On November 9, Parliament enacted the Environment Act 2021, which claims to “deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth”.
It includes binding targets on biodiversity, air quality, water, waste reduction and resource eﬃciency, plus an intention to halt the decline in nature by 2030, with government policy to be guided by the following ﬁve key principles.
Integration: making sure environment protection is included in other policies so they are good for the environment.
Rectiﬁcation at source: policy should make sure damage to the environment is tackled at source.
The ‘polluter pays’ principle.
Precaution: if there is a serious or irreversible threat to the environment, lack of scientiﬁc certainty will not be a reason to fail to take cost eﬀective protection measures.
A new Oﬃce for Environmental Protection (OEP) will be tasked with upholding environmental law. Some of these measures may impose requirements on rural landowners and farmers, such as minimising damage caused by water abstraction. More often landowners may feel the impact indirectly through the policy principles. However, given many of us already work hard with our land to beneﬁt the environment, it seems more important to look for opportunities to beneﬁt from continuing to add to our natural capital - not only to improve the land for ourselves, but to be recognised and recompensed for doing so.
One advantage rural landowners have is that improved incentives for biodiversity, woodland creation and water management are likely to add value to rural property. That is alongside the ‘public good’ principle for ELMs under the Agriculture Act 2020, which will pay for work to improve the environment for the public good.
Take, for example, the requirement for new developments to deliver at least 10 per cent increase in biodiversity. If this cannot be done on site, it will need to be delivered locally –most obviously on neighbouring rural land, where it can be more easily managed.
There are also interesting side issues such as the eﬀect of increased due diligence for businesses on supply chains or prohibiting larger businesses using commodities associated with deforestation anywhere in the world.
Or even to protect farmers from the acts of others, such as electronic waste tracking to prevent ﬂy-tipping, or measures to crack down on water companies discharging sewage into rivers or the sea –especially reducing the impact of discharges from storm overﬂows.