NFU environment forum chairman Phil Jarvis attended a roundtable meeting with Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment, Rebecca Pow, on Thursday 13 February to discuss the forthcoming Environment Bill.
The Environment Bill, reintroduced to Parliament at the end of January 2020, puts in place a framework of legislation for environmental governance after the UK has left the EU. It also puts in place legislation under a number of different environmental themes to help achieve the ambitions set out in the 25 year environment plan.
During the roundtable event Mr Jarvis raised a number of points that the NFU welcomes and areas that need further clarity. Mr Jarvis said:
"The NFU is glad that the government is targeting some of the big strategic issues on water. Plans for infrastructure and flood resilience are going to be part of the solution farmers can help government agencies achieve. We also welcome amendments to the Land Drainage Act, which provides a mechanism for the expansion of Internal Drainage Board areas with the agreement of local communities.
"However, we do have concerns about a number of elements of the Bill, including increased powers to revoke or vary abstraction licences without the payment of compensation to licence holders. Water requirements for food production should be given due consideration alongside public supply and the environment
"And on the introduction of conservation covenants, we need some more clarity so farmers are clear what type of land management agreements they are entering into. Any targets and indicators should also be practical and work alongside several already recognised good ‘environmental farming practices’.
"We must also make sure that in maintaining our high environmental standards here, we do not then offshore our environmental footprint by importing food of lower standards. This could undermine the aspirations that the Environment Bill seeks to put in place.
"Our continuing priority is to ensure that the Bill safeguards a competitive and productive agricultural sector alongside protecting and enhancing the environment."
The NFU supports the Bill’s measures to tackle waste crime, which is a blight on rural communities and costly to agricultural businesses. New sections on biodiversity offsetting must ensure impacts on small rural business will need to proportionate and streamlined
The second reading of the Bill is planned to take place in the House of Commons on 26 February 2020. The NFU will brief MPs ahead of this reading and will continue to engage with Defra and other key stakeholders to make meaningful interventions.