Thursday 30 April 2009
[Janet Anderson in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Ms Diana R. Johnson.)
I am delighted that we are here today to debate the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Darwin initiative. As hon. Members will know, this year is the bicentenary of the birth of the initiative’s inspiration, Charles Darwin. Of course, Darwin revolutionised thinking on the natural environment, and DEFRA, along with a wide range of partners, is celebrating his achievements throughout this year. We must all use this opportunity to communicate just why our wildlife, wherever it is in the world, is so important. Halting the loss of wildlife is one of the greatest challenges that we face today.
Globally, 10 to 30 per cent. of all mammals, birds and amphibians are threatened with extinction. Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems faster and more extensively than in any period in human history, resulting in substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth. It has been projected that we could lose a further 11 per cent. of biodiversity on land worldwide between 2000 and 2050.
At national level, the UK biodiversity indicators, which were published at the beginning of this month, show that we are making some good progress in some areas but that more work needs to be done. Of the 33 indicators published since 2000, 23 show improvement or are stable. Clearly, we need to address declines, such as the decline in farmland bird populations for which the trend is, once again, one of deterioration. Historically, numbers of such birds have declined overall by 50 per cent. since the 1970s.
Nevertheless, I think that it is fair and right to say that the very rapid declines in UK biodiversity during the last quarter of the 20th century have substantially slowed and in some cases been halted.
However, the question arises—why should we even care? Well, to put it quite simply, our survival depends on it. Not only do the myriad species that make up life on Earth have intrinsic value, but together in their habitats they provide us with the very essentials of life. They supply food and fuel, clean our air and water, and help to regulate the climate. In short, they provide us with a huge range of services—ecosystem services—on which our well-being and livelihoods as human beings depend. Those links are most explicit and most visible in the developing world, where the poorest and the most vulnerable people are the most dependent on the resources of the natural environment for their survival.
Biodiversity conservation, sustainable livelihoods and poverty alleviation are inextricably linked. One quote that I came across recently sums that up:
“Biodiversity is not the luxury of the rich. It is the treasury of the poor.”
That is why it is essential that issues affecting people’s livelihoods are central to our approach to international biodiversity conservation, and I will talk more about that shortly.
However, it is not just elsewhere that the natural environment has a real impact on people’s livelihoods. About 700 million day visits are made to the English countryside each year and 60 per cent. of rural tourism and recreational activity is estimated to depend on landscape and wildlife, supporting more than 190,000 full-time jobs.
There is much more that biodiversity is doing to support our economy, through good times and bad. Trees and parks in our cities clean and cool our air, while peat bogs store and purify our water supplies. Our natural environment is improving our health and it can reduce our bills. Even damaged habitats can work just as hard for us. We must not forget the vital contribution of habitats in these difficult economic times.
Therefore, properly valuing the contribution of environmental resources to the economy is vital and I am pleased to say that a lot of work in this area is under way already. At the forefront of that work is Pavan Sukhdev’s work on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity, which we are proud to support. His ambition is to set out what our environment is truly worth, the benefits that it provides to us and how much we stand to lose by allowing it to deteriorate any further.
Results from the first phase of that work showed that the world is losing an estimated $68 billion in ecosystem services every year, because of damage to nature. We look forward with great anticipation to hearing the outcomes from the second phase of this work, which will be reported next year. All this evidence illustrates the fact that it is more important now than ever for us to halt the current rate of biodiversity loss at all levels—global, regional, national and local.
So how do we do that and what are we already doing? Within the UK, we have six priorities for action. The first is to play a proactive role internationally. The others are protecting the best wildlife sites, promoting the recovery of priority habitats and species, embedding biodiversity in relevant sectors, engaging people and developing the evidence base. Those are our six priorities and the Darwin initiative also forms a significant component of our international work by providing funding to support the collaboration between biodiversity experts in the UK and local partners in developing countries. In that way, it helps countries that are rich in wildlife but poor in financial resources to take conservation action. I will have the opportunity to see some of the work being done by these Darwin projects for myself when I attend a UK overseas territories conservation conference in the Cayman Islands in early June.
Darwin must count as one of the most successful initiatives that my Department has in its portfolio and it is a major source of pride for me, the staff involved and the wider Darwin community, including, I must say, the very dedicated members of the Darwin Advisory Committee, a distinguished panel chaired by Professor David Macdonald of Oxford university. The members of the panel contribute their time and expertise freely.
Since its launch in 1992, the Darwin initiative has committed £73 million to 644 projects in 149 countries. Nine projects have been in the Galapagos Islands, in places and concerning species that would have been familiar to Darwin himself. One of these projects, on the Mangrove finch, will be starting very shortly.
When the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was in Nairobi in February, he announced the main results of the latest funding round: 43 projects across the developing world will receive more than £8 million in the next three years and two of those projects are in our overseas territories.
I am delighted to announce here today the final components of this year’s funding. We will fund 25 new scoping award grants to support the development of future Darwin initiative applications. Three of those are in our overseas territories. We are also funding four new fellowship awards to further the development of the most promising projects in developing countries. Together, these grants total more than £135,000.
We estimate that more than 10 per cent. of Darwin projects have directly addressed the issues of livelihood, poverty and sustainable use, which I highlighted earlier. Many more Darwin projects have livelihood approaches as a component. Furthermore, the number of project applications addressing those issues is on the increase, with our active support.
So, I hope that it is clear to hon. Members why the Darwin initiative is so important. Let me illustrate that further with reference to one project, which has been working to conserve Kenya’s forests by linking the sustainable production and trade of wood carvings to certified and sustainably managed sources of timber. Local livelihoods and biodiversity in Kenya were both being threatened by the over-exploitation of the coastal forest to provide wood for the country’s important carving trade. That trade employs about 60,000 carvers, supports up to 350,000 dependants who rely on those carvers and requires approximately 50,000 trees per annum, which traditionally have been trees from hardwood species.
