ACCESS TO NATURE
Thank you for contacting me about the benefits of access to nature and registering concern that this is not fully addressed in the Environment Bill.
I am told that the Government is currently reflecting on concerns about the Bill raised by colleagues and interested parties during the Committee stage. I look forward to the Bill coming back to the House, at which point I will have the opportunity to vote on any amendments brought forward there.
That said, under the Bill, long-term targets can be set out for any aspects of the natural environment or people’s enjoyment of it. The Bill requires the Government to set out at least one target in four priority areas - air quality, biodiversity, water waste and resource efficiency - as well as the fine particulate matter target and I understand that there is also scope for other targets to be set in future. Both Parliament and the public will have the opportunity to provide input to the development of these targets.
The Government will determine the specific areas in which targets will be set using the robust and transparent target-setting, monitoring and reporting process that the Bill legislates for, and will seek advice from independent experts. The environmental improvement plan will be reviewed every five years, and a progress report will be published annually. That being said, it is important that our enjoyment of nature cannot take precedence over stewardship of that environment for the future.
More generally, I know the value so many people place on access to the countryside, both locally and nationally, in “normal times” when Coronavirus restrictions give us the freedom to enjoy it.
I am therefore enthusiastic about promoting recreation in the countryside, and understand the benefits outdoor activities can produce both physically and mentally. Our countryside is of great importance and I know just how much the scenery means to people. I am therefore encouraged by Government action to ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations, including our wonderful countryside.
I support the Government's strong track record on access to the countryside. For example, it has enabled the establishment of a 2,700-mile path around the entire English coastline, meaning walkers will be able to enjoy, explore and experience some of our finest and most important cultural and natural heritage – from the white cliffs of Dover, to the industrial heritage of the North East. When completed, the England Coast Path will be the longest continuous coastal walking route in the world.
Furthermore, I am pleased that the Prime Minister has committed to protecting 30 per cent of the UK’s land by 2030. This means an additional 400,000 hectares, the size of the Lake District and South Downs national parks combined, will be protected to support the recovery of nature.
Thank you again for taking time to contact me.