News Article | May 9, 2017
I manage a mixed 500 hectare farm in Northamptonshire growing cereals, and supporting a beef and sheep enterprise. As the weeks went by during the Brexit referendum campaign, it became clear that the plight of British agriculture was something of a footnote, occasionally referenced by remain and leave politicians as a means of supporting their view. However, it is hard to think of any other sectors more affected by the vote to leave the EU than agriculture. What is now clear is just how much the EU, along with its rules and regulations, has become central to agriculture over the past 25 years – and for good reason. Agriculture is complicated; it oversees the food we eat and the environment we live in. It is, in many respects, an appropriate competence for the EU. But no more – our government is now left with the task of repatriating all these rules, within a department, Defra, that has seen huge cuts to its operations over the past seven years. There are inevitable impacts that will come from being out of the EU. The withdrawal from the common agricultural policy is one; alongside wondering what will replace it (if anything at all). We are not helped by the fact that we do not have a basic policy direction from any party as to what they envisage for farming. The current scheme pays farmers in the UK a flat rate payment per hectare in return for meeting basic standards. We are currently doing our application for the basic payment scheme, which provides grants and payments for the farming industry, and I cannot help but wonder how many farms will survive without them. The other biggest impact will come from trade deals. We are blessed to live in an era of accessible and cheap food. Outside the single market, with no trade deals, it is hard to see how there can be no knock-on effect to the price of food – either imported or home-grown. Though higher food prices would appear a good thing for us farmers, input costs would rise for currently tariff-free items such as feed, fertiliser, pesticides and agricultural machinery. Not to mention that governments usually do not like increased food prices, and I fear it could bring about a cheap food agenda that sacrifices basic standards. This brings me to an important point: standards. We are, rightly, prevented from importing a number of different foods and products from outside the European Union because they do not meet set standards. Reports of possible new bilateral trade deals being done with non-EU countries leave me very fearful that we will have to compete in a marketplace where food is being produced to standards that are much lower than our own, and possibly even illegal if we were to do that here. Hormones in beef cattle, ractopamine in pigs and bromated flour are all such examples of this, and for me no one wins in this scenario. Another concern is employment. The vote to leave the EU centred heavily on immigration, and migrant labour from the EU, and we have to be mindful of that. However if there are restrictions placed on foreign workers it will have huge knock-on effects for fresh produce, horticulture and pig sectors that rely on a mix of seasonal and permanent workers from abroad. With changes to support funding and trade deals, there will be uncertainty, but I think there will be opportunities. Some have said with more farmers likely to leave the sector, more land could become available for expanding businesses or new entrants to farming. I am sure Brexit could force many to find alternative income streams or fundamentally change their business model to grow different crops. For example, I know a number of farms that are growing crops for ornamental and pharmaceutical purposes. We now have an opportunity where farming and the rest of the population can be brought closer together, as decisions over farming and environmental funding are repatriated. It will help us to ask the public what they want their farmers to be. Business people? Food providers? Environmentalists? Whatever the answer to these questions, it will have an inevitable impact on how our countryside is farmed and managed. In areas where farming is more challenging, such as upland areas, support payments have arguably allowed farming families to maintain and manage some of our most iconic landscapes. Another opportunity is to rationalise some legislation. There is no getting around it, some EU legislation makes little sense. In many cases it does not fit the UK’s environmental or agricultural models and prolonged decision making processes lead to constant uncertainty. Decisions over water quality, approving or rejecting plant protection products or fungicides, GMOs and animal welfare will now have to be taken at a UK level, and for me this is a good thing – irrespective of where you stand.
