Defra plans strict targets for cleaner water and rivers

• Phosphate and nitrates in spotlight • Targets will be back by legislation • Goals are ‘ambitious but achievable’


ater pollution from ag- riculture will be tar- getted by government

legislation to protect the environ- ment.

Plans unveiled last month aim to underpin commitments in the government’s Environment Bill with legally binding goals. They will cover the following four key areas: water quality, air, waste re- duction and biodiversity. Defra secretary George Eus-

tice said: “The targets will be the driving force behind our bold ac- tion to protect and enhance our natural world, guaranteeing real and lasting progress on some of the biggest environmental issues facing us today.”

Priorities outlined On water, the government says it will look to set targets to tackle pol- lution from agriculture and waste water to improve water quality. It will also impose a target on wa- ter demand to reduce the volume abstracted by water companies. On air quality, the government

says it will explore targets focus- ing specifically on reducing public

exposure to fine particulate mat- ter PM2.5, the air pollutant that has the most significant impact on our health. On waste reduction, potential targets will look to increase re- source productivity and reduce the volume of residual waste and plastic pollution generated by in- dustry.

On biodiversity, Defra says

it will explore targets to restore and create wildlife-rich habitats in protected sites on land, in fresh- waters and at sea and in the wid- er countryside. It says it will in- crease species populations on land and improve marine biodiversity. Mr Eustice said the targets would help meet Boris Johnson’s commitment to “build back green- er” after the coronavirus pandem- ic. Interim targets would ensure progress remained on track – set- ting out a five-year trajectory, with the government reporting annu- ally on progress.

Reducing pollution from ag- riculture – especially phospho- rus and nitrate – is a key aspect under consideration within the government’s water target. Im-

provements in water quality have stalled in recent years, according to a Defra analysis.

Mr Eustice said any target would also apply to any future governments. Defra would use a robust, evidence-led process in collaboration with independent experts and stakeholders to en- sure targets are strong, meaning- ful and focused on environmental outcomes.

A public consultation is expect- ed in early 2022. To hold the gov- ernment to account, the new Of- fice for Environmental Protection watchdog will report annually on progress made towards improving the natural environment.

Industry reaction

Country Land and Business pres- ident Mark Bridgeman said farm- ers and landowners had a crucial role to play in conserving and re- storing the natural environment. “Businesses can do more if they know there is a long-term target to reach,” he said. The timeline of new targets be- ing brought forward to 2022 was achievable but ambitious, said Mr Bridgeman. “For progress to be made, the government must work closely with the private sector to ensure the necessary resources and enabling policies are put in place.”

Nature Friendly Farming Net-

work chairman Martin Lines de- scribed the targets as long over- due. It was vital to raise standards and keep land in good heart to pro- tect farming businesses and fu- ture generations, he said. “The UK can become a world-leader in climate and na- ture-friendly farming, but we des- perately need the Government to be ambitious on targets and de- liver a robust baseline of environ- mental standards for land man- agement that are enforced by a strong regulator.”

Last chance to have your say

A government consultation which asks for suggestions to protect rivers from agricultur- al pollution has been extended by five months. Launched last autumn, the Challenges and Choices consul- tation was due to end in April. But the deadline has been ex- tended to 24 September due to the coronavirus pandemic, which meant some stakehold- ers couldn’t respond in time. The Environment Agency consultation seeks views on how river basin districts will be managed from 2021. Chal- lenges include dry weather, cli- mate change, invasive non-na- tive species and pollution from agriculture.

The agency says better, fast-

er ways to encourage greater investment in our water envi- ronment must be developed to reverse damage caused to wet- land habitats. Members of the public, businesses and environ- mental organisations are being urged to have their say. To respond to the consulta-

Clean rivers and watercourses are the government’s goal

tion, visit Choice


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