The Darwin project in Kenya has helped wood carvers to develop products based on farmed wood, helped to build social networks and provided training to support the conservation process. That is just one example of many success stories, so I commend the Darwin initiative to the House.
Beyond Darwin, our international work is focused around the major biodiversity conventions. The current critical issue is to secure a new global biodiversity target post-2010. That might take the form of a new target or of a framework incorporating a series of targets. However, it is important that the momentum generated by the current target is not lost at the end of 2010 and that we redouble our efforts to achieve a halt in biodiversity loss.
Our other five priority areas are domestically focused, and we are making good progress on them all. I shall highlight a few achievements. More than 88 per cent. of sites of special scientific interest are now in favourable or recovering condition compared with 57 per cent. in 2003, and we expect to meet our target of 95 per cent. by the end of 2010. We are working with partners to promote the recovery of priority species and habitats, with integrated approaches that also enhance the ability of biodiversity to adapt to climate change, which is a big issue that is right on our doorstep.
In our countryside, that means reducing the fragmentation of our habitats and more large-scale projects—for example, the Great Fen Project in Cambridgeshire. In our towns and cities, that will mean better green infrastructure, reducing the likelihood of flooding after storms, reducing heat island effects and improving our health.
Biodiversity is suffering because of the climate change that we are causing, but it can also form part of the solution—both for adaptation and mitigation. One significant example of that is peat bogs, which are an important source of carbon. Agri-environment schemes are one of our key policies for meeting biodiversity targets, including those for sites of special scientific interest and for farmland birds. Such schemes are a key contributor to priority habitats, such as hedgerows, arable field margins and hay meadows, and overall they make a significant contribution to conserving our wildlife. More than 50,000 farmers have entered those schemes, which means that more than 6 million hectares—or more than 65 per cent.—of agricultural land in England is under agri-environment management agreements.
We are also taking action to address threats to biodiversity, including on invasive non-native species and crimes against wildlife. I announced our new priority areas on that in February when I spoke at an event at Kew, and—not to forget a vital issue—later next month, DEFRA will launch a campaign to encourage people to volunteer to enhance wildlife and biodiversity in their local area. In October, this year’s Darwin lecture will also provide us with a good opportunity further to emphasise the importance of biodiversity.
We are continuing to build the evidence base in this area with a national ecosystems assessment taking place across the UK during 2009-10. That will make a key contribution to improving our understanding of the current and possible future state of the natural environment, and its value to our human well-being and economic prosperity.
It is clear that halting biodiversity loss is a huge challenge, but if we fail, the consequences will be huge. The Darwin initiative is making an enormous contribution to biodiversity conservation abroad and we have made progress in the UK. However, overall, there is still much more to do. Agreement to a post-2010 target should represent a call to arms to redouble our efforts at home and abroad to that end. In this year of celebration of the life and work of Charles Darwin, let us also celebrate the work of the Darwin initiative and reaffirm our commitment to the natural world here in the UK and right across the planet.
I thank the Minister, or whatever force in his Department or the usual channels was responsible, for instigating the debate. In remembering one of our greatest national figures, this is a good opportunity to celebrate an important year and the initiative that goes under Darwin’s name.
As hon. Members will be aware, the Darwin initiative was introduced in 1992—in passing, I should say that that was under a Conservative Government. It is an innovative programme that has allowed us to take some positive steps towards fulfilling the global element of our commitment to the convention on biological diversity. There is an undeniable link between poverty and the environment: when forests are destroyed and rivers are polluted, the poorest people are usually the worst affected. Funding biodiversity projects in developing countries is therefore key to tackling global environmental issues.
I was interested to hear the Minister’s reference to the forests in Kenya, because they are dear to my heart. I spent much of my youth in parts of Kenya and still return there. The Mau forest is a good indicator: I have seen that forest retreat over the years, so that now it is a fraction of its former size. Just over a year ago, during my last visit, I was encouraged to see the work being done in villages at a low level by people who have only the most basic equipment. Those people say that they can use infinitesimally less timber over a year to meet their household needs. It is great that such projects are being supported by the Darwin initiative.
It is a significant accomplishment that, since 1992, the UK has funded some 644 projects in 149 countries through the Darwin initiative. Those projects have tackled a range of important environmental issues through the sharing of UK biodiversity expertise. Our global obligation to biodiversity does not stop at the convention on biological diversity: the UK is committed to more stringent targets, such as the EU strategy for sustainable development and the high-profile millennium development goals to be achieved by 2015.
Despite the good work of projects funded by the Darwin initiative, progress towards the millennium goals has been slow. There are genuine concerns that we will fail to achieve those targets, particularly those to be met by 2010, which is obviously less than a year away. On millennium development goal 7, which is to “ensure environmental sustainability,” the UN’s 2008 millennium development goals report states:
“Immediate action is needed to contain rising greenhouse gas emissions…The number of species threatened with extinction is rising rapidly…Fish stocks require improved fisheries management to reduce depletion”
“marine areas and land conservation need greater attention.”
With just less than one year to go until 2010 and seven years to go before we hit the 2015 deadline, serious work needs to be done to ensure that those environmental goals are met.
Although projects such as those funded by the Darwin initiative are having a positive impact on a number of developing countries, there remains a long way to go in tackling the massive changes we face in biodiversity, both globally and nationally. We can ill afford to underestimate the importance of biodiversity. As a species, humans rely fundamentally on the ecosystems that surround us. They provide us with clean air and water, pollinate our crops and provide natural flood protection. Biodiversity supports those ecosystems, and without that environmental infrastructure, life as we know it would collapse. Unfortunately, the world’s rainforests are being destroyed at a rate of 2,000 sq m per second—a staggering statistic—which means that nearly half the world’s species of plants, animals and micro-organisms will be destroyed or severely threatened over the next quarter century. The notion of collapse is becoming worryingly real.
