Welcome to the February 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. 

This month there is coverage of the Agricultural Bill and how that is aligned with environmental management, the Environmental Bill, the climate and greenhouse gases, and tree pests and diseases.


03 February 2020 - Agriculture Bill - Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: This Bill will introduce the first major reform of agriculture policy in this country for half a century. Acknowledgement was given to farmers who contribute to our society by "putting food on our plates and conserving the natural landscapes" and that a "new scheme of farm support will include support for agri-tech to support productivity enhancement in a sustainable way".

The bill will

  • Provide farmers and land managers with a chance to have a positive impact on protecting nature and tackling catastrophic climate change
  • Ensure our high standards of animal welfare, food safety and environmental protection are defended in trade negotiations
  • Provide fairness for agricultural tenants and greater transparency in the supply chain
  • Outline plans for financial assistance for environmentally friendly farming practices
  • Help build a productive, profitable, resilient farming sector
  • Empower farmers to produce high-quality food
  • Ensure high standards of food safety and traceability, animal health and welfare, and stewardship of the natural environment
  • Provide the framework for funding schemes to support farmers, foresters and land managers
  • Ensure soil health is maintained

The environment was discussed:

  • Well-managed livestock production can provide environmental benefits
  • Our livestock farmers are some of the most carbon-friendly in the world
  • Soil is clearly one of our most precious national assets
  • The conservation of native breeds and plants

Further information is available on the Hansard


04 February 2020 - Climate Justice

"Safeguarding the rights of the most marginalised people and sharing the impact of climate change equitably and fairly...

...Oxfam found that climate-fuelled disasters were the No. 1 driver of internal displacements over the past decade, forcing an estimated 20 million people a year from their homes...

...The World Bank warns that, without urgent action, 143 million people will be displaced in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America by 2050...

...Continuing to burn fossil fuels or expand aviation, and compensating by paying poorer countries to offset those emissions, risks only worsening and entrenching current inequalities."

Further information is available on the Hansard


05 February 2020 - Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Baroness Jones of Moulescoomb asked about the plans in achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Lord Duncan of Springbank replied that their plans include:

  • Transport decarbonisation plan
  • Energy White Paper
  • Building strategy
  • Heat policy road map
  • English tree strategy
  • Aviation consultation
  • Net-zero consultation
  • Fuel poverty strategy

Following this there were various concerns raised regarding meeting these targets on time and the importance of setting out a clear plan

Further information is available on the Hansard


06 February 2020 - Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On energy

Lord Browne of Ladytron opened up a debate on Absolute Zero

"The authors of Absolute Zero—a recent report by UK FIRES, a consortium of UK academic experts—have done us all a great service by authoritatively and painstakingly exposing the degree to which we are being misled by a techno-optimistic approach to the climate change challenge"

He went on to state that the current calculation of a 42% reduction in carbon dioxide didn't take account of emissions from aviation and shipping and those associated with imports and exports. He attributes the reduction to "a cleaner energy mix based on gas and renewables instead of coal and the falling demand for energy". Essentially a 15% reduction has been achieved if these are factored in to the equation. Baroness Walmsley foresees that achieving a further 85% reduction in emissions will be harder and more expensive. She stated that we must stop burning fossil fuels and harvest energy from the sun. This will require radical changes in infrastructure. She is concerned that the UK is going to put their faith in technology that may not even exist yet.

There are concerns that the promise of technologically rich solutions will not be 1. available in time, 2. in a state that is scaleable, 3. ecologically friendly to manufacture, 4. may take 30 years to become widely used.

Lord Redesdale fed back on what the Government has mandated large companies to do. This includes recording energy usage in terms of electricity, gas and transportation fuel. Each company has to state "what policy and strategy it has for energy reduction, and who in the company is responsible".

