25 Year Environment Plan Launched
A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment – Natural Capital and the Government’s Environment Plan.
The Government published its long awaited Environment Plan on 11 January. The Prime Minister’s introduction states its aim:
“Our natural environment is our most precious inheritance. The United Kingdom is blessed with a wonderful variety of natural landscapes and habitats and our 25 Year Environment Plan sets out our comprehensive and long-term approach to protecting and enhancing them in England for the next generation.”
When Guy Thompson of Natural England spoke at the Green Halo Partnership’s launch in November 2017 he suggested that the idea of natural capital would lie at the heart of the Plan. Sure enough, page 16 of the Plan says that “the economic benefits that flow from the natural world and our natural heritage have begun to take a greater prominence in policy making”.
The Plan sets a wider context, noting that these benefits impact on our economic productivity and health and wellbeing, as well as the natural environment. It is explicitly linked to the Industrial Strategy and its Clean Growth challenge, and suggests that “carefully planned investment in natural capital can deliver significant value for money and generate economic returns”.
Further on, the Environment Plan says that “when we give the environment its due regard as a natural assets…[so] we will be more likely to give it the value it deserves to protect and enhances it”. It goes on to say “the UK intends to use natural capital as a tool to help us make long term choices and key decisions”.
This note looks at what the Environment Plan means for the Green Halo Partnership.
Goals & Actions
The Plan sets 10 ‘goals’ for achieving improvements over its lifetime. These range from clean air and thriving wildlife to better use of natural resources. A later section begins the process of quantifying these goals. It goes on to promise actions on a number of fronts to join up policies, maximising benefits and value for money.
Four key areas (chapters) are most relevant to the Green Halo Partnership (the others focus on oceans and the global environment). The summary below outlines topics discussed under those key areas which may provide opportunities for exploratory GH projects reflecting the Government’s agenda. Rather than go into detail or provide a comprehensive review of the Plan, this summary signposts ideas, commitments and proposals the relevant Forums may wish to consider further:
Using and managing land sustainably (Chapter 1):
- The Plan seeks to embed a “net environmental gain” principle for development to deliver environmental improvements. Current planning policy promotes a “net gain” policy for biodiversity where development si proposed. The Government propose to “expand the net gain approach … to also include wider natural capital benefits such as flood protection, recreation and improved water and air quality” (p.33)
- Looking forward to post CAP countryside support, the Government wish to invest in “new environmental land management systems [to] incentivise and reward land managers to restore and improve our natural capital and rural heritage” (p.37).
- On woodland (p.47) the Plan acknowledges the environmental, economic and social benefits of forestry. It talks of encouraging the use of home grown timber in construction to “create a conveyor belt of locked-in carbon”. It also acknowledges the value of recreational use of woodland, and considers how commercial investment can be encouraged.
- Page 52 identifies the opportunity to make greater use of natural flood management systems and mentions the £15m Natural Flood Management Fund. In some instances, natural flood management may be part of the net environmental gain from development (above).
Recovering nature and enhancing the beauty of landscapes (Chapter 2):
- Ministers are keen to find ways of protecting and restoring wildlife, including through re-introductions. The Plan proposes developing a “Nature Recovery Network”, to benefit wildlife and offer opportunities for “local community engagement and business development” (p.59).
- The section on conserving and enhancing natural beauty (p.65) acknowledges the wellbeing benefits of nature, and potentially health benefits from using these places for recreation.
- When discussing respecting nature in how we use water (p.68), the Plan notes the economic case for management of abstraction, and that a natural capital approach can both protect those resources and benefit wildlife.
Connecting people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing (Chapter 3):
- This section notes the evidence that “spending time in the natural environment – as a resident or a visitor – improves our mental health and feelings of wellbeing. It can reduce stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression. It can help boost immune systems, encourage physical activity and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as asthma” (p.71). It illustrates a number of specific programmes, from children visiting farms through ”green prescribing” to tackling isolation and loneliness in older people.