This is not just a problem for the developing world. As the Minister has said, biodiversity in the UK is under serious threat. It is important to remember that the 2010 target for the convention on biological diversity, as well as the EU strategy for sustainable development, do not just relate to global biodiversity, but commit us to reducing or even halting the rate of biodiversity decline nationally and locally. I am aware that, at the end of last month, we were due to submit our completed fourth national report on the convention. That report should outline UK progress towards the 2010 goals. However, I believe that we missed that deadline—I think the Minister alluded to that. If we have, I would be interested to know when that report will be published.
Regardless of the content of that report, the Government have admitted that the UK’s target to halt biodiversity loss by 2010 will be missed. As the Minister said, the most recent results from 18 biodiversity indicators, by which we measure UK biodiversity, speak for themselves. They reveal that numerous species are in decline, and that 56 habitats in England are considered to be under threat. That includes the habitats of well loved animals such as hedgehogs, red squirrels and dormice—not to mention a plethora of smaller animals. The number of farmland birds and seabirds has gone from being classed as having experienced “little or no change” to “deteriorating”, and the area of sensitive habitats threatened by acid rain has moved from “improving” to “little or no change”, which is worrying.
The consequences of that decline are serious, with six species listed in the biodiversity action plan having been lost from the UK since 1994. The UK alone has lost 100 species in the last century and many more species and habitats are in danger of disappearing. Only yesterday I spoke in a debate in this Chamber on the worrying decline of UK honey bees—we have lost up to a third of our bees in the last year alone. Despite increased Government spending on environmental initiatives, we are facing a continued decline in the number of species and suitable habitats, with the Government missing a massive 386—nine out of 10—of their own sub-targets for biodiversity, which is a great concern.
In my role as shadow Fisheries Minister, I am acutely aware of the decline in UK fish stocks: the number of stocks within safe biological limits has fallen by a third, from 12 to eight, and only 25 per cent. of fish stocks were harvested sustainably and at full reproductive capacity between 2005 and 2007. Marine ecosystems are home to 80 per cent. of the world’s species, and although the long-awaited Marine and Coastal Access Bill is now passing through Parliament, we had to wait five years to see it. Some of us feel that it might have been in the House of Lords for all those years, but I am reliably informed that it is soon to emerge from the other place and come to us. I look forward to debating that important legislation with the Minister.
I am grateful for the Minister’s comment and assure him that I will co-operate as best I can to get that important legislation on the statute book as early as possible.
As I mentioned earlier, the UN has identified the need for greater attention to be paid to marine conservation and improved management of fisheries. The health of our seas is inextricably linked to our ability to tackle climate change. Our oceans play a key role in regulating the planet’s climate: they act as a form of heat reservoir, slowing the rate at which temperatures rise and fall; and ocean currents redistribute heat around the planet and are the main source of water vapour to the atmosphere, determining the patterns of droughts and floods. Most importantly, the ocean acts as a major sink for natural and man-made carbon dioxide. The Marine and Coastal Access Bill gives us a fantastic opportunity to make a real difference to marine biodiversity in the UK and the sustainability of our fisheries, and I know that the Minister agrees that it is an opportunity we simply cannot afford to miss.
The 2012 common fisheries policy reforms also offer us a chance to overhaul the management of fisheries, improve sustainability and tackle the decline in our fish stocks. That means looking hard and fast at important issues, such as the number of juvenile fish we discard and the effect that has on stocks. We need to encourage sustainable fishing and sustainable fishing equipment and we must be bold in our ambitions. I am pleased by the tone of the Commission’s new Green Paper on that: it is a good working document from which we could achieve much in the 2012 reforms.
We absolutely must do more on the ground in the UK to reduce the negative impact on biodiversity. While climate change threatens 46 per cent. of habitats in Britain, the loss of set-aside and the effects of development in rural areas have also played a role in the decline of our biodiversity. Rather than setting arbitrary targets that are repeatedly missed, the Government need to address how we build, farm, fish, manage our forests and live so that we might halt the worrying decline in our country’s biodiversity.
During yesterday’s debate on honey bee health I gave the example, which I often mention, of the Berkshire downs, which I have the luck to represent. It is a hauntingly beautiful landscape, even though it is now used almost entirely by only one form of agriculture. When I was a child, and even until quite recently, it was a mixed farming environment. The loss of mixed farming in areas such as the central south of England has had a huge effect on migrating birds and a range of different activities. That is why we talked about it yesterday in relation to the loss of important pollinators, which have to travel much further to find pollen because our farming has changed. We must recognise what we have done to our countryside and incentivise land managers and others to develop farming and land use systems that reflect the needs of the whole population.
We should all keep our minds open to new opportunities that arise for supporting greater biodiversity. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said recently:
“In the same way in which we are now recognising the importance of putting a price on carbon, society needs to recognise the significance of attributing a value to biodiversity.”
Other parts of the world are well ahead of Britain in developing the concept of conservation credits as a way of counterbalancing development. That has the potential to unlock a market-funded mechanism for new biodiversity projects at local, regional or even national level. If we get that right, it would present an exciting opportunity to reverse the recent decline in biodiversity.
While acknowledging the success of the Darwin initiative and what it has done in setting up projects abroad, we must ensure that our language on this whole issue—I am using my words carefully—does not verge on the patronising. The success of the Darwin initiative is that it has supported projects abroad. Many of them are in our own territories, but many are not. That form of support and funding for small projects can have enormous benefit and is a wonderful thing, but we also need to sort out our problems at home. We have serious biodiversity problems in the UK, and the damage done by failing to tackle those problems in an effective and timely manner will far outweigh any good we can achieve abroad.