On agriculture

The Earl of Caithness raised the quoted the UK FIRES report "Beef and lamb phased out by 2050 and replaced by greatly expanded demand for vegetarian food" and said this is contrary to a statement by the IPPC working group that the plan will be to focus on "sustainably sourced food as part of our diet for the future". He raised the issue that the report does not take account of the difference in greenhouse gases produced by beef cattle raised on deforested land in contrast to cattle on natural pastures, where the former produce much more than the latter. He noted that if cattle and sheep are 'abolished' then we would have to do this to "farmed prawns, farmed fish, pork, chicken, cheese, beer, dairy milk, eggs, coffee, tofu, nuts, pulses, rice, beans, carrots, barley, wheat, potatoes, oats and maize", which all produce emissions. Interestingly he also states that cattle numbers today are about the same as they were in 1932 and sheep numbers were similar in 1868.

On the environment

The Earl of Caithness stated that the UK FIRES report recommends reducing the amount of trees that are cut down. He argues that the number of trees that have been cut down in the UK in the last 100 years 'is not that many', and that forestry has doubled in this time. He also stated that an increase in rainfall has resulted in the forest and forest floor being less efficient at absorbing carbon.

Lord Bishop of Oxford: quoted Pope Francis “the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor”, and noted that "Responding to the current emergency is the responsibility of every family, workplace, village, town and city, company and public institution". He went on to say that the church and faith communities must play a part as we are, to paraphrase, stewards of the earth and we should look after the poorest and the weakest.  dioceses are placing the care for the earth on top of their agenda, by encouraging lifestyle changes.

Lord Hannay: the first requirement for success is to make this agenda a global team effort.

Lord Judd: international cooperation is what is needed. Current disasters that are displacing people, and the hunger and poverty that still impacts on millions of people.

Lord Giddens: shared the message of A Farewell to Ice by - one of the world’s leading authorities on the Arctic - Peter Wadhams who defines the loss of Arctic ice as a "practical catastrophe". He also stated "it is not a question of “saving the planet”—the planet will survive whatever we do—but of saving our civilisation" and emphasised the importance of researching blue-sky solutions.

Lord Broers: "modelling of how human behaviour is changing weather systems is even more difficult than modelling the weather itself". We should focus on improving feasible solutions rather than working on everything that we can think of in the hopes of a breakthrough.

Lord Reid of Cardowan: "We have been successful as a species—indeed, so successful that we have come effectively to dominate the biosphere of the planet on which we live. The next phase will be defined by how well we are able to manage that success".

Further information is available on the Hansard


10 Febraury 2020 - Flood Response - Storm Ciara

  • Rainfall: 40 and 80 cm in 24 hours across much of northern England- the highest levels were recorded in Cumbria, 179.8 cm of rain in a day
  • River Calder in Yorkshire, along the River Ribble in Lancashire, along the Irwell in Greater Manchester, and on the Eden in Appleby suffered and, historically, were impacted in 2015
  • >500 properties have been flooded, according to current data
  • Defences in Carlisle have held
  • A shipping container is stuck under Elland bridge
  • This Government are determined to maintain and enhance our readiness to respond

Luke Pollard: There have been cuts to our local authorities. The Environment Agency staffing levels have fallen by 20% since the Government came to power. A new plan for flooding should 1. factor climate change, 2. reverse cuts to frontline services, 3. invest in comprehensive flood prevention, 4. promote land use change and encourage habitat restoration.

Theresa Villiers: We are decarbonising faster than any other G7 economy. Habitat restoration, nature-based solutions, peatland restoration and tree planting are all crucial. Planning system must take into account flood risk. Our manifesto commits a further £4 billion over five years. A £2.6 billion of investment for flood defences up to 2021 ensures resiliency of transport networks.

Further information is available on the Hansard


13 February 2020 - Tree Pests and Diseases 

Threats posed to native trees in the United Kingdom.

Lord Hope of Craighead acknowledged that the threat of invasive species is not new, he noted the impact of grey squirrel, mink and signal crayfish

On tree pests and diseases he noted elm disease, acute oak decline, oak processionary moth, ash dieback, and stated:

"Trees,..., are part of a much larger ecosystem that includes the birds, animals and insects that inhabit them. When the trees die, the adverse effects extend well beyond the trees themselves."

