Env after Brexit

Kevin Hollinrake: High environmental standards boost economic growth

By Kevin Hollinrake MP

By Kevin Hollinrake MP

Published on Conservative Home

British voters overwhelming support high environmental standards – 80 per cent, for example, want the UK to maintain our world-leading food safety regulations after we leave the European Union.

This is unsurprising – high environmental standards in agriculture keep our livestock healthy and our food safe to eat, and in product design they cut our energy bills by improving the efficiency of our ovens and toasters.

A sensible, long term framework of environmental rules spurs investment and innovation from business.

Many businesses of course face examples of vexatious red tape – and Brexit does provide us with the opportunity to cut some of the bureaucracy that has impeded business and made our lives more difficult. From the baffling small print on radio adverts, to compelling pharmacists to scan every medicine in front of their customers, there are plenty of nonsensical EU regulations that add unnecessary costs to businesses and should be scrapped.

Yet the desire to trim unnecessary red tape can sit comfortably alongside support for a long term, sensible framework of high environmental standards that, if properly enforced by an independent watchdog, will restore our countryside, clean up our air, and boost British business.

BuroHappold Engineering recently explored the relationship between environmental regulations and competitiveness, in particular the impact of the implementation of the London Plan in the construction sector, the Landfill Tax in the waste sector, and the passenger car emission regulations in the car industry.

In all three cases their analysis found that the upfront costs of complying with regulations were outweighed by the economic benefits they triggered through increased business investment in innovation and skills, better-quality products and infrastructure, greater business competitiveness, and job creation.

For example, there was an overwhelming consensus that despite flaws in the testing methodology, passenger car CO2 emission regulations have been a success story for the UK and EU car industry. The regulations have provided certainty, scale, and a clear framework to meet targets, without any negative impacts on competitiveness. The relatively stable and consistent regulatory framework has allowed for a long-term and broader view of managing the costs of compliance.

This commitment to a stable and consistent framework underpins the UK’s Climate Change Act – which, through its long-term approach to tackling global warming, has delivered certainty to businesses and deep reductions in CO2 emissions. Since 1990, we have cut emissions by 42 per cent, while our economy has grown by two-thirds. This means that we have reduced emissions faster than any other G7 nation, while leading the G7 in growth in national income over this period.

The same principle – that businesses benefit from a clear and consistent regulatory framework – underpins the Government’s Environment Bill. The Bill will set out clear goals and targets to reverse the damage done to the British countryside over previous decades and clean up our toxic air.

Businesses welcome the clarity provided by these targets. Anglian Water, for example, have argued that “when targets are too vague, it’s almost impossible to assess whether government is on track to hit them. In order for real progress to be made on the environment, goals within the Environment Bill must be carefully established with robust timetables.”

Businesses will then only invest if they have the confidence that these targets will be properly enforced: hence why the independence of the statutory body – the “watchdog” – is so crucial. Firms need to know that whoever is in government, their investments in things such as new technology to improve air quality will pay off.

The UK is a world leader in clean growth, with over 400,000 jobs in the low carbon economy: one in five electric vehicles sold in Europe in are made in Britain; our offshore wind sector is second to none; and the City of London is the home of green finance. This is in large part down to investment decisions that have been driven by our Climate Change Act – and the certainly provided to business by the existence of an independent Committee on Climate Change that will make sure standards are upheld.

We now have the opportunity to set the gold standard with a world-leading Environment Bill, and achieve similar results for British nature, while providing the certainty British businesses need about the direction of travel to a cleaner, more prosperous future.

Ben Bradley: The Best Brexit for Bees

By Ben Bradley MP

By Ben Bradley MP

While the past few months have been saturated with Brexit, other issues continue to fly into my inbox - and the fate of our tiny pollinators rightly generates a huge amount of buzz amongst my constituents.

Bees and Brexit have more in common than you’d think. 35 of the UK’s bee species are currently under threat of extinction, while 76% of UK butterfly species and 66% of UK moth species are in decline. The disastrous Common Agricultural Policy has decimated our countryside, and wildflower meadows, which bees rely on to get from place to place, have declined by 97% since the second world war.

Earlier this year I introduced the Protection of Pollinators Bill to Parliament which aimed to create protected wildflower corridors for bees and other insects.

It is important to note that the value of the UK’s 1,500 species of pollinators to our farms and crops is estimated to be £400-680 million per year. They’re vital for the food we eat, and the plants that other species rely on as well.

I was delighted that following the introduction of my Bill, Michael Gove pledged £60,000 to map these important habitat corridors and identify where we should focus our conservation efforts to best protect pollinators. This will inform our National Pollinator Strategy, a 10 year plan for collaborative efforts to improve the status of pollinators, and other measures like our pledge to ban neonicotinoids (certain sorts of pesticides) will help too.