I finish by quoting Tony Blair, who said:
“Much achieved; much more to do.”
I am not sure that I agree with him on what he said that about, but if he was talking about the Darwin initiative, I fully agree.
In the 200th anniversary year of the birth of one of our greatest scientists, writers and seers, it is appropriate that we should not only appreciate and understand Charles Darwin’s unsurpassed contribution to many of the areas that we are talking about, but talk about the initiative that bears his name and has been one of the entirely unheralded successes of this country and of DEFRA over the past 16 years.
In “On the Origin of Species” Charles Darwin was very clear about what he regarded as the inevitability of advanced societies, with technology, resources and the ability to travel, occupying the lands of less advanced societies, driving them out and eventually exterminating their livelihoods and actual existence. One of the caveats he put on that idea was the extent to which human intelligence and understanding might reverse that inevitability. The Darwin initiative is, in many ways, following in the footsteps of that perception and understanding.
The initiative takes funding and projects that are not large in funding terms, but may be large in effect and influence to countries that, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, are biodiversity rich but resource poor. In its life, the initiative has covered almost 650 projects in almost 150 countries, so it really is a worldwide initiative. Understanding of the importance of biodiversity is often absent, but biodiversity, like climate change, does not stop at national borders: we are all poorer for the loss of biodiversity and we are all richer by its maintenance and enhancement. The true global scope of the Darwin initiative underlines that understanding of the emergency in terms of ensuring that biodiversity across the world is maintained.
Biodiversity is not just about preserving species, although it is often discussed in those terms. An interesting observation is that, including those species that we have identified so that we can put them on the endangered list, we as a human race have identified some 1.75 million species, yet it is generally reckoned that across the world there are some 13 million species, although that may be a substantially conservative estimate. It is possible that, every day, we exterminate a number of species that we will never, ever know about because we have not discovered them yet, and so have not even decided whether they should be protected, placed on the endangered list, or made the subject of other measures that are used in relation to known species.
We have already heard about the dangers of species extermination, which continues throughout the world. Species are exterminated because we are consuming for our own purposes the environments that support biodiversity—the forests, wetlands, bogs, reefs and coastal areas. Supporting biodiversity is not just about maintaining a few remnants of species in zoos so we can look at them there; it is about maintaining the habitat and environment where those species can flourish. When those habitats are maintained, as Darwin observed, we cannot simply shut them off from the human world. We have to ensure, as far as we can, that those environments exist sustainably with the humans that live in and around them, and that the net result of the human occupation of those areas enhances their biodiversity and does not crush it.
It is good that the Darwin initiative has been concentrating on projects with partners to develop sustainable conservative networks that work with the indigenous people in many parts of the world, as opposed to working against them, to maintain enhanced biodiversity in those areas. A little while ago I plucked out the following example of a Darwin initiative programme: a sustainable conservation network for primates in Ecuador to protect and preserve the habitat of the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey, which has been attacked particularly—again, as Darwin predicted—by development and resource exploitation. The project was all about developing a comprehensive strategy for the protection of that monkey, for example, through habitat monitoring and development, and by working for the sustainable livelihoods of local communities within those habitats. Local people in those areas are now fully active as para-biologists: they are leading habitat surveys and training others to do the same, and they are monitoring and reporting on the spider monkey. The spider monkey has become part of their society and is not something to be placed on the margins. That is exactly the right route for the funding, some £73 million of which has so far been allocated through the Darwin initiative. The funding allocation this year is £7 million.
The Darwin initiative was set in train after the Earth summit, alongside the signing of the biodiversity convention, which talks about how humans can live sustainably in their world with the species and habitats that exist together with them. The biodiversity convention and the Darwin initiative have developed hand in hand. In 2007, the Darwin initiative was extended to cover the convention on international trade in endangered species and the convention on migratory species, particularly in respect of ocean-going birds, which are not really the property or the concern of any one country but which have international significance that the convention underpins.
The Darwin initiative is a credit to the UK and, although it never gets a headline in the newspapers and is never the subject of heated debate in the main Chamber, it is nevertheless essential. It is a credit to the UK that the programme has been sustained and maintained over its 16 years of life. It also underlines what we have heard about, and will hear about, what we are doing closer to home to promote biodiversity.
It is important that in the upcoming Marine and Coastal Access Bill we ensure that marine conservation zones off our coasts are properly designed in law, properly established and properly resourced for their maintenance and development. Just as I have emphasised that it is necessary to world biodiversity for the natural environment to exist sustainably alongside its human occupants, it is important that those marine conservation zones be carefully considered. Thought should be given to how the sea bed and the underwater environment can be maintained and sustained, and perhaps extended, in relation to human activities on and above the surface. That means looking at other imperatives, such as the development of offshore energy and how shipping should operate within those zones. We should examine whether there are circumstances in which some of those zones can—for example, by the establishment of what are effectively marine reefs—enhance the marine life in those areas, which will be protected from fishing and exploitation, dredging and other activities that have often been a scourge of our coast and have impoverished the marine diversity at our own back door.
Finally, in commending the Darwin initiative, I want to raise three issues. So far, the money has—almost uniquely in what might be seen as a Government programme—been unquestionably well spent: it has been tightly and carefully spent in a well organised way. However, the initiative is always oversubscribed and it is now extending its scope to take in other key issues that go hand in hand with the convention on biological diversity. It will come as no great surprise, therefore, when I say that one of the best memorials that we could have to one of the greatest British scientists and, indeed, British men of the past 500 years—incidentally, Charles Darwin had a rather poor view of our other greatest British person, saying that he had attempted to read some of his plays, but found them unutterably dull and had not continued—would be to secure, increase and enhance the funding for the Darwin initiative over the next 16 years. In that way, the initiative’s work will be able to occupy a wider canvas and ensure that Britain makes a contribution of lasting and sustainable significance to world biodiversity action.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), who has a long record of interest, expertise and campaigning on these issues. As he has said, these issues are not often in the mainstream of parliamentary debate, and it is good that they are being debated today, especially as no other debate of such interest or significance is taking place at the moment—everyone will be watching. When we look back at the record, we will see that the House has been debating some serious long-term issues relating to how we preserve the environment.