Some of the causes of the spread of pests and diseases are beyond our control, however what we can regulate is the movement of these through human activities. Lord Hope stated in relation to this that we need to adopt greater biosecurity measures, much like those employed by New Zealand, who tightly regulates importation. He also noted his concerns about the imminent launch of a scheme to expand our woodland - he hopes that this is achieved with care and that young stock are chosen in such a way that it is free from disease.

Lord Hope welcomed Defra’s tree health resilience strategy, which was published in May 2018, however given this he is concerned about:

  1. Is the action plan being put into practice? Will it be supported
  2. Will the budget cover the cost of combating invasive species?
  3. After Brexit, will we keep in 'touch with EU environmental law'
  4. Can we ensure that private individuals, local bodies and other organisations plant disease free stock?

Lord Colgrain voiced his views which were similar to those of Lord Hope:

"We can expect to have to deal with natural and weather-related disasters, and we are at the mercy of windborne spores and pests, such as ash cholera and the box moth, but what we can prevent we must guard against, such as the import of disease on young plants and the release into the wild of animals that will upset our wonderful, historic, native ecosystem. We should also guard against our own ill-thought-out measures such as plastic tree guards, which blight our woodland for decades and leave permanent pollution."

The Lord Bishop of St Albans raised his concerns: 

"How do we address this downward spiral, when, with increasing temperatures, more diseases are coming? ... I ask the Minister, first, about the general commitment of the Government to tree planting for rural landowners. Is that going to continue? Can it be increased? To what extent is it dependent on planting native trees?

...what are Her Majesty’s Government doing to reduce dramatically the numbers of trees being imported? Can we follow the good example of the Woodland Trust, which now only plants trees propagated in this country? What representations are the Government making to the largest landowners in the country to encourage them to get on board with the prevention of native tree diseases and pests? Finally, what assessment is being made of Defra’s tree health resilience strategy? How do we know what impact it is making and how can we build on it in the years to come?"

Baroness Byford gave some context: 

"The Woodland Trust states that there are some 20 non-native pests and diseases affecting native UK trees, six of which have reached epidemic levels. In its briefing, the trust reminds us that it is the landowner who bears the cost when unsafe trees are felled. Clearly prevention is the best and most cost-effective way to manage pests and disease...

She then added further concerns:

The European Union Committee, in its report published on 24 October 2018, Brexit: Plant and Animal Biosecurity, noted that the UK currently follows EU legislation on biosecurity, with decisions on implementation made predominately at EU level. On leaving the EU, the UK has opportunity to strengthen and improve our biosecurity, including the checks at ports and airports that have already been mentioned. If the plant passport scheme has failed, what measures will be put in place?...

...In May 2018, the Government published their Tree Health Resilience Strategy, to which other noble Lords have referred. I hope the Minister will update us on its progress, though I know it has not been a very long period of time..."

