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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. The noble Lord is absolutely right that the majority of farmers want to protect the environment while they carry on farming. I sought to say that it was dangerous for government by diktat to lay down in legislation how it should be done.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for allowing me to intervene. Does he agree that in large part the situation he describes in Northern Ireland arises because there is no pressure of population? In Northern Ireland there are six large areas of wonderful wilderness with less than 1 million adults living there.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I fear that I would make a rather longer speech than the House would wish if I gave in to provocative comments of that kind. All I say is that the vast majority of farmers in Northern Ireland, of whom the noble Lord is one, were keen on the environment and wanted to adopt measures that helped it. They saw no conflict between the environment and their agricultural business, difficult as it was. Farmers were then, as now, going through a difficult time. Co-operation between agriculture and environmental matters is possible and can be demonstrated to work. I believe that the vast majority of people want that form of co-operation.
Having said that, I welcome the Bill and give the Government nine out of 10 for it. In one or two respects the Government could improve the Bill, but I welcome it. A good number of people have waited for years for legislation of this kind, and I know that it will be greatly welcomed by people in many parts of the country. Some years ago I read a story about the Kinder trespass which occurred in the 1920s or 1930s. In some ways that led the way to increasing public awareness about the desire for access to the countryside. The Kinder trespass was illegal and has passed into history. However, it showed that many people had a desire for access to the countryside which at that time was denied to them.
I have seen very little litter in the Lake District. People with dogs are careful, particularly in the lambing season. Why is it that that is possible in one part of the country but some noble Lords say that it cannot be done elsewhere? If someone can answer that question I may have more sympathy for the critics who have spoken today. The people who walk in the Lake District are keen walkers, not townies who walk Alsatians in Richmond Park. Those people understand the countryside and value the relationship between farmers and the environment generally and want to appreciate it without causing any harm. That requires a little education, knowledge and publicity. All of that appears to take place in the Lake District which I believe is a model for the way that this Bill will operate when it is enacted.
I have walked in the Pyrenees in France and seen litter in the most beautiful places in such volumes that they appear to be landfill sites. In this country we are better, and in the national parks we are better still. It is a matter of education and making the wider public aware of what is meant about the right relationship between them and the countryside and what is meant by designated areas, whether SSSIs, AONBs or the myriad of EU designations. We need to educate and better inform people as has happened in our national parks.
My next point is prompted by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I believe that this Bill will work best if there is good co-operation between all those involved: farmers, landowners, walkers and people with horses. All of them can co-operate to make the Bill work, which is surely the desired aim.
I refer briefly to one or two detailed points. I thought hard about night time access. I once spent the night in a tent on the Brecon Beacons. There is hardly a greater pleasure in life than to wake up in a tent on the Brecon Beacons with the sun shining and to see the beauty of the hillside. I do not want that to be made illegal. I once spent the night, unintentionally, in the Cuillins in Skye. Bad weather intervened and I and others could not leave. We had to spend the night there before it was safe to leave. I do not want to find myself in a situation where that may be regarded as illegal.
I believe that the right answer is to permit night time access but, where it may be inappropriate in certain areas, to prevent it by by-laws. Local by-laws will provide flexibility provided they are well publicised so
I should like to make a plea for hedges and dry-stone walls in the countryside. I am not sure whether the Bill deals with that matter. I am concerned about the disappearance of hedges and the protection of dry-stone walls which are a wonderful aspect of many parts of the countryside. I should like them to have a better measure of protection than I believe is now provided for.
I have said that almost always in the Lake District people who walk with dogs behave sensibly. However, I take note of the argument that the breeding season for birds is a little longer than is allowed for in the Bill. I ask my noble friend to consider extending to the end of July the period when dogs must be kept on a lead rather than the shorter period envisaged in the Bill.
I note that part of the Bill which deals with rights of way. I believe that in some parts of the country a small addition to rights of way would be welcome. At one time I was slightly bewildered by the fact that Wainwright, who produced the walkers' bible for the Lake District, indicated a particular access to a fell access to which was denied by barbed wire. I could see no particular reason for it. There was a field with sheep in it and the adjacent field was similar, and yet access was prevented. I hope that the Bill will be sufficiently flexible to permit, where appropriate, new rights of way to be created where no damage is caused to the farmer.
