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