Welcome to the November Parliament activity report

Note this is a summary of some of the points - read the full set of Hansard on https://hansard.parliament.uk/ - This blog is to inform rather than to express affiliations with a certain point of view. Feel free to scroll through to the headline that interests you - the House of Lords Hansard summary is in indigo and the House of Commons in green. Links to relevant information have been added.

This months blog includes information on terrestrial and freshwater protected sites, carbon emissions, Singapore: a garden city, coexistence of apex predators, moorland burning, biodiversity net gain, Life Nature Awards, fire activity, camera trapping ethics, the Environment Bill, and much more.

02 November 2020 - Terrestrial and Freshwater Protected Sites

Lord Teverson what plans have there been to bring forward the 2042 target to restore 75% of terrestrial and freshwater protected sites. Lord Goldsmith confirmed that the Environment Bill - Environmental Targets outlines initial thoughts and includes protected sites. He believes that a goal of 75% is ambitious, with some sites requiring many years of work in order to get them to a favourable condition.

Baroness Blackstone enquired as to the progress with nature-based solutions, and the emphasis on the global response to soil and grassland restoration (due to their capacity as carbon sinks). Lord Goldsmith confirmed that the UK has doubled its international climate fund, with a commitment to spend a big proportion on nature-based solutions. It is the Government's wish that other countries do likewise, and be held accountable for reaching targets. Another important situation to deal with is the activities that incentivise environmental destruction. Further activities include the planting of 30,000 hectares of land by 2025.

Baroness Redfern raised concern about the Water Companies failing to protect, in terms of water pollution, whilst Baroness Parminter raised that all English rivers are failing to meet quality tests for pollution, with 40% of water pollution coming from agricultural run-off. Lord Goldsmith said that the Environment Agency conducts audits of management systems and now technology, such as continuous flow monitoring. In terms of the wider environment and the impact of agriculture, that should be address by the Environmental Land Management System.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch raised the issue of not yet having a comprehensive baseline of natural capital assets against which progress can be measured. Lord Godlsmith acknowledge the need for this and pointed out that the Dasgupta Review was due for completion (by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta). JL: The Dasgupta Review is an independent, global review which looks at the sustainability of activities in the environment, including how we change it, how we restore it and much more.

Further reading: A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment.

Further information is available on the Hansard

09 November 2020 - Carbon Emissions

Baroness Blackstone raised plans for homes to be powered by wind by 2030, and wanted to know what plans would be in place to meet a net zero carbon emissions target. The Parliamentary under-secretary of state replied that they intend to grow the workforce needed through education. She confirmed that the Government are aiming for 40 gigawatts of offshore wind to power homes, there is a £2 billion Green Homes grant, Green Homes grant skills training, and a commitment to planting 75,000 acres of trees by the end of this Parliament.

In relation to this the PM outlined a Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution for 250,000 jobs (18th November 2020).

Our green industrial revolution will be powered by the wind turbines of Scotland and the North East, propelled by the electric vehicles made in the Midlands and advanced by the latest technologies developed in Wales, so we can look ahead to a more prosperous, greener future.

Boris Johnson

This includes:

  1. Offshore wind
  2. Hydrogen
  3. Nuclear
  4. Electric vehicles
  5. Public transport, cycling and walking
  6. Jet Zero greener maritime
  7. Homes and public buildings
  8. Carbon capture
  9. Nature
  10. Innovation and finance

Further information is available on the Hansard

10th November 2020 - Blending Urban Living With Nature

Euronews explored the interesting topic of rewilding an urban environment. Singapore is 700 square kilometers and houses 5.7 million people. This garden city integrated nature into its environs in 1967, when a lack of green space and a rise in air pollution became an issue. The Singapore Green Plan focussed on air and climate change, water and clean land, and nature and public health.

13th November 2020 - Coexistence

According to Science Daily the predator species puma and culpeo fox coexist in the Chilean Andes - they share one area - and hunt at the same time. Research camera stations were deployed and samples collected. The interplay between these two predators was summarised as such:

The Puma diet was dominated by introduced, exotic hares and foxes appeared to shift away from hares to rabbits, small mammals, and seeds.

Popiolek et al. 2020 Exotic prey facilitate coexistence

Most importantly, and as stated in the research paper, published in Diversity, the exotic hare species are the pumas food source. Therefore these exotic species need to be controlled in a manner that is sympathetic to this.

18 November 2020 - Moorland Burning

The UK peatlands contain an estimated 3,200 million tonnes of carbon, more than the forests of the UK, France and Germany combined...

Continued mismanagement means that the UK’s peatlands are a net source of emissions...

Carbon dioxide released is equivalent to that of 140,000 cars a year.