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con) addressed the House

  • Commitment: increase in planting across the UK to 30,000 hectares per year by 2025. Supported by the nature for climate fund.
  • Biosecurity needs to be at the heart of all our plans for environmental improvement
  • The Grown in Britain agenda is supported. 90% of trees planted in a forestry setting by Forestry England are UK grown. Initiatives will increase domestic production to grow ever more trees and plants in this country. This will be supported by the nature for climate fund and our forthcoming tree strategy.
  • We can not prohibit trade and importation.
  • The Government invest >£30 million per year in plant health service. Inspectors conduct >46,600 physical checks per year of high-risk consignments.
  • New registration requirements have been introduced and the number of goods which require a phytosanitary certificate increased.
  • Tree health resilience strategy has resulted in the establishment of the UK plant biosecurity alliance, the launch of the HTA plant healthy management standard and self-assessment, the recruitment of more plant health inspectors at the border, the launch of Action Oak, the publication of our oak and ash research strategy and the planting of 3,000 tolerant trees in the UK’s first tolerant ash archive. Later this year, a formal consultation measure on quarantine will be launched.
  • When outbreaks occur, the government plant health service has stringent, tested contingency plans.
  • The Forestry Commission, local authorities and land managers are working on a programme of treatment and surveillance of oak processionary moth.
  • Xylella is being monitored, with  stringent import restrictions on the highest-risk hosts.
  • An ash dieback research strategy is in place and institutions such as Kew, Cambridge, York, the James Hutton Institute and the John Innes Centre, are assembling the genome of the pathogen, estimating the ecological impacts of the disease and conducting the world’s largest genetic screening trials for disease tolerance. Government grants are provided to support the felling of infected ash under the Countryside Stewardship scheme and grants for restocking are also available.
  • With support from Defra, UK Squirrel Accord are undertaking research to develop an oral contraceptive as an effective method for controlling grey squirrel populations.
  • The UK Plant Health Risk Register contains details of more than 1,000 plant pests and pathogens. The Government are investing in research and evidence to understand pests and diseases and find new ways to tackle them.
  • Last year, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Defra announced a new £13 million research fund to address threats to plant health from bacterial pathogens.
  • The Government advises on diversifying species and provenance to help woodlands become more resilient to pests, diseases and climate change. The importance in biosecurity is to make sure we have variety and range.
  • Phytophthora is an issue of great concern. >£30 million has been provided to fund surveillance, detection, disease management.
  • Nurseries, foresters, landowners, landscapers, charities, trade bodies, gardeners and scientists all have a major role to play. Defra has worked with industry to establish a senior UK plant biosecurity committee of representatives from across these professions. The Plant Healthy assurance scheme is an initiative of this new alliance and will be launched by the Horticultural Trades Association, in collaboration with Grown in Britain, this year. The Government promote the Keep It Clean and Don’t Risk It! campaigns.

Further information is available on the Hansard


25 Febraury 2020 - Flooding Update

The Minister of State, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park) (Con)

  • Communities have been affected across our union.
  • The national flood response centre stood up on Friday 14 February. The Environment Agency issued more than 800 flood warnings.
  • On 17 February there were 632 flood warnings and alerts issued in a day.
  • >3 miles of temporary flood barriers and 90 mobile pumps were deployed.
  • Help will be given to households and businesses so they can recover.
  • Households and businesses will be able to access grants of up to £5,000 to help make them more resilient to future flooding
  • Extension of the farming recovery fund is being considered.
  • Investments: £2.6 billion in flood defences, with over 1,000 flood defence schemes to better protect 300,000 homes by 2021. A further £4 billion in new funding will be made available for flood defences over the next five years. £10 million will help to restore our peatland habitats. Tree planting will expand. £640 million will be made available for the nature for climate fund. Farmers will be supported to prevent flooding through a new environmental land management scheme, which aims to reduce and delay peak flows in our landscapes.

Further information is available on the Hansard


26 Febraury 2020 - Environment Bill 

The drivers of the bill: climate change and biodiversity loss, mass extinction, rising sea levels, plastic pollution, and air pollution