News Article | May 17, 2017
Three stories intertwine in Client Earth, a study of the innovative European public-interest environmental-law firm of that name, founded by James Thornton. The first is about how one person can make a difference through creative collaboration and persistence. The second is on the role of litigation in advancing social change. The third details how collaborative enforcement actions in multiple countries can build on one another to address immense planetary challenges, from climate change to pollution of air, water and soil. Thornton, who co-wrote the book with his husband, author Martin Goodman, expresses his goal simply, as “systemic change to protect people and nature”. In his view, “the most efficient way to achieve it is through law”. He began his career as a litigator for the US Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) during the presidency of Ronald Reagan; he brought 88 citizens' suits against polluters. One of his important successes at the NRDC was a suit to enforce the US Clean Water Act against food company Gwaltney, for 666 days of violations as it discharged pollutants into a river. The court awarded a US$1,285,322 penalty “to deter possible future violations.” For the past decade, Thornton has led ClientEarth's work in Europe, China and Africa. The book details some of the organization's notable environmental enforcement victories and what went into them. In 2015, ClientEarth succeeded in its challenge against Defra, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, over its failure to comply with its obligations under the European Union's Ambient Air Quality Directive. ClientEarth has also been involved in a mixed legal and political action in Krakow, Poland, to ban burning of coal in domestic stoves. The book provides an unusual and much-needed inside view of the development of environmental enforcement litigation, and its broader implications. It conveys the complex scales at which environmental protection works. Individual cases may be pinned to one location, but Thornton and Goodman reveal how the aim is to leverage them in a layered, strategic way with an eye to the long term. Goodman's chapters detail Thornton's journey and the evolution of ClientEarth as a complex dance among the diverse groups of people who shape transnational environmental policy, nature conservation and governance. Thornton's contributions explain his motivations and strategic decisions. Each case, despite differences between legal systems, used law as a tool to enforce or develop environmental protections. A difficult question underlies this strategy: how can the transnational environmental movement — and specifically, a law firm — most effectively connect diverse problems in many places to broaden its impact? Scaling up is easiest across places with similar problems and systems, as shown by ClientEarth's efforts to address air quality across Europe, building from its UK victory to cases in Germany and plans for a further roll-out. Even there, the strategies must be different in each country. To protect the planet more broadly, regional and national environmental enforcement movements must collaborate. Recently, Thornton worked with judges from China's Supreme People's Court to establish litigation cost structures that make it financially possible for plaintiffs to bring lawsuits. This builds on similar efforts he has made in Europe. The story of ClientEarth's work raises crucial questions about the nature of transformative change. Is it brought about through major victories, like enforcing the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive? Is it through cumulative, highly specific cases, such as fights to reduce coal use in central European power plants? These questions have also arisen in the United States, where most climate-change litigation takes place. There have been high-profile victories such as the 2007 Supreme Court decision Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, in which the court required the agency to regulate greenhouse gases or better justify its refusal to regulate; this provided the basis for the Barack Obama administration's regulation of emissions from vehicles and power plants. But numerous lower-profile cases have challenged coal projects and together had significant impact. Strategic decisions also go beyond substantive framing of cases to addressing procedural barriers and navigating legal cultures. Thornton's focus on reducing litigation costs and building country-specific strategies reflects an understanding of these concerns. Client Earth provides a tantalizing glimpse of how a variety of strategies can converge to create a global environmental enforcement effort. As we face issues such as the worsening impacts of climate change in the countries that are poorest and least able to adapt, international and national politics often fail to align to create progress. Elections since the 2015 Paris climate agreement reflect that. In such a context, the work of ClientEarth and other globally active law organizations that have advanced litigation is invaluable.
News Article | May 21, 2017
On 24 June last year, the few hundred residents of a temporary village, hidden from view in the middle of a West Sussex soft fruit farm, received letters. They were signed by David Kay, the managing director of the Hall Hunter Partnership, a business that grows 10% of the UK’s strawberries, 19% of its raspberries and a whacking 42% of its blueberries across thousands of acres, of both glasshouses and polytunnels. The recipients were his seasonal workforce, some of the 3,000 pickers from Bulgaria, Romania and elsewhere who come here each year to get the harvest in, and without whom the business would simply not exist. “I wanted them to know that in the face of the vote for Brexit we would hang together as a family,” he says now, standing amid the mobile homes his workers live in during the summer months. The dwellings come dressed with satellite dishes pointed at news channels in Bulgaria, and pylons delivering high-speed wifi. Some have planted gardens. Tesco Direct delivers their groceries; coaches take them out on excursions.