The first Environment Bill in over 20 years also promises to provide new opportunities for standards to protect pollinators for various sectors from industry to developers and so on. A consultation launched last week looks at introducing an environmental net gain principle for developers to promote biodiversity, and wildflowers should form a part of this. All of these domestic policies are hugely welcome and demonstrate the Conservative Party’s green credentials.

Brexit offers a real chance for change. CAP has decimated the British countryside - the number of pollinating insects has declined by 13% since 1980. Rather than simply handing over taxpayers’ cash to landowners on a per acreage basis, our new Agriculture Bill will reward farmers for providing public, environmental goods. That can include support for the wildflower corridors that bees and other pollinators rely on around their farms. Farmers, who know how important these insects are to their business, will finally get the support needed to protect them.

And that’s not all. Michael Gove has said that he supports looking at further controls on pesticides in the UK. Outside of the EU we will have the chance to better assess how we manage our environment and ensure that we tailor our policies to suit our unique environment and native species. This opportunity to take back control of our environmental policies, coupled with rewards for environmentally friendly farming practices from the Agriculture Bill, will have a huge impact on the way our agriculture interacts with our wildlife, bees and bugs.

We know that there is a problem, bees and other pollinators are in trouble, and we know what we need to do to fix it. With the National Pollinator Strategy, the Agriculture Bill, a green Brexit and funding for pollinator corridors (as outlined in my Bill) I am confident that British bees will soon be flourishing once again.

Sowing the seeds of success

By CEN Ambassador Robert Lingard

By CEN Ambassador Robert Lingard

Let’s start with a statistic and a shocking one at that: 56% decline in farmland birds since 1970!

That’s more than half of our iconic farmland birds – which include skylarks and corn buntings, turtle doves and yellowhammers – gone. Vanished from our landscape. Silenced.

That’s not even considering the tragic reduction in bugs, bees, beetles, butterflies and more, that have accompanied this biological desertification of our countryside.

Let’s continue by looking at what’s happened to our land management over the last 40 plus years, as the UK has embraced the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, driven by intensive agriculture and a goal of maximising production.

To have a policy that has encouraged hedges to be stripped, trees to be felled and as much land as possible to be used for production, can surely only have a negative impact on our natural environment.

Now, that’s not to say that there hasn’t been an effort to resist this. Both by the environmental sector and farmers themselves – many of whom have gone above and beyond, often hindered rather than helped by the current agricultural system, to attempt to save our precious nature.

I’ve met many of these farmers. Committed stewards of the land, often second, third or even fourth generation farmers, who know their patch better than anyone.

They’ve seen complicated ‘environmental payments’ for arbitrary pieces of land in the name of this species or that, often without a proper strategic plan.

They’ve also struggled to make their efforts pay. Whilst many don’t require payment – often doing it out of their deep connection with our precious landscape – they do recognise the need for a sustainable system, to assist them on a larger scale and to incentivise others.

That’s why I was so delighted to see the creation last year of the Nature Friendly Farmer’s Network. A group of farmers ‘who have come together to champion a way of farming which is sustainable and good for nature’ and who are ‘passionate about ensuring our countryside is being productive and bursting with wildlife’ – the holy grail I hear you say!

What’s more, they know it can be done as they have been doing it. The question is, how do you redesign a complete system, thousands of farmers and a vast amount of land, to achieve this everywhere?

Many environmental organisations have long pitched for the idea of ‘public money for public goods’, the idea of providing that sustainable finance for things, like nature and biodiversity, which aren’t ‘profitable’ on the market. This includes the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has agricultural advisors across the country and leading thinkers at their HQ in Bedfordshire.

Imagine then the joy earlier this month when the Secretary of State, Michel Gove MP, published his long-anticipated Agriculture Bill. A Bill that clearly puts forward an ambitious funding model based on this principle of public money for public goods. One that incentivises and enables farmers to both deliver on productivity and their environmental stewardship.

The Bill has a strong focus on environmental protection and it has committed to a ‘strong regulatory baseline, with enforcement mechanisms that are proportionate and effective’ – which will no doubt be music to the environmental sector’s ears!

From investment in new technologies, to rewarding farmers that take appropriate steps on flood management, such as planting trees, or maintaining hedgerows and making their farm more resilient; to the pressures of climate change, this Bill has the potential to revitalise and revolutionise farming and our natural environment.

Now, there’s more to be done and this is still early days. Appropriate funding will of course need to be better developed, beyond the current funding commitments until 2022 made by the Secretary of State. There will also need to be further thought about how the four countries of the UK interact going forward, which will no doubt be a priority for post-Brexit planning.

However, this is a very welcome start and I for one welcome the commitment and zeal of Michael Gove, especially this passion for a Green Brexit.

So, when you next walk through the countryside why not stop and listen, taking note of all that’s been lost to date - the buzz, the birdsong. Hopefully, rather than all the noise remaining just in Westminster, there’ll be lots more coming back to a farmland near you!