Securing the Natural Environment White Paper

To mark one year of the Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) an event entitled ‘Securing the value of nature’ was hosted yesterday by the think tank, Policy Exchange. It was lively and well attended with Ministers taking the opportunity to talk up progress and make a number of announcements including the approval of the 41 first Local Nature Partnerships.  

Like others, we welcomed the NEWP as an innovative paper with Defra showing good leadership in its production. There have been some genuine positives since it was launched  – NIAs (Nature Improvement Areas) provide welcome landscape-scale action. We have felt that Defra needed to show it has a game plan too for those that just missed the boat to apply; the announcement yesterday of £750K towards this is a step in the right direction. In addition, the work of the Ecosystem Markets Task Force – which published its interim report yesterday – and the Natural Capital Committee are vital in the development of new funding streams for nature and the understanding of its true value at a time of such an austere outlook for public finances. 

What is particularly needed though, is for other Government departments to rise to the spirit of the NEWP as being a cross-departmental document – particularly the Treasury. There is important work going on around ecosystem services and natural capital and these are welcome but these reports must not be left to gather dust and the attitude of HMT to date has not been encouraging. 

As the EFRA committee has recognised in its report yesterday there is a need for greater effort from the Cabinet Office and Treasury to embed the natural environment across Government. That’s an age-old problem… but the NEWP is meant to be an HM Government strategy not just a Defra one, and this is supposed to be the ‘greenest Government ever.’ Other welcome suggestions from the Committee include the publication of an action plan with a timetable to deliver each of the White Paper’s 92 commitments.  And to give planners and developers guidance on how the National Planning Policy Framework can be used to protect Nature Improvement Areas.

The big event for the Woodland Trust in recent weeks of course has been the publication of the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report. We have found plenty to welcome and as my colleague Hilary Allison wrote last week there has been striking unity in the forestry sector. This is very much the spirit of NEWP – working across sectors and boundaries. 

One of the best things that can be done therefore to build on the legacy of a year of the NEWP is for Defra to show leadership in responding to the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report by embracing it in full.  

The other is an action for Government – to incorporate access to natural green space into the national measures of well-being which are to be published next week. That would be real evidence that the value of nature to our lives is coming to be understood at the top of Government. We await their publication with interest…

James Cooper, head of government affairs


About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
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4 Responses to Securing the Natural Environment White Paper

  1. Pingback: Having it all? | Woodland Matters

  2. Pingback: New Local Partnerships for Nature | Woodland Matters

  3. Rod Leslie says:

    You are absolutely right that getting sign up across Government is key to realising the potential of NEWP. Easier said than done, of course – There’s a much bigger issue here than just woodland or conservation – a fundamental difference between a philosophy – currently in the ascendant – that either ignores nature or aims to simply suppress it with weight of concrete and technology. Once again flooding is showing very clearly that it simply isn’t going to work.

    I am glad you see the Forestry Panel report as so critical – again, spot on – it might not have been in your or other NGOs plans but it is the issue that has grabbed public attention and more than any other at the moment it puts in sharp focus the difference between a utilitarian world driven solely by money and a world where there are bigger values, including connection with nature, nature as an end in itself and a huge connection to our shared past as well as the prospect for a sustainable future.

    Surely the flooding is a big opportunity ? Trees can slow the flow. Why don’t we pay farmers to farm water, and as part of it, to plant trees ? We should use the money we are paying them now, at least £200/ha every year, rather than buying out one lot of payments with yet more Government money. And we need to think much bigger and broader about the setting for our towns and cities – ssee ‘A Garden for Everyone’ on the Save Our Woods website.

    • Austin Brady says:

      Thanks for your comments Rod.

      It will be interesting to see how the government pitch their response on the revised indicators on well-being – expected soon. In the original consultation, people made it clear that access to quality green spaces was key to how they feel about their quality of life. So why aren’t we achieving more? A recent EFRA select committee comment gives a useful prompt about some of the perceived barriers “Ministers must fully assess and communicate to the public the benefits as well as the costs of environmental regulation so as to prevent a perception that environmental protection is a drag on the economy”.

      But the committee is stronger on its push for more action on understanding and delivering the wider benefits of local accessible green spaces, something which I think chimes well with your piece on ‘A Garden for Everyone’: “There is some evidence that more people are reaping benefits from engaging with the natural environment but this is not the case for all groups. Defra must set a target for increasing public engagement with nature, and the Department for Health and the Department for Education must establish measurements which demonstrate the link between greater public participation in activities in the natural environment and improved health and educational attainment.”

      I think you are right to home in on the issues around flooding too, not just because it is topical, but because the evidence of how trees and woods in the right place can deliver softer and more sustainable means of mitigating flood risks and improving water quality is now pretty well understood, and we could do it in a way that concrete alone never could! Let’s not forget to give some credit where credit is due in getting the ball rolling on putting this evidence to work too. The Forestry Commission in England have just increased the payments for creating new woodlands that are designed and located to do just that – to intercept surface run off and protect watercourses from sedimentation and pollution, to help tackle diffuse pollution and also to help slow down flood waters, giving more time for water to drain away naturally where there is a known risk of flooding. This is an excellent example of paying landowners for ‘ecosystem services’, in other words harnessing natural processes for wider social benefits.

      Austin Brady, Head of Conservation, Woodland Trust

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