“I’m responsible for both a fruit farm and 2,100 beds,” Kay says. “That morning I met a lot of very sad and confused workers. For me, personally, it was a shock.” Kay may have wanted to reassure his employees in the immediate aftermath of the vote, but 11 months on their status is no clearer. Indeed, this tidy little village could now stand as a blunt symbol for one of the most serious but little talked about issues arising from the Brexit negotiations: the continued ability of this country to feed itself, if the deal goes wrong. Opponents of EU membership talked during the referendum campaign about sovereignty and control. They railed against the free movement of labour. What they didn’t mention is the way the British food supply chain has, over the past 30 years, become increasingly reliant on workers from elsewhere, both permanent residents and seasonal labour. Last month, as parliament wrapped up for the general election, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee quietly published a short paper called Feeding the Nation: Labour Constraints. As it reported, around 20% of all employees in British agriculture come from abroad, these days mostly Romania and Bulgaria, while 63% of all staff employed by members of the British Meat Processors Association are not from the UK. Around 400,000 people work in food manufacturing here, and more than 30% of those are also from somewhere else. If free movement of labour stops, the British food industry won’t just face difficulties. Some parts will shudder to a halt. Shelves will be emptied. Prices will shoot up. And right now, none of those charged with negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU are making promises that this scenario will be averted. Many of them aren’t even engaging with the issue. The soft-fruit business of which Hall Hunter is a part is right at the sharp end of that. “From February to November we need 29,000 seasonal workers across the sector,” says Laurence Olins, chair of British Summer Fruits, the crop association for berries, which account for one in every £5 spent on fruit in the UK. “And 95% of those are non-UK EU citizens.” The industry has tried to get UK nationals to do the work but they’re simply not interested. “Our hope is for some sort of permit scheme,” Olins says. “But if, say, we get only half the permits we need, we will simply have only half the size of the industry.” The 29,000 non-UK workers they have are therefore vital. And, what’s more, the number required is growing. Kay agrees. “We’ve worked with job centres and with ex-prisoners, but British people don’t want to do these jobs.” Instead, he says, he gets a steady supply of highly educated and motivated eastern Europeans, most of whom have some connection to farming because their families still have smallholdings. “We have a return rate of 76% each year,” he says, “which means we retain a skills base – 70% of our management arrived here as pickers and worked their way up the ranks.” He shows me a list of the 20 most important people in the company and it’s littered with Slavic surnames – 20 nationalities are represented on site. Some have settled here, put their kids into schools and taken UK citizenship. But many more are just seasonal, coming and going at short notice. Every single one is interviewed for a job by a member of Kay’s team; they run temporary recruitment centres in town halls and civic libraries across eastern Europe. At the farm, amid glasshouses of glossy strawberries planted at shoulder height for easy picking, I meet Zyulfie Yusein, 29, and Nikoloy Kolev, 34. Both are from Bulgaria. Both are graduates. Both first came here to earn a little money as students, returning home with their earnings. Over the years, they’ve stayed longer and longer. “It’s a great job,” says Yusein. Kolev agrees. “We work as a team and the team is like family.” But both say the Brexit vote has changed everything. “I worry about the future,” Yusein says. “My friends worry too. The vote made me feel unsafe.” Kolev says, “Going back is not an option but what am I going to do?” They are warm, bright, friendly people, but the tension just beneath the surface is palpable. They are already experiencing the downside. The Brexit vote has weakened the pound by up to 20%. Their salaries are worth far less at home than once they were. And the message is getting back to their friends. “Some of the seasonal labour is choosing not to come to the UK because of the value of sterling,” Olins says. “If you can go to work in a Euro country like Spain, rather than Britain, it’s worth doing so.”There used to be 10 applicants for every picking job in the UK. Now there are three. “The candidates we’re getting are older, they have fewer skills, their English is worse.” Is that just down to Brexit? “The media in the home countries has been reporting attacks on immigrants to the UK,” he says. The mood here has changed. And it risks imperilling the harvest British citizens don’t want to help bring in. On 26 July, 2016, a little over a month after the referendum vote, representatives of more than 40 food and drink associations gathered in the meeting room on the sixth floor of the Food and Drink Federation’s HQ on London’s Bloomsbury Way. Here were representatives of the British Poultry Council and the Federation of Bakers, the British Growers Association, the National Association of Cider Makers and many more besides. They were joined by civil servants from Defra, the Food Standards Agency, the Department for Business, David Davis’s Brexit department and HMRC. The meeting had been called by Ian Wright, a former executive at drinks company Diageo who now heads the Food and Drink Federation. The meeting was to coordinate a response to Brexit. And top of the agenda was the issue of labour. The same group has met every month since. “It’s fair to say that we started out with a degree of surprise at all levels,” Wright says. “Very few ministers or civil servants understood the nature of the food-chain workforce.” He believes they have managed to get the message across, but that’s a very different thing to dealing with the issue, given the refusal by Downing Street to be drawn on their negotiating positions. “Right now, there’s a great deal of work going on to define the choices the prime minister will have to take to sustain the variety and complexity of the food supply chain.” The alternative, he says, is fewer choices for consumers or sources of labour from outside the EU. Early in this election campaign Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, made a commitment to guarantee the rights of the estimated 3.9 million EU citizens living in the UK on day one of a Labour government. David Davis met this with a soothing assertion of a swift deal to secure those rights. That’s not surprising. The non-UK citizens here are mostly of working age and economically