as “an example for the rest of the world to follow”. It will tackle all sources of air pollution, making our air healthier to breathe, protecting nature and boosting the economy.

  • Implemented a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds from April 2020, to reduce plastic waste, and led a Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance with half of the commonwealth to tackle marine plastics.

  • In 2018 we introduced a microbeads ban to prevent these harmful pieces of plastic entering the marine environment.

  • Launched and published responses to consultations on the reform of the waste system, including on extended producer responsibility for packaging, deposit-return scheme for drinks containers, consistency in recycling, and tax on plastic packaging containing less than 30% recycled content.

  • Committed to reintroducing formerly native species, including iconic species such as the white tailed eagle and beavers, where there are clear environmental and socio-economic benefits,

On food, farming and fisheries, including improving animal and plant health, we have:

  • We are replacing the restrictive rules of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, freeing farmers to seize the opportunities offered by Brexit. Instead we are introducing an ambitious new environmental land management scheme which will allow us to reward the farmers and land managers who protect our environment

  • Protected allergy sufferers through ‘Natasha’s Law’, requiring food businesses to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packed for direct sale.

  • Protected service animals through ‘Finn’s Law’, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to service animals.

  • Introduced ‘Lucy’s Law’ ensuring that puppies and kittens are born and reared in a safe environment, with their mother, and sold from their place of birth.

  • Delivered the Ivory Act, introducing one of the world’s strongest bans on ivory to prevent commercial activities involving ivory in the UK that could directly or indirectly fuel the poaching of elephants. We have also launched a call for evidence on extending a ban to a range of animals including hippos, walruses and narwhals, and are consulting on banning imports of trophy hunting of endangered species.

  • Commissioned the Bovine TB strategy review, published in 2018, on the Departments strategy for achieving Officially Bovine Tuberculosis Free status in England by 2038.

  • Created a stronger future for farming with new markets for British farming products opening across the world. Markets for British beef and lamb worth £127m over 5 years have been opened in Japan and in 2018, China lifted the ban on British Beef worth £250m in the first 5 years, which had been in place since 1996. A deal has also been secured to enable UK exports of seed potatoes to China; the seed potato export market as a whole is worth an annual £90 million to the UK.

  • Published the Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations white paper as part of our goal to promote a more competitive, profitable and sustainable fishing industry across the whole of the UK, and setting a gold standard for sustainable fishing around the world in addition to announcing £37.2m of extra funding to boost the UK fishing industry.

We have also carried out our duties on domestic emergencies, including leading the response following the Salisbury attack. We are investing £2.6 billion in protecting people against flooding. This will fund over 1,000 flood defence schemes with 300,000 homes better protected, improve protection to 690,000 acres of agricultural land, 279 miles of railway and over 5000 miles of highways by 2021. Additionally, between 2015 and 2020 we will be spending over £1 billion on the maintenance of flood defence assets. This is a real terms increase in spending compared to the £812 million spent in the previous 5 years.

Defra will continue to pursue this ambitious agenda over the coming months and years, making further progress both domestically and through seizing the opportunities that leaving the EU will present.

This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: HLWS63