The committee concluded: "Peat extraction destroys irreplaceable habitats and causes greenhouse gas emissions. The White Paper’s target to end all peat use by 2030 shows a lamentable lack of ambition. A review of progress must be brought forward to 2014."
Launching the report of an inquiry into the Natural Environment White Paper published today, Committee Chair, Anne McIntosh MP, said: "Our natural environment supplies us not only with food and materials but also with vital services that ensure society’s well-being, such as clean air and water, soil nutrients and recreational spaces. These ecosystems services are worth billions of pounds to the UK economy and we cannot afford to let government policies ignore them."
McIntosh added: "It should not be solely the preserve of the public sector to protect and enhance nature. Significant funding can be harnessed from the private sector, for example to help prevent flooding and to provide clean water supplies. But Government must act now to set up the right regulatory frameworks to support such payments."
MPs are concerned that, more than one year on from publication of the Natural Environment White Paper, The Natural Choice, Defra has failed to set out clear plans to deliver its commitment to ensure that government decision-making fully values the services nature provides.
The report tells Cabinet Office and Treasury Ministers that they must lead a cross-Government campaign to ensure that all government policy fully values natural capital. Government Ministers must also:
- Publish an action plan with a timetable to deliver each of the White Paper's 92 commitments
- Give planners and developers guidance on how the National Planning Policy Framework can be used to protect Nature Improvement Areas.
- Fully assess the benefits as well as the costs of environmental regulation, to prevent a perception that environmental protection imposes a drag on the UK economy.
- Publish the Government’s response to advice from the Natural Capital Committee and require the NCC to make an annual report to Parliament.
McIntosh added: "We heard of some successful examples of payments for ecosystems services that reduce the need to build costly infrastructure to clean up polluted water resources such as the United Utilities project which manages 20,000 hectares of land in North West England. But there are too few examples in the UK of the use of such payments to improve the environment. The National Ecosystem Assessment provides a wealth of evidence which must now be used to help sectors develop such schemes."
The report also concludes that:
Biodiversity offsetting can deliver positive impacts on the natural environment but Defra must ensure that the long-term benefits from individual schemes are locked in so that habitats are maintained for the future;
- Peat extraction destroys irreplaceable habitats and causes greenhouse gas emissions. The White Paper’s target to end all peat use by 2030 shows a lamentable lack of ambition. A review of progress must be brought forward to 2014;
- Defra must set a target to increase public engagement with nature, since local authorities, NGOs and charities can only secure funding for environmental projects when they can demonstrate measurable success;
- The Department for Health and the Department for Education must define measurements which demonstrate how greater public engagement with nature delivers gains in public health and educational attainment;
- Defra should ensure that the entire coastal path around England is in place within 10 years.
- See http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environment-food-and-rural-affairs-committee/news/newp-report-publication/
The report made the following observations:
- English horticulture uses more than 2.4 million cubic metres of peat each year. Of this 99 per cent is used as a growing media, some 69 per cent by gardeners.
- Over two-thirds of all peat used in the UK is imported from other countries, including the Republic of Ireland and the Baltic States.
- Peat is effectively a non-renewable resource since peatlands take thousands of years to form at a rate of only 1 mm per year and extractors typically remove a layer around 22 cm deep.
- Reclamation schemes at previously worked sites have succeeded in creating attractive wetland areas, but they have not recreated peatlands. It should also be noted that peat extraction generates high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane.
- The NEWP proposed that there be a progressive phase-out of the use of peat, with a voluntary phase-out by 2020 for amateur gardeners and a final phase-out by 2030 for professional growers of fruit, vegetables and ornamental plants. A Task Force has been established to advise on how best to overcome the barriers to reducing peat use and a review of progress is to be undertaken in 2015, which will consider the use of "alternative policy measures if necessary".
- We received diametrically opposed evidence on the peat phase-out ambitions, with some witnesses arguing that a 2030 deadline was too short a timeframe which was not "supported by the available evidence", whilst others wanted the "shortest timescale for complete UK extraction ending" and discouragement of overseas extraction.
- Some witnesses including the RSPB had "serious concerns" with the proposed voluntary approach to phasing out the use of peat. Wildlife and Countryside Link told us that it was "unrealistic" for a voluntary approach to achieve the proposed targets and that they needed statutory underpinning. However the horticultural industry had reservations about the potential to develop feasible alternatives to peat and argued that "significant research is needed into the availability and quality of alternatives".
- Given that peat extraction destroys irreplaceable habitats and causes greenhouse gas emissions, there is a lamentable lack of ambition in the White Paper's proposals to phase out peat use. We recommend that the Peat Task Force finalise an approach that ends the use of peat as soon as practicable and that a review of progress is brought forward to 2014.
- We recognise that it is important to enable those growers still dependent on peat to minimise the economic impact of the phase-out on their businesses. Defra should undertake an awareness campaign that promotes those alternatives to the use of peat that are already available and to encourage the public to grow plants which do not require the use of peat.