- There is a specific focus on “using the natural environment as a preventative and therapeutic resource” to address mental health (p.73).
- P.74 says the Government will promote health and wellbeing through “launch[ing] a ‘Natural Environment for Health and Wellbeing’ programme, focused on supporting local authorities, health organisations, health professionals, teachers and planners in promoting the natural environment as a pathway to good health and wellbeing. Mental health problems and early interventions will be an initial area of interest, however the programme will be charged with considering other health issues, such as obesity, where children and adults would benefit from better access to nature. To make sure that it reaches as many people as possible, we would welcome the programme being replicated at local level. Ideally, we would like access to the natural environment put at the heart of all local Health and Wellbeing Board strategies”.
- The Plan proposes an initiative to create nature-friendly school grounds, to improve pupils’ health and wellbeing in the most disadvantaged areas (p.75).
- The Plan recognises (p.76) the value of green infrastructure in urban areas in supporting “health and happiness”. It also recognises the contribution “high quality environmental assets and green infrastructure” make to economic growth.The Plan draws attention to the ORVal mapping project as a tool for valuing open spaces (p.77 and p.134). This has also been mentioned at the health and wellbeing workshop by HCC colleagues.
- This chapter ends with a proposal to make 2019 a “year of action for the environment”, helping children and young people engage with nature and improve the environment (p.80). The Green Halo Partnership might use this as a ‘peg’ to engage young people across all of our themes.
Increasing resource efficiency, and reducing pollution and waste (Chapter 4):
- This section discusses maximising resource efficiency, including through initiatives to “promote the move towards a regenerative, circular economy” (p.83).
- The Plan mentions the role of the ‘green environment’ in reducing pollution (p.97) and water clean-up (p.101).
- In discussing the world’s oceans the Plan highlights a natural capital approach to managing oceans (p.104) and sustainable fishing (p.107), which may both opportunities for the Green Halo Partnership to look at the Solent.
The Green Halo Partnership will want to monitor developing best practice on quantifying natural capital and its benefits:
- The Plan recognises that there is still some way to go in determining how best to measure improvements in natural capital, and commits the Government to further work to develop appropriate metrics (p.130-32).
- It also promises further work on natural capital accounting to “improve our understanding and valuation of the benefits of natural capital through our own research and working with the research community, learning from best practice abroad where appropriate” (p.134).
- A programme of research to better understand natural capital and its impacts, gather data etc. is promised (p.133)
The state of the UK’s natural capital will be reviewed regularly: “government will arrange for comprehensive assessments of natural capital to take place on a roughly 10 year cycle. The UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA), completed in 2011, was the first comprehensive assessment of the state of ecosystem services in the UK….a second assessment to be started in 2022 will provide an updated picture of the state of the environment at Brexit” (p.139).
After setting out the Government’s broad policy objectives, the Plan considers how they will be delivered. It is clear the best route is through local partnerships – they promise to “strengthen leadership and delivery through better local planning [and] more effective partnership. The Plan commits to “put in place strong local leadership and a more integrated delivery framework”.
On local approaches, the Plan says “At a local level we want environmental effort to be guided by the goals we have outlined but also to reflect local needs and priorities as well as being more integrated and efficient” (p,139). The commitment on local leadership an integrated delivery framework reflects exactly what the Green Halo Partnership aims to achieve.
DEFRA has already asked Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission to prepare 14 local “Area Integrated Plans” (AIP), which should develop into natural capital plans (p.140). These should be relevant to local geographies and bring in other local partners. These wider partnerships will oversee the development and implementation of these plans.
The Green Halo Partnership will want to consider how its own activities can fit with the AIP for our area, and how well the geography matches that of the Partnership. It may well be that the Halo, with its pragmatic focus on delivery, will complement a more strategic document, if that is how the AIP develops.
By Simon Eden, Green Halo Partnership steering group member