Environment Bill – House of Lords Committee Stage Days 5 and 6

Wednesday 7th July 2021

The House of Lords are now over halfway through the Committee stage of the Environment Bill and have debated and considered 100’s of amendments. Topics have included, defining the purpose of the bill, strengthening environmental improvement plans, targets for marine biodiversity, reducing resource usage, increasing public access to the natural environment, and tackling light pollution. You can read in detail what has happened so far here.

Protecting pollinators from pesticides

We were pleased to see a new clause tabled by Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville that would more greatly improve the protection of pollinators from pesticides. Amendment 254 aims to fix a gap in the pesticide authorisation process which currently omits any assessment on the long-term effects of pesticides on honey-bees and ignores any assessment of the effects on wild pollinators. This amendment would increase the openness of the pesticide approval process which is currently largely conducted behind closed doors.

The widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides resulted in a reduction in the overwintering success of honeybee hives, significant declines in 40% of wild bee species studied and was implicated in butterfly population declines. This resulted in reduced pollination services and crop yields. However, despite acknowledgement by the Minister in 2010 that the pre-approval tests for pesticides were inadequate to protect pollinators, and the production in 2013 of a testing guidance document by the European Food Standards Authority, the UK has yet to introduce any new tests to help to ensure that future pesticides are pollinator safe.

There was cross party support for the amendment and featured alongside an amendment seeking to address the impact of pesticides on humans. Last year the Lords discussed pesticides under the Agriculture Bill, yet amendments fell, with the Government indicating the Environment Bill a better place for them to be included. It was disappointing therefore to not see Government include a clause on pesticides in the Environment Bill. However, there is a signal that members will re-table and address them at the report stage – lookout for further Buglife updates in the Autumn.

Water clauses – importance for freshwater invertebrates

Water quality will form a significant part of the next phase of debate and is a crucial component of a healthy environment. Over 4,100 invertebrate species in the UK spend at least part of their lifecycle in freshwater. Together, they represent an important part of the UK’s biodiversity, delivering valuable ecosystem services, recycling organic matter and keeping rivers clean. In addition, they provide essential food for fish and birds, however, populations of many species are in decline.

Pollution is a particular problem for water quality, despite the introduction of legislation such as the Water Framework Directive in Europe. Almost half of the sites monitored across Europe continue to suffer from chronic chemical pollution leading to long-term negative impacts on freshwater organisms.

There has been lots of attention on sewage pollution in the past 12 months, including the #EndSewagePollution petition signed by over 44,000 people.

As part of Greener UK and Wildlife and Countryside Link coalitions, we are advocating for clauses in the water section of the bill to be strengthened. Amendments on stakeholder involvement in water industry plans, an environmental objective for Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans, greater oversight of changes to water quality provisions, faster action on damaging abstraction, and a probing amendment on a Water Strategy have all been tabled. Helpful amendments have also been put forward on water efficiency, and several on sewage pollution. You can read more about these amendments here.

Chapter on Nature

Following the chapter on water, the debate will look at amendments for nature’s recovery. The Government has accepted the need to halt the decline of nature. In the G7 Nature Compact, in the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, and its response to the Dasgupta Review, the Government stated its intention to “halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030”.

Adding a State of Nature target to the Environment Bill will help upgrade it to landmark legislation, setting a clear direction for environmental improvement. The Government’s current proposed target falls short on a requirement to halt decline instead, only setting a target date. Amendment 24 would place a duty on meeting the objective of halting species decline. Those amendments have already been debated and are expected to return at report stage with the house to vote on their inclusion.

Amendments in this chapter are required to ensure meaningful outcomes from biodiversity net gain, local nature recovery strategies as well as other important policies –setting out how the nature target might be met. A full briefing on these amendments can be found via Greener UK and Wildlife and Countryside Link.

Next steps for the Bill

The debates so far have been long and engaging but have failed to see a commitment from the government to strengthen key areas of the Bill. Support for nature has been clear in the House of Lords and is backed up by a petition of over 208,000 members of the public calling for a legally binding target that will halt nature’s decline in England by 2030. We hope the government take account of the support for nature and carry forward changes into the Report Stage of the Bill later in the year.