I am not one of my party’s Front-Bench environmental spokespeople, and I am substituting somewhat belatedly for colleagues who are—I speak on science. I want to take this opportunity to praise the work, intentions and operation of the Darwin initiative. The initiative is sponsored by DEFRA, which has a big and often controversial science budget. I want to ask a few questions about the science of some of the issues that we are discussing to bring a slightly different perspective.
Having said that, I do not disagree with anything that the Minister or the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) have said. The hon. Member for Newbury has a particularly beautiful constituency, and I am sure that the Minister’s constituency of Ogmore is just as beautiful in its own way—even if it does not have huge amounts of biodiversity, it certainly has a great deal of diversity. In every hon. Member’s constituency, there are important species that need protecting—animal species, rather than species of voters, that is.
In the last Parliament, I served on the then Select Committee on Science and Technology inquiry into the use of science and research in developmental aid in the developing world, which briefly covered some of the issues that come under the Darwin initiative, although my visit to Malawi concentrated on the use of science and technology in fighting the scourge of human infectious diseases. I want to probe the Minister in general terms later about a couple of the issues raised by the Committee’s report. However, I do not intend to repeat the toll of species that are under threat around the world, because hon. Members have already set out the figures.
Given that we are talking about the Darwin initiative, it is important to reiterate the significance of Darwin. This is the 150th anniversary of the publication of “On the Origin of Species”, and Darwin’s work is important in many ways. Evolution is the truth—it is the explanation for the diversity of life on earth. It is called a theory, but a theory is something that has been subject to experiment and that evidence has supported; the theory of evolution is not a theory in the sense that it has not been proven, but that is often misunderstood. In his theory of evolution, Darwin undermined the established view, which it was brave to do. The theory is a symbol of the importance of independent scientific inquiry. If also reflects the way in which he worked—the fastidiousness of his scientific method, which involved collecting evidence to test and retest a proposition.
It is important to note that some people have argued—foolishly and sometimes not in all seriousness—that the loss of biodiversity is what evolution is about. They say, “Species die out. That’s evolution—survival of the fittest.” However, that is not what we are talking about. Evolution works through natural selection, but what we are seeing in the loss of species is unnatural selection. We are seeing not natural competition, but man-made competition, which is caused among other things by man’s importation of invasive, non-indigenous species. When Darwin talks about evolution and changes, with some species dying out or turning into other species, he is talking about something that happens over eons rather than over the microscopically short time scales that we see today as a result of the man-made problems facing the natural world.
I am pleased that research is a component of the Darwin initiative and that research projects receive funding. I hope that all the projects that are funded—this is public funding—include an operational research component that allows them to be properly evaluated. I also hope that any formal research that is funded is published, whether or not it gives the answer that people want, and even if it gives a negative result. Will the Minister let us know—if not now, later—whether a condition for receiving funding is that formal research is published in a peer-reviewed journal? Will he tell us whether the evaluation—whether it is mere evaluation or formal operational research looking at whether what has been done works, so that we know what to fund more of and what not to fund—is published in a way that benefits Parliament and those involved in deciding what to fund?
The Darwin initiative is based on the UK’s expertise in academia and on non-governmental organisations’ core of expertise and energy. Darwin initiative funding does not fund everything, unlike some Department for International Development funding, so NGOs have to fundraise and work hard both to find collaborators to do the work and to keep the issues on the agenda. As we speak, we face the possibility of the loss of human life on a huge scale, if the worst fears about pandemic flu are realised. Although the chronic loss of human life to infectious disease will always be with us, it is nevertheless important that the issues that we are discussing are kept on the agenda.
It is important to recognise that international collaboration is needed to preserve biodiversity, and I was pleased that the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for Newbury, talked about the need for the proper international control of fish stocks, which requires common policies. In the EU, that means an EU common fisheries policy. We can argue about whether such a policy is the right one from an environmental point of view and a British point of view, although it is important that we do not become so nationalistic and interested in Britain’s national interest that we lose sight of the main issue. However, I hope that it will become increasingly obvious to those who are sceptical about European co-operation that we must work internationally on certain issues, because marine life does not respect boundaries. We would do that best by getting stuck into negotiations, rather than by complaining from the outside.
We must also recognise that the impact of climate change makes the sort of projects funded by the Darwin initiative programme even more critical. Accelerating climate change is a huge threat to biodiversity because of two impacts, one direct and one indirect: first, there is change in habitat by desertification; and, secondly, there is the requirement to convert more land to farmland to meet food security needs, which, in turn, are affected by climate change and other factors. This country must come up with a strategy, with our international partners, to tackle those impacts. The challenge for all parties, including Opposition parties, is to think about the role that new technology in agriculture can play, and how to get a balance between using new technology in agriculture, including genetic modification, which should not be treated as a “burn the witch” issue, and recognising that there can be a threat to biodiversity from introducing such new biological entities. However, the instinctive knee-jerk complaint against genetically modified entities is not justified, given that new strains created by conventional breeding programmes must also, I believe, be tested and carefully researched for their impact on biodiversity when they are introduced.
We must increase yields in agriculture. That will mean new technologies, or, if we do not increase yields, it will mean ploughing over—in the metaphorical sense—more land that is natural habitat, to cultivate it. Parliament must recognise that. My party has always been sceptical about genetic modification. I think—I say this from the Front Bench—that there is debate about whether we should change our approach on that, keeping it precautionary but not necessarily being so hostile, and recognising that there is a real requirement to think about the matter. However, we must not lose sight of the potential dangers, and we must be fair to the developing world. We cannot recognise that it is short of the food that it needs and offer it technology, but then say that we will never import produce that comes from that technology, because the countries in question will not accept the technology if they feel that it will damage their export markets.