The bill as presented by George Eustice

  • Parts 1 & 2 sets out the five guiding environmental principles for our terrestrial and marine environments to inform policy making across the country. These principles are that the polluter should pay; that harm should be prevented, and if it cannot be prevented, it should be rectified at source; that the environment should be taken into consideration across Government policy making; and that a precautionary approach should be taken.
  • Relating to a biodiversity net gain: It includes a provision on conservation covenants, which will enable a landowner entering into an agreement to plant woodland
  • The Bill will establish the Office for Environmental Protection
  • The second half of the Bill sets out measures to improve our environment right now, by incentivising and supporting approaches in the UK that will deliver for our environment
  • Part 3 will help us to accomplish greater resource efficiency and a better approach to waste through more circular ways of using the planet’s finite resources. It will encourage manufacturers to develop innovative packaging and strong sustainability standards by making them responsible for the entire net cost of disposing of used packaging. It will stimulate the creation of alternatives to the single-use plastics, while establishing consistent rules to help people recycle more easily
  • Part 4 deals with air pollution—the greatest environmental risk to human health. Fine particulate matter is the most damaging pollutant, so the Bill makes a clear commitment to set an ambitious, legally binding target that will drive down particulate levels and improve public health
  • Part 5 will facilitate more responsible management of water, so that we have secure, safe, abundant water for the future, supporting a more resilient environment. We know that nature needs our help to recover.
  • The Bill will improve how we hold to account those who litter and cause waste
  • The Bill has powers to strengthen the abstraction licensing regime and to limit licences that have been established for some time. It will also give us powers to modify some of the legislation on water pollutants, so that we can add additional chemicals to the list
  • Parts 6 & 7 focus on giving communities a say if their local authority plans to take down a beloved neighbourhood tree, and public authorities will be required to ensure they conserve and enhance nature across the board.
  • The Bill will require developers to provide a 10% increase for nature, giving them the clarity they need to do their bit for the environment, while building the homes we need across our country
  • Clause 19 will mean that, when introducing a Bill, every Secretary of State in every future UK Government will have to include on the face of that Bill a statement on whether the new primary legislation will have the effect of reducing existing levels of environmental protection
  • The Bill will create a new power to implement the Government’s manifesto commitment to end the exporting of polluting plastic waste to non-OECD countries.
  • Clause 20 will require the Government to take stock biennially of significant developments in international legislation on the environment and then publish a review.

    In conclusion, this Government are committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it, whether through planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year by the end of this Parliament, transforming our approach to agriculture, tackling air pollution or improving our waste management. This Bill will create the framework to set a long-term course for our country to drive environmental improvement, and I commend it to the House.

