Last week the Prime Minister unveiled the 25 Year Environment Plan, which outlines ambitions and initial measures to make Britain’s environment cleaner and greener.
South Shropshire has a high stake in ensuring our environment is properly protected – our landscape, rivers, forests and traditional farmland, with half the constituency within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, create a great place for us to live and a significant attraction for visitors, as well as providing land for agriculture, which drives much of our local economy.
The 25 Year Environment Plan contains welcome measures to make a positive start. We all see too much discarded food packaging in our towns and in verges along our roads. So it is important the government encourages businesses to reduce single use plastic packaging. I welcome the idea of plastic free aisles in supermarkets to give consumers greater choice. One major food retailer has already subsequently announced it will go plastic free.
Introduction of the 5p carrier bag charge has led to 9 billion fewer plastic bags being used, an 83 per cent reduction. Extending this charge to all retailers in England will reduce usage further, as well as generating even more than the £95m raised so far for community projects. This a sensible use of evidence and results based policy making.
On farming, the Government has confirmed aggregate existing payments will be maintained until 2024, which will give time for a new system to be devised and for farmers to plan accordingly. Any new post-Brexit farming support scheme is expected to be refocussed on securing environmental benefits from farming methods which improve habitat, soil and river quality; reduce erosion; preserve landscape features; and increase woodland. I will be following the progress to a new system closely.
So by way of a constructive start, I am pleased the 25 Year Environment Plan includes new rules from April this year that will require every farmer to identify and manage risks to water on their land and start taking precautions to reduce ammonia emissions and prevent pollution and soil erosion. Farmers have a responsibility to help keep our waterways free of fertilizer pollutants - I speak as a tenant farmer myself along the River Clun, taking steps to reduce run-off - so these rules to encourage more widespread adoption are welcome.
A 25 Year Environment Plan is encouraging and will take several years to deliver results. But protecting our environment requires those of us who care about the natural world to do what we can on a local level, which cumulatively will help lead the way internationally to improve the environment for our children and grandchildren.