active. The 900,000 UK citizens in Europe are mostly pensioners living out their retirement on the sun belt in increasingly poor health. Theresa May’s government is desperate not to have them sent back for fear of the pressure they will place on the NHS. But what matters is not those living here full-time but the seasonal workforce that comes and goes. Until 2013, there was a seasonal-labour permit scheme which, ironically, was abolished, because the EU free movement system was deemed to be working so well. A replacement would be needed. Pushed for a number of permits required, Wright suggests “around half a million”. Hard-line Brexiters, committed to an end to the free movement of labour, might well find this unpalatable. Indeed, one of the big food-sector bodies told me they received off-the-record calls from civil servants warning them to shut up, because they had been quoted in newspapers talking about the seriousness of the labour supply to the food chain. “We were told we would just enrage the hard-line Brexiteers,” a member of the body told me. The problem is compounded because some sectors need a huge mass of workers. Others need very few. In some areas of the food chain, it can be down to just a few dozen people who keep the whole thing running. For example, under Food Standards Agency rules, an abattoir in England, Wales or Northern Ireland cannot operate unless the animals on the way to slaughter are overseen by one of their vets. This is work British vets don’t want to do. They would rather be out on the farm with livestock in the prime of their lives, or dealing with domestic pets. As a result, at least 85% of vets in British abattoirs are not from the UK. Apparently, the majority are Spanish. And if they couldn’t get into the country to do the job, the meat supply chain would collapse. While Ian Wright is good at the diplomatic phrase, others feel less constrained. In the months running up to the Brexit referendum, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London’s City University, co-authored a briefing paper on Britain’s dependency on EU member states for its food. It dealt in detail with seasonal labour from the EU. He can be forgiven for wondering why he bothered. “The civil service is dispirited and uncertain of what they’re doing because they haven’t been given any signals,” Lang says now. “There’s not a bleep about food policy coming from ministers. There has been a stunning silence from Andrea Leadsom, the Defra minister, on this matter of national importance. Basically, if on March 31, 2019, migrant labour is not sorted the food system is fucked.” And then he says, “I hope those who voted Brexit and who still want to eat British are prepared to go to Lincolnshire in winter to pick vegetables.” Or as Wright puts it, “Food is at the heart of national security. If you can’t feed a country you haven’t got a country.” For five years as a food reporter for the BBC’s One Show, I used to travel the country from one strip-lit food production unit to another, looking at exactly where our food came from. The ethnic mix was always striking. The media were forever talking about a British food revolution; of a homegrown improvement in quality at both small and large scale. And the companies were indeed British, but so many of the people doing the actual producing were not. I visited cake factories where the health and safety notices were in both English and Polish; was given tours of vegetable processing plants where the floor managers needed a smattering of four eastern European languages to get by. I take a train north from Hall Hunter’s fruit farm, to the North Yorkshire home of Heck Sausages, run by Debbie and Andrew Keeble. In just four years their innovative range of gluten-free sausages – from pork and apple, through square to non-meat alternatives – has been stocked by all the major supermarkets. Their turnover is projected to reach £18m this year and they are about to move into a new plant which will enable them to run multiple production lines. The only issue is workforce, which will have to double. Of the 60 people currently working in production, 85% are from eastern Europe; like Hall Hunter, Heck can’t get British people to do the work. I ask Debbie Keeble what an end to free movement of labour would mean to her business. “It would be cataclysmic,” she says. “No one here will take these jobs.” The Heck factory is in an area that voted strongly for Brexit. “During the referendum, campaigners were going on about people coming over here taking our jobs. Well, they’re not, because nobody here applies for them.” Mostly she says it’s word of mouth, with new employees coming either directly from Latvia or Romania or from within the communities in the UK. I talk to one young Romanian woman, Georgeta Iclodean, who talks about getting increasing amounts of hassle from Border Agency officials when she re-enters Britain. “I make sure to have all my papers with me now,” she says. I meet 34-year-old Vladim Protasovs from Latvia who came to Heck in 2014 and has risen to be one of the line managers. “I like working in the UK,” he says. “It’s a very big difference from Latvia.” But Brexit has changed everything. “My children are settled in school here,” he says. “If we had to go back it would be so hard, not just for me but for them. There’s lot of people who want to come from Latvia to work in the UK, but they are worried. I call my friends to say there are jobs but they don’t want to come.” Then he says: “What happens next?” It’s a good question. The truth is nobody knows, not the business leaders, not the diplomats and certainly not the politicians. The prime minister and her team have portrayed negotiations as a game of poker, used the language of hands unrevealed and bluffs, while failing to recognise that the analogy doesn’t work; poker is a winner-takes-all game and Britain cannot afford to lose everything. The Brexit deal isn’t just about vague concepts of nationhood. It isn’t simply about international standing or the ebb and flow of trade.It’s about the lives of individual people like Protasovs and Iclodean, Yusein and Kolev; the ones prepared to do the back-breaking jobs British people are not. What’s more, this is not just their crisis, to be worked out in anguished letters home. It’s ours too. Because without them and the half a million seasonal workers like them, our very ability to feed ourselves, at a price we can all afford, is in peril. In the forthcoming Brexit negotiations that is what’s really at stake.