Another issue that gives me concern is the use of mountain bikes. I own an ordinary bike, not a mountain bike. I am not against mountain bikes, but it is clear that on difficult and perhaps marshy terrain a mountain bike can cause the same environmental damage as several hundred walkers. I do not argue that mountain bikers should not have rights. But if we were to designate those paths and areas most appropriate for such bikes, we might prevent those with mountain bikes from going on to terrain where the environmental damage is out of proportion to the pleasure for the cyclist. We need to give more thought on how that might be managed.
I am sometimes puzzled when barbed wire prevents access between two pieces of land each of which allows access. I was walking along a path through Forestry Commission land the end of which was blocked by barbed wire. Beyond the barbed wire was open access with paths. It does not seem sensible to have barbed wire between land with equal open access on both sides. Perhaps that was an exception.
Earl Peel: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way for one moment. One of the principal reasons for fencing between different-access land (as the noble Lord calls it) is that the areas could be under different ownership. Fencing is usually put up to ensure the stock does not move from one area to another. It is perfectly normal farming practice.
I have sought to understand the way the Bill deals with town and village greens. There can be a difficulty. If a green cannot be registered, it is hard to protect the land from development. People want such town or village greens registered in order to prevent development on them. I see no difficulty in principle. However, I am not sure that the Bill lends itself to that aim.
Finally, in some respects the Bill falls short of the requirements of the EU habitats directive. I hope that the Minister will consider that. I give the Bill a warm welcome. I hope that the difficulties expressed by some noble Lords will not be used as devices to block the progress of the Bill in its later stages.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I come from the part of Oxfordshire which is one of the last strongholds in southern England of the stag beetle. We sell pictures of stag beetles to raise money for the maintenance of the churchyard and its environment. I had not realised until the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, spoke that the stag beetle is regarded with such loathing by some people although, when I bought half a dozen cards I was told that I was the only person who had done so. Perhaps the noble Earl's views are shared by others.
I must offer an apology to the House and the Minister. I have to be somewhere else early tomorrow morning. I must catch the last train from Paddington tonight and may miss the end of the debate. I shall be brief. Both the Government and noble Lords on these Benches want the Bill to be a success. It is not simply a matter of putting a measure on to the statute book; it is the delivery of improved access to the countryside and the protection of wildlife. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and others have said, that means that resources must be sufficient for the provisions in the Bill.
In my county of Oxfordshire, I did some research into the extra resources required. We have three areas of outstanding natural beauty: what used to be called the Berkshire Downs where the White Horse of Uffington is; the Chilterns; and part of the Cotswolds. We employ 13 staff at a cost of £140,000 to deal with access. That includes the definitive map, claims for paths and practical maintenance--people who go out and do things in the field. We do not have wardens although some are employed by the National Trust and others by local nature trusts. The people employed are not expensive. Thirteen staff at a cost of £140,000 does not compare with lawyers in the rail regulator's office. We could probably employ all our staff for one of those. However, we should be spending £250,000 even at our mean rates because we fall well short of carrying out our existing discretionary duties and there is a large backlog of potential work.
Many of duties imposed by the Bill are statutory. Therefore the county council and other local authorities will be obliged to carry them out, even if over a long time scale. In our county, we estimate the cost at probably between £300,000 and £500,000 before allowance is made for public inquiries, compensation to owners, if that is required, improvements, such as the possibility of better disabled access in respect of which we are faced with many representations, employment of wardens, local by-laws and the maintenance of wildlife sites.
If Oxfordshire is typical, we are probably talking about spending across the country at four times the current local authority level. In our county that would mean about 40 staff. As I am sure do other noble Lords, I should like to hear what resources will be delivered. Without resources, many of the aspirations of the Bill cannot be met.
I reiterate the need for co-operation. I have taken one footpath diversion course through five years of wrangling. Many speakers today have suggested that landowners do not co-operate. In that case it was the obduracy of the Ramblers' Association. It refused point blank to co-operate in a diversion which was not only to the benefit of the farmer but was safer and provided a better walk with improved views. And the farmer also dedicated an extra footpath. We should recognise that farmers are not always the villains of the piece.