I have a few questions for the Minister about the Darwin initiative. One is about the performance of recipient countries, or rather the projects in those countries and the extent to which the projects appear not to be working, because there is a failure to meet targets. Is that a factor in deciding whether to put in more funding, until the policy or priorities of the Governments in question are changed? Secondly, I refer to recommendations in the Environmental Audit Committee’s 2008 report entitled “Halting biodiversity loss”. To what extent have the Government accepted and implemented all the recommendations in that report, such as adopting what the Committee described as
“a truly joined-up approach to environmental protection”
in the UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies,
“by bringing together all relevant departments including the FCO…DfID, Defra…and the governments of the UKOTs”?
I also wonder whether the Government are making
“better use of the Inter-Departmental Group on biodiversity to provide more oversight and support for the development and implementation of effective environmental protection policy in the UKOTs,”
and are expanding the group
“to include other relevant departments”.
The Minister will be aware of several other recommendations from that report.
I want to know what evaluation the Government have made of the extent to which the Darwin initiative contributes to the work being done to agree new biodiversity targets post-2010. Can we, in our negotiations and work on that, point to the outcomes of Darwin initiative projects and say that they show the way forward?
I recognise the budgetary commitment by the Government to the funding of biodiversity projects. Parliamentary answers reveal, at least at first sight, significantly increased expenditure on those matters. However, I have a couple of questions about DEFRA funding in this area, arising from the recent Budget. Can we be reassured about one line that appears in it, although I accept that it is late in the day? Under savings, in DEFRA—this is particularly relevant in the light of swine flu—£44 million is apparently to be cut from animal disease surveillance, through
“a more risk-based approach to monitoring and enforcement”
whatever that means, and, to complete the sentence, because it is only right, “sharing costs with industry”. So if industry does not play ball and we raise the threshold of the risk that is required to justify funding, there is a danger that we will lose control of diseases that threaten biodiversity as well as having implications for human health.
Reference has been made to bees. There have been two recent Westminster Hall debates on bees, and both have been well attended, because it is a big issue. I could not attend the most recent debate, but I do not think any mention was made of how, often, things that Prime Ministers say on such issues come back to haunt them. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable)—indeed, the sainted Member for Twickenham—wrote in a newspaper article on 2 June that when he first threw his
“modest weight behind the bee four years ago”,
he was attacked by the then Prime Minister and later by the then Chancellor, who is now Prime Minister. I fished out what Tony Blair said about the matter on 23 November 2004. He began:
“The truth is that the policies of the Opposition parties…Since they want a bit more, I will give them a bit more”—
he was having a go—then he said:
“On one of my occasional forays into Lib-Dem spending commitments, I have come across the best one yet. It is about bee keeping. The Lib Dem shadow Chancellor, the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), says:
‘Benefits from bees’ natural pollination activities are enormous, worth billions of pounds. There is however negligible research into damaging diseases and I have pressed the Ministry of Agriculture”—
as it then was—
“for a bigger research commitment.’”
Mr. Blair then said:
“I hope that the Chancellor is taking note. I had not realised that there were votes in bee keeping, but if the Liberal Democrats think there are, there probably are.” —[Official Report, 23 November 2004; Vol. 428, c. 26.]
The Government now recognise the threat to the bee population, which they did not at the time those joking remarks were made. That is another example of the foresight of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham, to whom I now go for advice when placing bets on horse races.
It is a real problem that we are not, in this developed country, going to meet our own target on biodiversity, despite the efforts that are made by those in government and, indeed, in industry. Although we are right to congratulate the Government and, indeed, previous Governments, on the Darwin initiative, we must recognise that we have not set the best example in our own back garden and domestic environment, which is a challenge for all parliamentarians in the future.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate on the Government’s involvement in the Darwin initiative and its great success. I should put it on the record that I am a trustee of the Born Free Foundation and a vice-president of the British Trust for Ornithology.
I have a lifelong interest in biodiversity. When I had the opportunity, through serving as a Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to take responsibility for the Darwin initiative, that was a tremendous pleasure and privilege. I was also privileged to be involved in the appointment of David Macdonald as chairman of the Darwin initiative. He has done an excellent job, along with his advisory board.
I agree with some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) about the Darwin scheme. It was set up by the previous Government, who deserve credit for that—I do not want to be churlish. Its budget was tiny, and has been trebled since this Government have been in power, but it is still not gigantic. I know the difficulties of budgeting in Departments, and that it is often an achievement to maintain budgets during the periodic reviews of priorities and spending that Ministers must go through. I think the initiative is fantastic value for money.
A £7 million scheme that has financed projects in 149 countries is a tremendous benefit to this country and to the partnership of our scientific institutions and non-governmental organisations with local communities, scientists and organisations in those 149 countries. I was involved in setting up fellowships, which have been a great success in continuing the research on biodiversity in a range of countries by some of the brightest and best people. I had the great privilege of visiting some of the Darwin schemes abroad, and I particularly liked not just the science, conservation and biodiversity, but work on human-animal conflict in Kenya. There is serious conflict with large carnivores and other animals. Some of that conflict is the result of poor land use planning. If people are allowed to plant farms on elephants’ migratory routes, it is not surprising if the elephants eat the crops.
I saw some of the work that has been done to find cheap and effective ways of separating elephants and other animals. Electric fences have been tried, and can be effective, but they are not an option for the average peasant farmer. Elephants may find their way round them by dropping logs on the fences or lifting them up with their tusks. If all else fails, the matriarch may shove the youngest elephant into the fence to short-circuit it so that they can all pass through. It is not always a deterrent.