For the full debate navigate to here and here

Further information is available on the Hansard


Various dates - The Agricultural Bill

Tuesday 11 February

  • Nature Friendly Farming Network; Farmwel; LEAF; British Growers Association
    • Opportunities
      • Farm animal welfare improvements, sustainability improvements, climate mitigation, and biodiversity restoration
      • Opportunity to reform land use—so that we can continue producing good food and good nutrition, as well as delivering environmental improvement
      • Rewards for the delivery of services as a land manager and as a farmer would better support actual farmers
      • The opportunity to increase the amount of fruit and veg that we currently produce
    • Considerations
      • It is really important for Government to set a framework - Government should become more goal-centred
      • We need more detail about ELM for England
      • There needs to be the policy documentation
      • Many landlords get the payment directly and the farmer has to manage, which disconnects the reward from managing the landscape
      • The Bill should be about encouraging the whole-farm approach
      • Wales is planning baseline assessments on carbon and biodiversity before farmers are even eligible for the public goods payment
      • There are a lot of social services, public goods, environmental goods, tourism and additionalities that upland farmers offer on incredibly tight margins
      • If you are in the marginal areas—the uplands, in the west country where there is a smaller field-scale system—the public goods should be rewarding you more
      • We have proposed in the past that an acreage basis for that continuing maintenance of excellence could be a way to go
      • We might think we can compete on a global level in terms of a huge productivity market, but actually we are just small producers on a global scale.
      • Part of our big challenge over the next 10 years is to shorten supply chains and to make sure that farmers are better able to claim decent farm-gate prices by selling direct or through many fewer cogs before they reach the customer.
      • One of the scary facts is that 50.8% of the food we eat in this country is ultra-processed; in France, it is 14%. We do not know about the sustainability of highly processed food, and we often do not know its country of origin. This is where the national food strategy is such a core part of trying to understand what our ambition is for the health and the connection of what we grow.
    • On imports
      • There is huge risk because if we are told to produce goods to a standard, then yes, there needs to be something in the Bill or an assessment of the amount of stuff allowed in that is below our standards. We already allow in a lot of products below our standards. We are not allowed to use neonicotinoid treatments or genetically modified processes in the UK, but we import huge quantities
      • In the fresh produce industry, we already import from about 90 countries - the concern would be around production systems that would be unlawful in the UK
      • We operate a global standard with LEAF marque; 40% of UK fruit and veg is LEAF marque certified. The fresh produce and the farmers that we work with on a global scale are meeting the same requirements demanded of our farmers in this country.
    • On food security
      • Food security can only come from healthy soil and a healthy environment. If we over-produce from our soils, we degrade them and there will be no food security for future generations.
      • We need to restore soil, have good water management, and good community dynamics, with complexity returned to our swards and landscapes where nature works with farmers to produce that food. It is critical that we do not go down the route of sequestration here, wilding there, and food here. We need to be able to build broad diversity so that we have national food security in the future.
      • If we hit the sweet spot with the productivity of our landscape, we can produce what the landscape can cope with.
      • We need a dietary shift in Britain. That does not mean no meat and dairy, but it probably does mean a bit less meat and dairy as we go forward, and a bit more fruit and vegetables. We can deliver that, with agroforestry approaches and regenerative approaches. We can more than sufficiently provide food for the people of this country
    • On climate change
      • The first thing that needs to happen is that the metrics need to be right. We now have an accurate metric for accounting for methane - cattle and sheep on grazing land that is really well managed, ideally in a regenerative way, can contribute to the climate mitigation, climate adaptation and biodiversity
  • RSPB; RSPCA; Rare Breed Survival Trust; Traceability Design User Group; Livestock Information Ltd
    • The Bill explicitly recognises animal health and welfare and native breeds as a public good.
      • Promoting our native breeds is hugely important
      • If we have the right sort of livestock, grazed at the right density and in the right place, we are providing environmental benefits
      • There is something exciting about seeing interesting animals wandering around our farms. It all helps towards tourism, and a sense of place and location
      • There is absolutely no doubt that the combination of livestock on arable land has a profound effect - it improves organic matter levels, the vibrancy and the life within the soil, drought resistance and inherent fertility
      • The opportunity we have in the Agriculture Bill, and with environmental land management schemes specifically, is to support farmers to find that optimum balance
    • Opportunities
      • The Bill will provide farmers a leg up through, for example, one-off capital grants, and then provide them with payments to ensure that, where the market does not deliver, they can deliver those higher welfare schemes
      • The Livestock Information programme will put in place a new multi-species traceability service that brings together data based on animals
      • Data not only informs Government responses to animal disease control and ensures food safety, but to enables the industry to take advantage of that data to evidence its standards and demonstrate to its consumers, domestically or internationally, the standards to that livestock is produced, the provenance of the animals
    • Delivery
      • Social science shows really strongly that advice is the key element