News Article | May 19, 2017
This afternoon Camel Valley confirmed that it had been awarded the status following a five year process beginning in 2012, when it applied for a PDO through DEFRA to the EU for part of its Darnibole vineyard. In a meeting held in April of this year, 28 Member States unanimously agreed to grant the PDO application, extending the original application from seven acres to a 28 acre area of south-facing vineyards. It means that Camel Valley’s ‘Darnibole’ vineyard is currently the only single vineyard in the UK with its own Protected Designated Origin. Confirming that its application had been successful, Bob Lindo, the owner of Camel Valley, thanked Phil Munday (DEFRA), and MPS and MEPs, such as Anthea McIntyre, Dr Ilya M. D. Maclean, (Exeter University) and MWs such as Derek Smedley for their support. The PDO status relates to wines made from 100% Bacchus planted on Darnibole, with no acidification, de-acidification or sweetening. The grapes must also be hand picked and vinified at the adjoining Camel Valley winery, fermented at a temperature of between 16 to 18 degrees. The finished wine must be comparable with previous vintages to ensure typicity. The application was made on the basis that the vineyard’s ancient slate sub-soil and steep south facing slope were unique, producing wines with a character unique to the area, specifically an “intense, steely Bacchus with a delicate restrained aroma”, according to Lindo. In its application submitted to the EU, the Bacchus produced from the Darnibole vineyard was described as: “Fresh with an expression of minerality providing for apple or gooseberry notes beginning at the front and persisting throughout. Occasionally, notes of kumquat and white peach appear and grassy notes at the end. Less obviously fruit-driven and more mineral than other Bacchus.” Lindo already has his sights set on securing another protected status for the English wine trade, having made an application to register the term ‘British Fizz’ as a protected geographical indication (PGI). Lindo told db that he had written the necessary paperwork for obtaining the PGI and would be seeking to register the following three terms: ‘British Fizz’, ‘British Sparkling’ and ‘Wine from Great Britain’ in collaboration with the UKVA. Clarifying his comments in a letter sent to the UK drinks trade, Lindo said: “I have drafted a PGI application on behalf of the UK wine industry to protect the word ‘British’ from those with no connection whatsoever to the English/Welsh sparkling wine industries from picking up the term ‘British’ for their own use. “The protected term applied for is ‘British’ with ‘British fizz’ shown as ‘an equivalent term’. It is less to do with a generic name for English sparkling wine and more to do with protection, although some might start to use the term in the US where it is gaining traction.” Any such PGI would be owned and administered by the UKVA. While this is still very much in the early stages of consideration, as the English wine trade grows defining and protecting its interests will undoubtedly be a priority for producers and trade bodies. And while Camel Valley is the first to have its application approved, its not the only English wine region seeking to acquire PDO status. In 2015 producers in Sussex, including Rathfinny Estate, collectively applied for a PDO of there wines, requesting a Sussex PDO for its wines. While Camel Valley’s PDO relates to a single vineyard, this application would cover a much wider region and incorporate many wineries, affording wineries there the same protection as Champagne or Prosecco. However it could be years before this application is approved or rejected, with Defra only submitting its application to the European Union on behalf of Sussex wineries late last year. Nevertheless, the move does afford Sussex wine temporary protected status while its application is considered by the European Commission. If approved, a PDO would impose stricter regulations on winemakers in Sussex. Sparkling wine for example would be required to be aged in bottle for at least 15 months, similar to Champagne, and have a higher minimum alcohol content than current guidelines. Other UK products with PDO status include Cornish clotted cream and Jersey royal potatoes. The application for Sussex wine is expected to be submitted later this month.
News Article | May 24, 2017
Shoppers at a handful of Tesco stores in the UK will no longer be able to buy 5p “single-use” plastic carrier bags, in the first such trial by a supermarket. If successful, it could lead to the bags being phased out completely, less than two years after the law was changed in England to force larger stores to charge for them. Britain’s biggest retailer has launched the 10-week trial in three stores – in Aberdeen, Dundee and Norwich – to see how customers manage without the 5p bag option. Shoppers who forget to bring their own bags will still be able to buy more expensive reusable bags which start at 10p. Online shoppers also have the choice of the 5p bags or no bags at all and 57 % now choose bagless deliveries, Tesco has said. “We are carrying out a short trial in a few stores to look at the impact on bag usage if we remove single-use carrier bags” said a Tesco spokesperson. The introduction of the 5p charge in England in October 2015 brought it into line with schemes already operating in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as part of a drive to encourage a switch away from ‘thin gauge’ throwaway carrier bags. The charge was part of a government scheme to reduce litter and protect wildlife, given that plastic bags can take hundreds of years to break down. About 8m tonnes of plastic makes its way into the world’s oceans each year, posing a serious threat to the marine environment. Experts estimate that plastic is eaten by 31 species of marine mammals and more than 100 species of sea birds. The charge in England has clearly worked – official figures last July revealed that the number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers plummeted by more than 85% after the introduction. More than 7bn bags were handed out by seven main supermarkets in the year before the charge, but this figure plummeted to slightly more than 500m in the first six months after the charge was introduced, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said. While retailers can choose what to do with the 5p proceeds, they are expected (though not legally bound) to donate it to good causes, and over the next 10 years the government hopes this will raise about £730m. Retailers have to report to ministers about where the money has gone, and eventually the government will also publish this information each year. The all-time high of bag usage was in 2006, when 12.2bn bags were handed out in England. Retailers blamed the recession, saying families had changed their shopping habits and were doing more smaller shops every week.