It was found that elephants do not like chillies, and that chilli paste could be used to keep elephants out of a crop, which is simple and cost-effective. It is even simpler for the farmer to grow a crop of chillies because the elephants would not go near it, and the farmer could sell the chillies at market and buy maize, which the elephants would otherwise have eaten. I met many villagers who were involved in that great community project, and saw their enthusiasm for it and how it tried to deal with the conflicts arising from population expansion and land use policy—they are issues in themselves—as well as how to approach the problem pragmatically and rationally.
I also had the opportunity of seeing work in Mexico to conserve the axolotl, which is a special animal. Work is being done not only to conserve it in its own habitat, but with the local community, which is making souvenirs and gifts, and using the axolotl to attract tourists, who bring in income. The work of the Darwin initiative is combined with the three strands of sustainability: the social benefit for local people involved in the projects, the economic benefit of bringing money into the community, and the environmental benefit. It is a fantastic scheme.
I was pleased to hear what the Minister said about directing Darwin resources to overseas territories. We sometimes forget how rich those territories are in species and their worldwide importance. They have a high percentage of endemic species, but little money is directed to their conservation, management and science. I pay tribute to the United Kingdom Overseas Territories Conservation Forum. I have had the privilege of seeing some of its presentations and its work, much of which is voluntary.
Some of the support that DEFRA has given through the Darwin initiative to our overseas territories is invaluable. The amount is tiny, and more is needed, but this is the sort of project that may attract other partners and lever in more resources, and certainly involves communities in those overseas territories. Those territories are important, and I welcome such projects.
I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test and the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) said about the value of biodiversity. I was intrigued to hear about the work of TEEB—the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity. It is good that at long last an attempt is being made to put a value on our natural capital, although I must tell the hon. Member for Newbury that I am not sure whether many countries are ahead of the UK.
The UK is only just beginning its involvement in this regard, but little thought is being given to the concept of natural capital. That concept is not being applied or valued as it should be, and it could be argued that the most advanced work is being done to try to put a value on forests as part of the Kyoto protocol and in the run-up to Copenhagen. Avoided deforestation can have a value, because deforestation accounts for 20 per cent. of global emissions and we must get a handle on that.
I support the concept of forest ecosystems having a value and being incorporated into international agreements, although the details need to be worked out carefully. We must not consider deforestation in isolation, and any formula must include restoration, protection of watersheds, and the use of forests for communities—there is a social element—and to prevent soil erosion. The range of benefits is wide, and we must work with those.
I am president of GLOBE International—the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment. It has just set up the Commission on Land Use Change and Ecosystems, which is chaired by Mr. Ian Johnson, a distinguished former World Bank vice-president for environmentally and socially sustainable development, who is well known in Government circles, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner), who also has a long interest in biodiversity.
The commission’s purpose is to focus on the value of natural capital, how to incorporate it into our economic systems, and how to value it as well as protect it. That is taking place in the lead-up to the convention on biological diversity meeting in Japan next year. Our Japanese members are hugely enthusiastic about the CBD, and their work is impressive. I hope that, with Japanese legislators on the commission, we can feed through to the CBD some ideas on how to take the concept of natural capital forward.
Coincidentally, I attended a conference yesterday on natural capital organised by the Institute of Biology, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Science Council and the British Ecological Society. The range of speakers was excellent and included DEFRA’s excellent chief scientist. I took a lot of encouragement from such serious consideration of how to value our biodiversity as part of the strands of sustainable development.
I have seen that locally. My hon. Friend the Minister has responsibility for managed realignment, and the largest scheme in Europe is on the edge of my constituency at Alkborough Flats, which was a large, low-lying area of farmland that has been turned into a managed retreat scheme, to provide a safety valve on the River Trent for flood defence and a range of other benefits. It provides some conservation compensation for the loss of some of the work on the Immingham ports and in relation to the port extension. There is some habitat compensation there as well.
The scheme also adds to a chain of major reed beds and sites of special scientific interest along the Humber bank, which have huge conservation value. It receives some finance from Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency, and, quite rightly and progressively, it saw that putting money into biodiversity—developing it, marketing it and making people aware of the enormous range, breadth and depth of the biodiversity in this country—has an economic benefit.
I can speak from experience because I have been doing a wader and wetland count on Alkborough Flats for about 20 years. It is the kind of place where in the past one would not see a soul, but now, when I go down on a Sunday, there are families, people walking their dogs and people coming to birdwatch, because the local council has provided hides. A café has opened in the village, which is benefiting from the visitors who come to the site to see the birds and biodiversity. Again, there is the social, economic and conservation value. In this case, there is also the value of flood protection. It is a wonderful scheme, and one or two other examples around the country can also show that value.
I am pleased about the work being done by DEFRA on water protection and forestry in particular. The idea has been introduced that the purchasing policy should be based on legal and sustainable forestry. That is very important and the Government giving a lead makes a huge difference.
There are efforts to influence Europe as well. Europe has come a long way on the issue, although it needs to do much more on the measures that it has put in place. Nevertheless, what is being done is valuable because if we can control the end-user market—much of the timber comes to countries such as our own—that helps to stop illegal and unsustainable logging operations in the countries of origin.
We have a big role to play in that as a country and as consumers, or users. We must ensure that we play that role effectively and we must work with other countries to ensure that they do, too. That includes China. Interestingly, it has imposed a stop in relation to its own forestry because of problems with river valleys flooding and soil erosion, but it is now buying forest products from abroad, which in some cases is fuelling illegal activities in those countries. We must have a sensible international approach to the issue.
