New white paper on the natural environment

The Government is to undertake a review of how it can marry its goals of improving the natural environment and increasing food production.The first White Paper written on the natural environment in 20 years called ‘the Natural Choice’, was published on Tuesday, June 7th. The White Paper contains far reaching plans to ‘protect, restore and improve’ England’s natural environment, ‘repairing damage done to the environment in the past’. The plans are directly linked to the National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA), published the previous week, which described ‘strong economic arguments for safeguarding and enhancing the natural environment’ (see previous posting on website). The White Paper's programme of action includes moves to ‘get the best value from agricultural land’. “Over 70 per cent of England is farmed,” the document states. “Farmers and land managers play a vital role in achieving society’s ambitions for water, wildlife, healthy soil, food production and the management of landscapes. “Food security is a long-term challenge; farming needs to be supported in building capacity for sustainable production both in the UK and globally. However, the food chain has major impacts on climate change, biodiversity and the wider environment, which require management.”It adds that the NEA shows that in the past, increases in the productivity of farmed land have resulted in declines in other ecosystem services.“One of the major continuing challenges is to increase food production while improving environmental outcomes,” the document adds.The document reveals a plan to ‘bring together government, industry and environmental partners to reconcile how we will achieve our goals of improving the environment and increasing food production’. The conclusions will be published within the next 12 months.The document also reveals that the Government will review the effectiveness of voluntary approaches to environmental issues, such as the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and the pesticides Voluntary Initiative.There will also be new approach, to be piloted in selected areas initially, to Environmental Stewardship that ‘increases its focus on outcomes, including the possibility of allowing greater flexibility within agreements’.The document also confirms that the Government will support moves to ‘green the Common Agricultural Policy’, as negotiations on a post-2013 policy continue at EU level.Other headline measures include:

  • New Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) aimed at transforming rural and urban areas and providing bigger, connected sites for wildlife to live in and adapt to climate change. A £7.5 million will be available for 12 initial NIAs.
  • Biodiversity offsetting – new way for developers to improve wildlife sites and ensure vulnerable ones are not lost. .
  • New Local Nature Partnerships to strengthen ‘joined-up action’ across local agencies and organisations, with £1M available this year.
  • Phasing out peat, working with the horticulture industry. The aim is to protect and restore peatlands, which are valuable carbon sinks, habitats. A task force to consider all options to phase out use of peat in the supply chain will be chaired by Dr Alan Knight OBE.

To read the report click on the link A summary version is also avaialable