News Article | February 16, 2017
The European Commission says the UK has two months to address "persistent breaches" of air pollutants - specifically nitrogen dioxide - after it issued a "final warning". Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from sources including factories and vehicles, particularly diesel engines, and is linked to an increased risk of respiratory problems. Under EU law, when air pollution limits are breached member states must implement air quality plans to bring the levels back down. The commission says the UK failed to address repeated breaches of legal air pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide levels in 16 areas including London, Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton and Glasgow. It says if the UK fails to act within two months, it could take the matter to the European Court of Justice. The UK could face a lump sum fine or a daily penalty payment decided by the court. The commission says more than 400,000 people die prematurely in the EU every year as a result of poor air quality. Germany, France, Spain and Italy were also served with warnings. To date, legal action on NO2 has been taken against 12 member states, the commission says, with ongoing infringement cases against Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the UK. The commission says air quality standards are being exceeded in 23 out of 28 member states - including more than 130 cities across Europe. It suggests possible measures to lower polluting emissions include reducing overall traffic volumes and switching to electric cars. The commission says reducing emissions from diesel-powered vehicles is an "important step" towards meeting the EU air quality standards. The warning has reignited calls from organisations for a "clean air act" with targets to reduce pollution levels in the UK. Friends of the Earth say an act will be needed to protect the public from air pollution once the UK leaves the EU to "help safeguard existing legal protections". The charity is also calling for: Jenny Bates, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, says road traffic is the biggest problem and diesel vehicles are the "worst of all". Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, agrees that traffic emissions are "the main culprit", particularly those from diesel. "Scrappage incentive schemes will help drivers to move to cleaner vehicles, without being financially penalised," she said. The government says it is "firmly committed" to improving the UK's air quality and cutting harmful emissions. It says the UK meets the legal limits for "almost all" pollutants. In October, proposals were announced for clean air zones for Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton by 2020. The zones aim to encourage drivers to choose less-polluting electric cars and will also introduce restrictions on older, polluting commercial vehicles. Under the plans, electric cars could be given priority at traffic lights and exempted from one-way systems. They could also be given preferential parking spaces and lower charges. Councils with clean air zones are also expected to restrict access to older buses, coaches, taxis and lorries with emit high levels of gases such as nitrogen dioxide. Birmingham and Leeds also plan to extend restrictions to polluting vans. This could mean a charging zone for commercial vehicles with high levels of emissions, or by introducing stricter licensing requirements for buses and taxis. The clean air zones are the government's response to a UK Supreme Court ruling, which ordered it to take action to meet European limits on air pollution. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the government had committed more than £2bn since 2011 to increase the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles and support greener transport schemes. "We will update our air quality plans in the spring to further improve the nation's air quality," the spokesperson said.
News Article | February 28, 2017
On Shrove Tuesday, the biggest egg-buying day of the year, UK consumers are being warned that eggs branded as free range have actually been laid by housed hens because of emergency measures to combat the spread of bird flu. All free-range egg boxes will carry a sticker explaining that the box contains “eggs laid by hens temporarily housed in barns for their welfare”. But consumers, who will be stocking up on eggs to make pancakes on Tuesday, will still be charged a premium for free-range eggs. The UK consumes an estimated 52m eggs on Pancake Day, more than double the normal rate. About half the eggs sold in supermarkets are usually free range. On 6 December poultry farmers were ordered to house their flocks to protect the UK from a virulent outbreak of avian flu. The stickers are being introduced because, under EU rules, if hens have been housed for more than 12 weeks they cannot be sold as free range. Andrew Opie, the director of food policy at the British Retail Consortium, said: “What we will start to see is stickers appearing on boxes of eggs to indicate that the hens that have produced those eggs are no longer free range. The likelihood is that all egg boxes will be stickered.” Asked by BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme whether prices would fall as a result, he said: “We would hope that customers would recognise that this is a challenge beyond the control of the farmers themselves and will continue to support British free range farmers through this difficult time.” There have been several confirmed outbreaks of the H5N8 strain of avian flu this year, including on farms in Northumberland, Suffolk, Lancashire and Lincolnshire. About 20% of egg producers have flocks in areas classed as a high risk of contagion. From Wednesday, the restrictions will begin to be eased. All farmers in the high-risk areas will be required to continue to house birds. Those outside the area will be allowed to let birds out, but many are expected to continue to house their flocks as a precaution. The H5N8 strain of bird flu poses no risk to humans. The British Free Range Egg Producers Association said birds were not being be kept in battery farm conditions. It said: “While free-range egg farmers would prefer their birds to be outside, they also wouldn’t want to risk the health of their birds. Their sheds have plenty of room for the birds to move around freely and include scratching areas so birds can still display their natural instinctive behaviour. “Farmers have also put in additional stimulants like footballs, cabbages and even Christmas trees to keep the birds happy.” It added eggs “will still taste great and will have been laid by birds who were allowed outside before 6 December, and that will be allowed outside again as soon as it is safe”. Opie said: “We expect more farmers to be bringing hens indoors than might be anticipated from those higher risk areas that have been identified by Defra [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs]. “That’s a genuine concern from farmers to prevent the virus entering their flocks and destroying their livelihood. We anticipate that all eggs will be stickered for that reason.”