The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, for the sake of brevity, I propose to say nothing on Part I of the Bill, little about Part II, but something about Part III. My noble friend Lady Byford thought that it was three Bills rolled into one. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, thought that it was two Bills rolled into one. However one determines the number of Bills in this composite Bill, Part III is about nature conservation and wildlife protection. It is important that we recognise that these are the most important wildlife provisions to have come before Parliament since the Wildlife and Countryside Act of nearly 20 years ago.
My first and main complaint involves the name of the Bill. It is regrettable that the word "wildlife" is not in the title of the Bill. That would demonstrate how central the Bill is to the evolving and generally recognised need to update legislation for nature conservation. Few speakers have objected--I suspect that none will object--to the main thrust of Part III, although some noble Lords objected to some of the details of the provisions. There is a recognition that the SSSIs which were set up some years ago as a defensive measure--the jewels in the crown of nature conservation--need better protection. We have heard that about 30 per cent are less than adequately maintained. The reasons are many. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, was fair enough to remind us,
Grazing on chalk downlands is also in great decline as a result of the change in farming systems. Benevolent neglect, which often occurs, can also be damaging and detrimental to SSSIs, as can overgrazing and undergrazing. All that demonstrates the need to try to put in place positive management.
Therefore, I warmly welcome the provisions in Part III which suggest that there might be a new income stream via the nature conservation agencies for England and Wales which will allow farm managers, landowners and occupiers to be rewarded for their successful management. Many of them are underpaid or not paid at all. It will also allow funding to go to the 30 per cent who are clearly in need of it.
However, although it must be agreed that changes in agriculture are responsible for the pressures on SSSIs, it is not wholly the case. We have heard about development and note invasive species such as rhododendrons. We must also recognise that in the long term climate change is one of the most serious pressures on SSSIs. We are only just beginning to consider the consequences of that and what we mean by the "positive management" of climate change. It is a complicated concept.
When we hear about the overfertilising of some SSSIs, we must remember that fertiliser does not always come out of a bag. It can be the result of people driving around the countryside. Nitrogen oxides emitted from cars and volatile organic compounds result in lost habitats. SSSIs are enriched by means which are dispersed and not attributable to the local land managers. Let us recognise, therefore, that positive management will be necessary and helpful to the jewels in the crown, which are the SSSIs. We should certainly move away from what began as a defensive technique to try to protect those jewels and into the era of positive management. However, that must be long-term conservation, which implies long-term agreements with those who are in a position to deliver the conservation that we seek.
I accept that as regards the few who deliberately damage the SSSIs, Part III provides more easily imposed penalties. That is nothing but helpful. As regards costs, an earlier speaker said that English Nature suggested that £20 million was needed to treat SSSIs in unfavourable conditions. But I would add to that the figure needed to fund those who manage well but are at present unpaid. It would be invidious to fund people who have allowed their SSSIs to decline into a poor state, but not to fund the people who have always done a good job but have been unpaid. Although Wales does not fall within the sphere of responsibility of English Nature, I suspect that with positive management and encouragement to look to the wider countryside beyond the SSSIs, we are talking about a figure much larger than £20 million.
I look on that as a sensible investment in management of the countryside, which speaker after speaker has reminded us is facing pressure as never before. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that farmers and land managers have always been interested in managing the environment. They are never too proud to take money from taxpayers; they have been doing it for many years and many people believe that they are rather good at it. Here, I must declare an interest as a farmer. However, I recognise that the delivery of well-crafted, positive management schemes will be highly satisfactory in aligning agricultural and environmental interests. After all, that is always the goal of any good environmental management.
I must admit that I am slightly alarmed by stagnation in the funding of the Countryside Council for Wales. Perhaps it is a consequence of devolution, but the Welsh Assembly appears to have cut its funding to a level at which the CCW cannot carry forward the habitat action plans which are relevant to Wales. That does not bode well for the new arrangements for the conservation agencies.
Several speakers have referred to the need to look beyond the SSSIs and towards ensuring that the Government are under a statutory obligation to support the biodiversity action plans which have been prepared around the country in a number of formal and informal arrangements. In that regard, perhaps I may draw attention to the report of the Select Committee on the European Communities, Biodiversity in the European Union. In January, the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, who I see in his place, tabled a Motion for the House to take note of the report, but, sadly, there has not yet been time to do so. However, I draw attention to recommendation 21 on page 24, which states:
Finally and briefly, I want to turn to a specific aspect of Part II of the Bill which deals with a different matter. I understand that in Committee an amendment will be tabled to deal with the problem of owners attempting to charge for access over common land. That was the subject of an amendment table in another place by Sir George Young. I should be pleased if in reply the Minister could indicate the Government's attitude to that vexed problem.