      • Many farms are starting to—and working out what has a benefit, what you can do to improve your soil or your water quality, what plants you can grow that have biodiversity or climate benefits
    • The environment
      • We think there is a gap in the Bill in terms of powers necessary for Ministers to bring forward regulatory protections for soils, hedgerows and other environmental features
      • There is a huge challenge in the future, not just in how we reward good practice but in how we ensure a level playing field so that the progressive best farmers out there are not undercut by, effectively, cowboys
      • The grassland habitats that we so cherish are there because they were grazed by certain animals over generations. If we are going to restore those habitats, the easiest, most straightforward way to do it is by using the animals that created them in the first place
      • The logical thing to pay for the habitat condition, not the number of species or number of birds, because that is not something that is necessarily within the farmer’s control
      • There is potentially a role for predator control in future schemes - getting an understanding of those landscape dynamics is an important part of this
  • Ulster Farmers Union; DAERA
    • Northern Ireland Legislation
      • In terms of the future direction of policy, they are engaged with their major stakeholders from the farming, food and environmental sides, and they have produced a draft outline framework for agriculture, around the four pillars of resilience, environmental sustainability, productivity and supply chain functionality.
      • Happy for farmers to be rewarded for activity, whether that be agricultural production or environmental activity - Having said that, they would not want to see area-based payments disappear completely
  • Campaign to Protect Rural England; Kings Crops; Holkham Estate
    • Environment
      • It is very important in this phase to keep putting money in and investing in farming
      • On the final tier, which is landscape restoration, whether it is on a catchment basis, if we are going to have sustainable, functional land use, it has to be at scale and deliver all the climate change issues and soil regeneration
      • You quite commonly talk to farmers now who take out anything between 5% and 15% of their land to manage it “for the environment” and also recognise the real benefits of changing what they do: introducing grass lanes to help with grass weed control and to build soil fertility, which helps with cleaner water and so on
      • Referring to uplands, they have signed a letter to say that they want peatland burning to end rapidly, and the Committee on Climate Change has taken the same view
      • The blanket bog could be re-wetted and improved upon
      • Allerton project for GWCT encourages woodland management, habitat management and the provision of wild bird seed mixes, pollen and nectar
      • We must understand the benefits of well managed grouse moors to a landscape that is iconic to the English uplands: 70% of the world’s heather moorland is in England, so it is a key habitat
    • On imports
      • In terms of maintaining standards, we are very concerned that undercutting those standards through imports would undermine farmers’ incomes, as well as their ability to perform environmental management
    • On training
      • BETA—biodiversity and environmental training for advisers—certificate in conservation management. It is only a three-day course, but it is about awareness. Whoever is drawing up the scheme will need to pull on other skills and pull and bring the environmental community and the farming community together.
  • Soil Association
    • Soil health
      • What matters is that we achieve better soils, because we know that there is a soils crisis
      • The Agriculture Bill is the place where the tools for farmers to improve their soils can be placed
      • Farmers will need assistance to understand their soils
      • The Soil Association is rooted in the philosophy that the essence of successful farming lies in the soil
      • Tillage has come into view in the past few years
      • A lot of farmers are increasingly focused on soil as the central organising principle of productivity, pest resistance, carbon sequestration and biodiversity, but that recognition still has a long way to go
      • Agroecology is wider in the sense that it incorporates practices such as mixed farming, where there is a mixture, or ruminant livestock and arable so there is a natural fertility cycle. It incorporates a focus on reducing pesticides and a focus on leguminous plants, to increase nitrogen naturally
      • Getting back to a sense of the biodiversity of soil will be a good way to re-engage with it
      • There are general measures that are great for wildlife and the environment, like having flower margins around fields, having rough grass margins
  • George Monbiot, The Guardian
    • On agriculture
      • One of my aims is to reduce the area of land used for agriculture - agriculture is a radical simplification of ecosystems
      • The Knepp Castle Estate, for example, is a wonderful example of rewilding, but if we were to do this across the UK, we would need to cut our meat consumption by about 99.5%
      • We suffer grievously from what I call “agricultural sprawl”—large areas of land used to produce small amounts of food
      • The global conundrum we are in is that roughly half the global population is dependent on NPK (nitrogen and other artificial fertilisers)
      • If we were to switch—to mixed rotation or organic farming, we would not be able to produce enough food
      • I see some hope in factory-produced food—microbial protein and cultured meat. That could be the only way of reconciling environmental needs of future generations and the rest of life on Earth with the need to feed people alive today and in future
      • I was at Gelderse Poort in the Netherlands last year, in an area that was previously dairy and maize farms. For the purposes of creating more room for the river, the dykes were taken a mile or so back from the river and the land was rewilded. The farmers were saying there would be a loss of employment. In fact, it turns out that there was an increase of between five and six times the total employment as a result of the tourists.
      • We need to bring back missing species, to take down fences, to kick-start woodland in places where there is not a seedbank left and stuff like that, but we need very little human intervention to get a healthy ecosystem going


Further information is available on the Hansard

...More next month