News Article | March 2, 2017
Fly-tipping is on the rise again, with the number of incidents up for the third year in a row, official figures show. Councils across England reported 936,090 cases of fly-tipping in 2015/2016, up 4% on the previous year, the data from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) reveals. Local authorities carried out 494,000 enforcement actions to tackle the problem which blights towns and countryside, costing them £16.9m, a reduction of nearly £700,000 on 2014/2015. As the figures were published, campaigners warned financial pressure on local councils had caused some waste collection services to be cut, which people had “taken as a licence to dump their waste illegally”. Around half of the rubbish illegally tipped, which ranges from fridges, tyres and vehicle parts to rubble and black bags of household waste, was dumped on highways. A third of all incidents consisted of a quantity of material equivalent to a “small van load”. The figures do not yet show if new powers for councils to hand out “on-the-spot” fines of up to £400 for fly-tipping incidents, which came into force in May 2016, have helped reduce the problem. A Press Association analysis earlier this year revealed councils had handed out hundreds of thousands of pounds in fines, but more than half of English local authorities had not used the powers. The Defra figures suggest fly-tipping incidents fell from more than 1.28m in 2007/2008 to about 711,500 cases in 2012/2013 before starting to rise again, although the changes may in part be down to the way councils record the data. The Environment Agency dealt with 125 major fly-tipping cases in 2015/2016, including six incidents of illegally dumping asbestos, 11 large-scale tyre dumps and 26 cases of tipping chemical drums, oil or fuel. Samantha Harding, litter programme director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Financial pressure on local councils has caused some local collection services to be cut and it seems that people have taken this as a licence to dump their waste illegally. “There needs to be a review of England’s struggling waste management systems, with a new ambitious programme to haul them into the 21st century. “We cannot afford to waste our valuable resources in this way.” Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president Ross Murray said: “These figures do not tell the full story of this disgraceful behaviour which blights our beautiful countryside. “Local authorities tend not to get involved with clearing incidences of fly-tipped waste from private land leaving the landowner to clean up and foot the bill.” CLA members have reported a big increase in fly-tipping, with incidents ranging from unwanted sofas to broken washing machines, building materials and even asbestos dumped in the countryside, he said. The CLA is calling for a zero-tolerance approach by local government to the problem, imposing and enforcing stronger penalties, ensuring powers to issue fixed penalty notices and seize vehicles are used and reducing council fees to legally dispose of waste. Local Government Association environment spokeswoman, Judith Blake, said: “At a time when social care faces a funding gap of at least £2.6bn by 2020 and councils’ overall funding shortfall is predicted to reach £5.8bn within three years, local authorities are having to spend a vast amount each year on tackling litter and fly-tipping. “This is money that would be better spent on vital frontline services. Litter and fly-tipping is environmental vandalism – it’s unpleasant, unnecessary and unacceptable.” She welcomed the government’s move to give councils power to hand out fixed penalty notices for small-scale fly-tipping. Other changes would help with the problem, such as manufacturers providing more take-back services so people can hand in old furniture and mattresses when they buy new ones, she said. A Defra spokesman said: “Fly-tipping blights communities and poses a risk to human health and the environment, which is why we are committed to tackling this anti-social behaviour so everyone can enjoy a cleaner, healthier country. “New powers to issue £400 fixed penalty notices and advances in technology, including mobile phone reporting, have all made it easier for local authorities to clamp down on small-scale fly-tipping which should be welcomed – and 98% of fly-tipping prosecutions resulting in a conviction is a clear warning to anyone involved in serious waste crime.”
News Article | March 2, 2017
The government's long-delayed 25-year plan for improving nature in England should be published immediately, MPs have said in a letter to the Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom. They asked her to explain why the strategy due in 2016 is still not out. They say it's essential that ministers have agreed and published a clear plan before negotiations on Brexit begin. The government promised in its manifesto that it would leave nature in a better state than it was inherited. The all-encompassing masterplan aims to set out a policy framework for air, freshwater, marine, wildlife, soils, flooding, forests, and even the urban environment. Environment charities which have been briefed on the plan say it is appropriately ambitious in some respects - but they, too, want to see it in black and white. The plan was originally due to be published in summer last year. I understand that the document has been signed off by the Prime Minister but has been delayed for weeks, waiting for the ideal time to publish. The letter of complaint to government has been signed by all the members of the Environment Audit Committee, which involves Conservative, Labour and Green MPs. The Lib Dems told BBC News they supported the demand. Their letter says: "We welcome this important step by the government to take a longer-term approach to protecting our environment. However, we are disappointed by the continuing delays in publication of the framework. "First, the framework (of the plan) was delayed from summer last year to the autumn following the referendum. We are now in March, the framework has still not been published and there is no indication of when it will be." The letter accepts that Defra has been under strain from preparations to leave the EU, on top of budget cuts. But it says: "The Plan should be published and consulted on before Article 50 is triggered, so as to inform the government's negotiating position. "This seems unlikely, raising the prospect of the government entering crucial and time-limited negotiations with the EU without an agreed plan. It is essential that the 25-year plan is not delayed further." Members are