Between the 1940s and the present, there has been a sevenfold increase in burning on peatland in England alone

Olivia Blake

There was agreement from several members on the preservation of moorland with burning addressed. Sir Edward Leigh, noted that the RSPBs recent call to stop burning peat 'deliberately' confuses controlled and uncontrolled burning. Controlled burning is not the burning of peat but the burning of heather and surface vegetation, and is undertaken in the winter when it is cold and wet.

For years the RSPB has been attacking the ancient practice of burning heather during damp winters. Britain’s gamekeepers use such controlled activity to reduce the risk of summer wildfires—just like indigenous people in Australia and North America.

Lord Botham

Olivia Blake posed the question of whether there was an awareness that controlled cold fires caused 68% of wildfires in the higher uplands, with Sir Edward Leigh questioning the validity of this data.

The debate continued.

Further information is available on the Hansard

20th November 2020 - Biodiversity Net Gain

The British Ecological Society have released an interesting article about their online event. Speakers included individuals from a wide background:

22nd November 2020 - Life Nature Awards

Euronews brought attention to the DINALP BEAR Project which received a Life Nature Award this year for their work to sustain bear populations in the Dinaric and southern Alps. These awards are an initiative of the European Commission. Other work that was acknowledged by Life Nature Awards included WOLFLIFE - a project to maintain wolf populations in the Carpathian Mountains - and LIFE-Aurinia - a project to improve the habitat of the marsh fritillary butterfly in Germany.

23rd November 2020 - Fire activity threatens species

Science Daily gave visibility to a new study that has highlighted that over 4,400 species around the world are threatened with extinction due to fire activity, including:

  • 19% of birds
  • 16% of mammals
  • 17% of dragonflies
  • 19% of legumes

25th November 2020 - Camera trapping ethics

The ethics of camera traps, as raised in an article by the British Ecological Society, include the recording of people from ramblers to poachers, and their privacy. The open-access paper outlines a code of conduct to aid researchers who face this ethical dilemma. The basic concepts are as follows:

  • Permission should be sought from the relevant individuals and privacy upheld.
  • People should be given advance warning of research, the purpose should be communicated, and the use of signage should be considered, in order to highlight the presence of a camera. Individuals should be given an explanation of the technology and how it works. Wildlife images should be shared with the local community or government agency.
  • Researchers should be aware of the law, and take into account vulnerable people.
  • People should be engaged to participate.

November 2020 - Environmental Bill

The Environment Bill went through numerous sittings to discuss potential amendments that were needed. Here are a few of the debates to give you a flavour of what was discussed.

Amendment suggestion: to ensure that the environmental improvement plan includes: measures that are proportionate to targets, departmental actions, vulnerable people, a timetable for adoption, implementation, and review, and an analysis of options.

Noes: 9 Ayes: 5

On the inclusion of these items

Amendment suggestion: to require the Government to include steps to improve people’s enjoyment of the natural environment in its Environmental Plan. A nod was given to the Landscape Review or the Glover Review which outlines the need for national landscapes to work as a positive force for the nation's wellbeing, and in order to do this there needs to be structural reform to ensure that this is possible. Rebecca Pow emphasised the importance of connecting people with the environment as a core part of the Government's 25-year-plan.

Amendment suggestion: to consider the historic environment within plans. Rebecca Pow stated that the plan committed the Government to “Safeguarding and enhancing the beauty of our natural scenery and improving its environmental value while being sensitive to considerations of its heritage.”

Amendment suggestion: to remove the "exceptions for armed forces, defense and national security policy from the requirement to have due regard to the policy statement on environmental principles". She believes it is important to establish that no area of Government should be exempted from responsibility for the environment.

Noes: 10 Ayes: 6

On the removal of the exceptions

Amendment suggestion: to make sure that the OEP is independent of the Government. Fleur Anderson supported this and raised that there had been a promise of a new world-leading independent environmental watchdog.

Amendment suggestion: that the definition of natural environment includes the historic environment.

Noes: 10 Ayes: 4

To include historic environments

Amendment suggestion: that the natural environment includes a reference to the marine environment and is not confined to inland waters.

Noes: 10 Ayes: 6

To note marine environments

Further information is available on the Hansard

In other news

  • Slideshow: How Ecologists Study the World’s Apex Predators (The Scientist)
  • Infographic: How Large Carnivores Sculpt Ecosystems (The Scientist)
  • Article: Honey bees lose sleep after ingesting pesticides (Phys.org)
  • Article: Migration and molt affect how birds change their colours (Phys.org)
  • Article: Why bats fly into walls (Phys.org)
  • Audio long-read: Ediacaran organisms (Nature)
  • Podcast: Noise and light pollution and birds