I repeat that it is noticeable that Part III has been widely received and welcomed by Members in all parts of this House and another place. I shall support the Government as regards that part of the Bill.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who made a succinct and forward-looking speech. I heard no previous reference to the effect of global warming, but there will be changes which cannot be stemmed and need to be managed.
The debate has a good pedigree. It began in the century before last and we hope that we shall be able to offer the Government good advice on making the Bill generally acceptable by the time it reaches the statute book. Although I recognise that it conveys great value in terms of SSSIs, areas of outstanding natural beauty and so forth, I approach it with a degree of anxiety.
First, I am not convinced that sufficient priority has been afforded to species other than our own. We must recognise that today in Great Britain many varieties of wildlife are under enormous pressure. Some species may be unattractive; for instance, the stag beetle or the adder. I should confess that when in the other place a Conservative Member complained about the adder I pointed out that its distribution was particularly strong in Conservative areas and that it could serve a very useful purpose! However, I would not dream of making such a suggestion in your Lordships' House, which in some ways may be a little less tolerant.
Not everyone is responsible or cares. In May 1997, when I retired from the Commons, I though that I would enjoy the fruits of my labours in the Dearne Valley. The collieries, railway and marshalling yard had closed and related industries had disappeared. But we had put up a good fight and secured changes to the derelict land measures. Vast sums of money were spent in transforming dereliction and squalor into green, decent, attractive areas which people could enjoy and which could attract industry and investment.
But day after day I watched the destruction as people arrived from miles around in four-by-fours and off-road motorbikes. I watched newly completed tree plantations destroyed. Those responsible for the area hired a security firm and once upon a time I taught one of the people employed. He said to me, "I am not prepared to stop people doing what they want when they wave iron bars at me and I get only £2.60 an hour"! The minimum wage brings many advantages.
In June 1997 the South Yorkshire Times carried on its front page a report of the damage. Action was promised by the constabulary. In June 2000--a fortnight ago--the front page story of the South Yorkshire Times covered the colossal damage in that area. We need sanctions and we need to see them applied, if only to ensure that the vast majority of good ramblers are not blamed for the depredations--expensive depredations at that--of a small number.
Again, with regard to night access, in the 1960s and early 1970s I spent a good deal of time on a detailed study of badgers, for which I was able to make use of night access. I was extremely annoyed by the fact that that access was taken away when the last administration sold off all the Forestry Commission's plantations in South Yorkshire without making public access available. Therefore, sometimes I believe that excitement on the other side of the House about public access is a little excessive. However, the fact remains that night access in close proximity to urban areas can generate a great deal of anxiety.
We need to ensure that resources for policing are improved so that from time to time the required sanctions can be put in place. In my view, for example, for those who use off-the-road vehicles which are unlicensed and uninsured, or for those who allow children aged 12 and 13, as sometimes happens, to use such vehicles or, often, two-wheeled vehicles without even having equipped them with a safety helmet, the only sensible sanction is the confiscation of that vehicle. For those who use airguns and firearms without permission, the only conceivable sensible sanction is the confiscation and perhaps the destruction of the weapon.
I was particularly annoyed when last year a young man, who tried to shoot birds on the lake by my home, was prosecuted for a different offence with that particular weapon and the court then returned the airgun to him. Fortunately, one of his neighbours gave more suitable advice about what he would do with the airgun if he saw him with it again. I do not believe that anyone has since seen the young man with that weapon. We need to recognise that if we open the door of opportunity to responsibility, we open it also to the irresponsible. I believe that we should consider that aspect of the matter.
I recognise also that other serious problems exist. Fifty years ago, a visit to the Peak District from my area was a family exercise, probably undertaken by public transport and probably planned a week or two in advance. In the same area today, if it is a fine day people simply get into their cars on a happy whim and go. Unfortunately, when they return, in many cases they will probably have left behind their litter. Over the past 20 months I have spent each weekend collecting one large sack of waste and litter around the lake near
The litter legislation in this country is absurd. There is a law, but it is scarcely enforced. Basically, it is ridiculous and provides no deterrent or discouragement. I hope that before long Her Majesty's Government will recognise that improving access and extending opportunity may greatly increase a problem that already exists and, in many parts of the country, is becoming increasingly serious.