particularly concerned about post-Brexit policy on farming, which will have a huge impact on wildlife, water and air pollution, soil loss and flooding. They want assurances that when the UK is no longer under the jurisdiction of the Commission and the European courts, the government will still be able to be held to account if it fails with its environmental promises The government is preparing a separate but related plan for post-Brexit farming. I understand this is also finished and approved but awaiting a "suitable" publication date. Peter Morris from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust told BBC News: "We're hoping for a legally-binding plan, with milestones for a healthy environment, the money to invest in our natural world, and clear monitoring to make sure it succeeds. This should be backed up with a commitment for a new Environment Act to establish the plan in law." A spokesman for the government told BBC News it would publish both plans as soon as possible. The government wants to leave Nature in a better state: here's three examples of how that can be done. Carbon stores: Peat bogs are good for wildlife and flood prevention - and for storing carbon (they store 10 times as much as England's forests, say the Wildlife Trusts). Yet 80% of the UK's bogs are damaged or lost. On the western edge of Salford, conservationists are cultivating sphagnum moss in polytunnels to re-colonise the devastated landscape. Suffolk hedgerows: Hedges are a rich habitat and a haven for pollinators but over 100,000 km are estimated to have been lost between 1984 and 1990 alone. In Suffolk one farmer, Steve Honeywood, has seen bird numbers treble and species increase from 60 to nearly 90 by measures including pruning just one edge of his hedges each year and leaving two uncut edges for wildlife. He's now planting elm hedges to support the elusive white-letter hairstreak butterfly. Urban wildlife: In South London, locals are working to create green areas along the catchment of the lost River Effra, which was turned into a closed sewer in Victorian times. By smashing up concrete and tarmac they want to extend flood resilience and improve neighbourhoods for people and wildlife. The government wants to extend people's contact with nature.
News Article | February 26, 2017
Ministers are coming under growing pressure to remove tax incentives for diesel cars and offer compensation to motorists so they can swap to more environmentally friendly vehicles. A group of medical professionals, environmental campaigners and lawyers has written to the chancellor ahead of the budget to demand a change to the vehicle excise duty that they say subsidises diesel cars. Separately, senior Labour and Tory politicians have called for a comprehensive vehicle scrappage scheme to help people with diesel cars change to greener alternatives. The letter from campaigners, including the British Lung Foundation, Greenpeace and doctors’ groups, says toxic air poses a daily risk to people’s health – particularly the young and those suffering from lung problems. “Air pollution has ... been shown to stunt children’s lung growth, which could leave them with health problems in later life,” it states. “We all deserve to breathe clean air.” On Saturday the Guardian revealed that thousands of children and young people at more than 800 nurseries, schools and colleges in London faced dangerous and illegal levels of toxic air, much of it from diesel cars. The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, indicated the government may bow to pressure, saying motorists should be wary of buying diesel cars, adding: “We’re going to have to really migrate our car fleet, and our vehicle fleet more generally, to cleaner technology.” However, he said that diesel “was not going to disappear”. Air pollution causes 40,000 early deaths in the UK and costs the country £27.5bn a year, according to a government estimate. MPs have called it a public health emergency. The letter adds: “We know diesel vehicles, in particular diesel cars, are a major source of pollution in towns and cities ... yet vehicle excise duty (VED) not only fails to recognise this, but is still incentivising them. We are therefore asking for a revision of the VED first-year rate in your upcoming budget statement.” Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has added his voice to calls for a change in vehicle excise duty for diesel cars. He also said the government should introduce a comprehensive clean air act and a diesel scrappage scheme to compensate those motorists who bought diesel cars after being told they were more environmentally friendly. “A number of years ago Londoners and others around the country were encouraged to buy diesel cars – businessmen and women, charities, families were all encouraged to buy diesel. “We are saying to the government you need to choose a national diesel scrappage fund to help people move away from diesel ... and we would target this to the poorest families.” Judges told ministers last November they must cut the illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO ) in dozens of towns and cities in the shortest possible time after ruling that their plans to improve air quality were so poor they were unlawful. The government has until April to come up with proposals to bring before the court. Last year the environment, food and rural affairs select committee described the situation as a public health emergency and recommended the government introduce a diesel scrappage scheme. Its chair, Neil Parish, told the Guardian he was disappointed that the advice had been ignored and called on the government to change course. Parish said: “Defra has lost again in the courts on its failure to tackle air pollution. The option of a scrappage scheme should be back on the table to help get the dirtiest diesels off our roads quickly.” He said it was vital any scrappage scheme was “focused and does not merely become a subsidy for the middle classes. Cash from the scheme should either promote ULEVs [ultra-low-emission vehicle] or incentivise public transport use.” Legal NGO ClientEarth brought the case against the government and was one of the groups to sign Sunday’s letter to the chancellor. Its chief executive, James Thornton, said: “The high court has ordered the government to take immediate action now to deal with illegal levels of pollution and prevent tens of thousands of additional early deaths in the UK. “The government needs to recognise that diesel is the primary cause of the problem, and to promote a shift to alternatives. It’s perverse that our tax system encourages people to buy dirty vehicles.”