ELMs, investment zones and deregulation - our response

29 Sep 2022

A change of government always leads to uncertainty and that is particularly the case currently.  We appreciate fully that the initial stages of a new administration can be a time of speculation and that many of the fears being expressed currently may well not be borne out.

However, it is important to state that some of the ideas being discussed could give rise to very real problems, if realised.  We therefore wish to highlight the following:

- Regulation plays an essential part in maintaining much that is special in our natural environment. Any loosening of environmental protections could lead to further damage to nature at a time when it is already under increasing threat, with unprecedented declines in both habitats and species.

- Ancient woodland, one of our most precious habitats, is under-protected and is particularly at threat from infrastructure projects. This has been evident most recently with HS2, leading to unacceptable losses of precious trees and woodlands. 

- The Government’s planting targets and the related Nature for Climate Fund are a key part of their commitment to nature recovery and climate change response and are playing a key role in sustaining woodlands.  These commitments need to be both maintained and strengthened, there is still a big gap between the stated aspirations and real progress in nature recovery.

- Small Woods, along with many other organisations, have devoted much of our resources to the development of the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes.  This is an area where government have taken a more open and collaborative approach to policy development and the resulting schemes are jointly “owned”.  There is still a long way to go in ensuring that the ELM Schemes are inclusive of all land managers and DEFRA have given assurances that the achievement of a level playing field for all land managers is an objective.  We are concerned that the “rapid review” may not ensure that such objectives and commitments remain intact.

The mounting threats to our natural environment and the immeasurable benefits we gain from it mean this is a time for more concerted action to protect nature, and to up our game with a growth plan that recognises the irreplacable benefits it has for the nation’s health and wealth.

If it is not to be perceived as a backward step, the development of a new governmental plan needs to articulate a positive and respectful vision for the role of our natural environment, as well as the development of the skills, infrastructure and the tools needed for its realisation.  There is much opportunity for growth and innovation in the natural environment sector.  We look forward to engaging positively with the new government and its ministers and making this happen.