I believe that I have spoken long enough. I am sure that none of us wish to continue beyond midnight. However, during the Committee and Report stages of the Bill we shall have many interesting debates. I hope that the many virtuous parts of the Bill will still be there at the end of our debates and that the improvements, which I believe are desirable, will be embodied in it as well.
Lord Kimball: My Lords, I declare an interest as the deputy president of the Countryside Alliance. The alliance's approach to the Bill has been stated quite clearly: the livelihoods of people who live and work in the countryside must come first. For some 40 years I had the privilege of being responsible for a large part of the flow country, known on the old original maps as my noble friend "Lord Reay's green table". I always considered that to be a rather charming description on the Ordnance Survey maps. The green table of My noble friend Lord Reay contained a considerable number of SSSIs over a considerable acreage. It taught me from a very early stage just how fragile is the balance of nature.
Like my noble friend Lord Selborne, I shall not dwell on the other parts of the Bill. We all know that Part II increases the burdens and problems for farmers who are hanging on by their fingertips in the worst crisis in living memory to hit British agriculture. The legislation will have significant costs: statutory costs, funds for mapping, administration and new SSSI notification. Non-statutory costs, which will fall on the agricultural and land-owning management community, include wardening access and occupier's liability. I cannot describe what it did to my estate insurance policy when a fisherman went across a swing bridge, slipped off it, lost his false teeth, his fishing rod and his camera and then claimed on the policy. It made the following year's premium extremely expensive. I am also concerned about the fact that, with the passing of the Bill, people will believe that open access is in place and will not wait for the completion of the mapping.
In the time available, I should like to turn to Part III of the Bill, which I regard as one of the most difficult, concerning the tightening of the protection of wildlife sites. Those areas are often unique because of the past
The Bill will place a statutory duty on land managers to protect SSSIs. That must be balanced by the appropriate level of practical support and advice. I am concerned that the only form of payment given for the better management of SSSIs will be a management agreement. I am sorry that the Government are proposing no longer to pay for profit foregone. I hope that they will think again.
Take the case of mature timber, which one is asked not to fell, because of the damage that would be done to all the botanical interest on the floor of the wood. Surely it would be right to pay for profit forgone in that case, particularly as timber matures and passes its sell-by date.
I am very unhappy about the extension of powers of compulsory purchase and powers to refuse consent for potentially harmful operations adjacent to an SSSI. My noble friend Lord Selborne talked about taking SSSIs in isolation. We have to look after the whole environment. I was very concerned about the report in the Sunday Telegraph on 5th March about Mr Tebbit, a farmer on the west Wales coast, who was not allowed to carry out any farming operations adjacent to an SSSI.
I have said how fragile many SSSIs are, particularly on the moors and in the flow country. The Bill will create a right of access to those SSSIs. Biodiversity is an awful word, but it means the full range of animals, birds and plants in an area. I well remember how the full range of animals, birds and plants flourished when access was restricted. I do not mean legally restricted. Access used to be restricted by bad roads, dicey motor cars and the difficulty of getting to such places. That was an effective way of looking after an area.
Biodiversity was also helped when predators were properly managed--foxes, feral cats, crows and, let us be honest, badgers, which are among the worst enemies of ground-nesting birds. They are omnivorous and love gobbling up eggs. We have to face up to the explosion of the badger population.
The restriction on predation management was not the only factor that caused trouble. The arrival of visitors brought disturbance to vulnerable sites and really began to cause trouble. The egg thieves were wonderful. They all had hire cars from the local hire place and stuck the necessary RSPB sticker on the back window, with probably a National Trust sticker as well and something about saving the whale. They then proceeded to clear up the local eggs.
Next on the scale of harm was that done by the arrival of the belligerent RSPB. Let us look at some of the harm done by that organisation in valuable areas. Nature has decreed that black throated divers, which live to the age of seven or eight, probably succeed only one year in five in hatching their nest. They nest on a
I do not understand why the RSPB is allowed to translocate the goshawk into Kielder Forest. In one case it was particularly dishonestly done, with goshawk eggs put in a sparrowhawk's nest. What is the main food of the goshawk?
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