Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Defra plans strict targets for cleaner water and rivers

September 24, 2020 by  
Filed under News & Business

Water pollution from agriculture will be targeted by government legislation to protect the environment.

Plans unveiled last month aim to underpin commitments in the government’s Environment Bill with legally binding goals. They will cover the following four key areas: water quality, air, waste reduction and biodiversity.

Defra secretary George Eustice said: “The targets will be the driving force behind our bold action to protect and enhance our natural world,  guaranteeing real and lasting progress on some of the biggest environmental issues facing us today.”

Priorities outlined

On water, the government says it will look to set targets to tackle pollution from agriculture and waste water to improve water quality. It will also impose a target on water demand to reduce the volume abstracted by water companies.

On air quality, the government says it will explore targets focusing specifically on reducing public exposure to fine particulate matter PM2.5, the air pollutant that has the most significant impact on our health.

On waste reduction, potential targets will look to increase resource productivity and reduce the volume of residual waste and plastic pollution generated by industry.

On biodiversity, Defra says it will explore targets to restore and create wildlife-rich habitats in protected sites on land, in freshwaters and at sea and in the wider countryside. It says it will increase species populations on land and improve marine biodiversity.

Mr Eustice said the targets would help meet Boris Johnson’s commitment to “build back greener” after the coronavirus pandemic. Interim targets would ensure progress remained on track – setting out a five-year trajectory, with the government reporting annually on progress.

Reducing pollution from agriculture – especially phosphorus and nitrate – is a key aspect under consideration within the government’s water target. Improvements in water quality have stalled in recent years, according to a Defra analysis.

Mr Eustice said any target would also apply to any future governments. Defra would use a robust, evidence-led process in collaboration with independent experts and stakeholders to ensure targets are strong, meaningful and focused on environmental outcomes.

A public consultation is expected in early 2022. To hold the government to account, the new Office for Environmental Protection watchdog will report annually on progress made towards improving the natural environment.

Industry reaction

Country Land and Business president Mark Bridgeman said farmers and landowners had a crucial role to play in conserving and restoring the natural environment. “Businesses can do more if they know there is a long-term target to reach,” he said.

The timeline of new targets being brought forward to 2022 was achievable but ambitious, said Mr Bridgeman. “For progress to be made, the government must work closely with the private sector to ensure the necessary resources and enabling policies are put in place.”

Nature Friendly Farming Network chairman Martin Lines described the targets as long overdue. It was vital to raise  standards and keep land in good heart to protect farming businesses and future generations, he said.

“The UK can become a world-leader in climate and nature-friendly farming, but we desperately need the Government to be ambitious on targets and deliver a robust baseline of environmental standards for land management that are enforced by a strong regulator.”