This week saw the Government’s landmark Environment Bill take another step towards Royal Assent, with peers debating amendments in the House of Lords. This critical legislation will shape the future of our environment, and people’s enjoyment of it, for decades to come.
The Bill establishes a new framework to achieve the Government’s environmental ambitions. The Ramblers welcome many of the aims set out in the legislation, not just because of the intrinsic value of a healthy, natural environment but also because the state of the natural world is critical in our enjoyment of it. However, in its current form, the Bill continues to overlook the importance of public access.
As it stands, the Bill enables the Government to set targets and develop plans to improve ‘enjoyment’ of the natural environment. But it does not actually require the Government to do anything to support improvements in access provision where it is needed most. As a result, the Ramblers have been calling for the Bill to be strengthened to require the Government to set targets and develop plans to improve access to nature. Amendments that would require this were debated in committee in the House of Lords on Monday June 21st.
The debate saw wide-ranging contributions by peers from across the House who spoke passionately about the importance of improving connections with nature. These included the health and wellbeing benefits that this can bring but also the way in which accessing nature can foster a greater sense of personal responsibility towards environmental protection. Many highlighted that the pandemic, with its restrictions on where we can go and what we can do, had brought into sharp focus just how important access to nature is – and that sadly for many people this is far from guaranteed.
Although these amendments were not voted on, ministers still have an opportunity to make changes to the Bill before its Report Stage. Ramblers supporters can write to their MP today asking them to press the Government to ensure a requirement to set targets and develop plans to improve access to nature are included in Environment Bill.
Stephen Russell, Policy and Advocacy Officer Ramblers said:
“Without a compulsion to act, our concern is that Government simply won’t. So we want to see the Bill strengthened. We want it to require, not just enable, the Government to set targets and develop plans to improve access to nature. This will mean that, at a national level, access is factored into policy making in the long-term.
“While the amendments enjoyed the support of many peers, unfortunately this was not echoed by the Minister responsible for the Bill’s passage through the House of Lords. In his response, Lord Goldsmith highlighted the challenges of setting targets and plans to improve access to and enjoyment of the natural environment. We do not share this view and in the coming weeks and months will be planning the next phase of our work on this critical legislation so that ultimately it helps support more people in getting outdoors and connecting with nature.”
The Environment Bill is expected to continue its progress through the House of Lords over the summer before receiving Royal Assent in the autumn.