I am pleased about the mention of CITES. I have a great deal of respect for that organisation and attended meetings of it on the UK’s behalf. I would like the Minister to give some thought to CITES in relation to the agreement on the sale of ivory stockpiles. He will have seen the report in The Independent that suggests that elephant poaching is on the rise again. I have tabled parliamentary questions to try to see just what information there is, but I ask my hon. Friend to keep a close eye on the issue, because it would be a terrible shame, after seeing elephant populations recover in most of Africa, to see people slip back into ivory poaching. I know that he shares my concern.
I welcome what has been done on biodiversity in this country. It was a great breakthrough when we included farmland birds as an indicator, because they provide a very good indicator in relation to sustainable farming practice and a useful quality-of-life indicator. I was pleased that the European Union adopted it, although I have to say that when it was first suggested, some member states thought that using birds as an indicator was an eccentric British idea. I am pleased that the robust science of using biological indicators has been accepted.
I welcome the work taking place on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. There are problems with the state of our seas, and unsustainable fishing is still taking place in Europe as it is internationally. We also have the problem that the sea is absorbing very large quantities of carbon dioxide, which is making it acidic. The long-term consequences of that are unforeseen at the moment. We do not quite know what they will be, apart from the fact that the sea becoming acidic is bad news for creatures with some kind of calcium skeleton. The impact could be catastrophic.
I hope that the marine conservation zones are extended; that is a great concept. We do not have many such zones in this country, although I was privileged to introduce the protection for the Darwin mounds, which is appropriate this year. That is an example of cold-water corals off the west coast of Scotland. It was one of the first protected zones in the EU and we had to secure EU support for that.
I welcome the work done on albatrosses through the agreement on the conservation of albatrosses and petrels. There appears to have been a huge improvement in the south Atlantic. I am referring to the work done through the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the regional fisheries organisation, to monitor the steps that have been taken, which British scientists have been involved with, to try to minimise the by-catch in relation to longlines. However, I still find it incredible that people do not have to join a regional fisheries organisation and that vessels still operate in the south Atlantic and in the CCAMLR region that are not members of CCAMLR. If regional fisheries are to be managed, membership should be compulsory through UN agreements. I hope that the Minister will consider that.
I still have concerns about the very dangerous and unnecessary exploitation of marine resources through practices such as whaling. What on earth the outgoing Icelandic Government were doing in allocating a quota for fin whales, I do not know. There is no market for a quota such as that. I hope that the new Icelandic Government take a different view and that the Minister can put pressure on them in that respect.
The value of biodiversity should be seen as the value of natural capital. I shall explain what worries me. Although we have had a crash in financial capital in this country and elsewhere, all the world can come together to pledge fiscal stimuli, which is great, but if we have a crash in natural capital, there are no resources of forests, seas and water hidden away in the vaults of banks around the world. Once it is gone, it is gone. That is why protecting our natural capital is so important and why the Darwin initiative has played such an important and valuable role by emphasising the value of natural capital, providing good-quality science and working with committed people all around the world to provide resources that they otherwise would not have. I know that very well.
I extend my congratulations to Kew Gardens, which also falls under the Minister’s responsibility. I am thinking of the work done there on projects such as the millennium seed bank. That is not only terribly important for future conservation, but a resource that is available to every country in the world that wants to make use of it. It is a wonderful facility and a wonderful example of what can be done.
I agree with the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) that we should not forget the overall impact on biodiversity of things such as climate change. That is bringing about a change in species patterns and in such things as the migration patterns of birds. There is the risk of a huge acceleration in the extinction of species globally. We need to work very hard to ensure that we bring about stabilisation of global temperatures. I know that the Government are doing that and giving an international lead in the run-up to Copenhagen. I hope that that continues.
We should flag up more often the issue of population. It should not be taken as read that the world’s population will increase from the current 6 billion to 9 billion. The consequences of that will be devastating. I had the privilege of seeing the conservation project whereby the Philippine eagle—it is one of the monkey-eating eagle species and a huge bird—has been brought back from the verge of extinction. However, the scientists whom I talked to were doubtful that they could ever release it back into the wild, because its habitat has been completely degraded by population growth and people moving into it. I was appalled by that.
We need to put a great deal more emphasis on sustainable development. That includes population, economics and climate change. We should not underestimate the value of biodiversity.
I want to endorse what the right hon. Gentleman says about the importance of population control in ethical, not compulsory, ways. Does he agree that we must recognise that it is hard to be in favour of international development and environmental sustainability while at the same time being opposed to giving women access to control over reproduction and education?
I absolutely agree. This is about access not only to contraception, but to education. As we know, the more educated a population is, the more sustainable it becomes. This is about not compulsion, but sustainable development.
Issues such as overseas development budgets should be co-ordinated with work done on biodiversity and climate change. Protecting forests is good for people who live in such communities. Clean, healthy, aquatic ecosystems are good for people who rely on them for fisheries, water or farming. What is good for biodiversity is good for people. That is the great value of the Darwin initiative, its international support for quality science, the alliances forged and the partnerships encouraged. It is something that the Government and DEFRA can be rightly proud of.
I am delighted to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). To put it simply, he has forgotten more about biodiversity than I will ever know.
I shall be circumspect, as I do not want to extend the debate unduly. It is wonderful to be in Westminster Hall rather than the main Chamber—some of us know where our priorities lie. It is also a good thing to be away from swine flu—perhaps hon. Members can hear that I have caught something else, which I why I am sitting separately. Swine flu is a matter for another day, and we must examine carefully its implications for our world and some of the interconnections involved. We cannot talk about biodiversity without considering some of the things that are happening at the moment.
I welcome the debate and I am here to be educated. As hon. Members know, I have a long-standing interest in DEFRA. The Darwin initiative is one of its best kept secrets. Some hon. Members might have looked at the debate scheduled for this Thursday afternoon and wondered, “What is all that about?” If nothing else, they might be able to read Hansard and be educated. The educative process is important, and this subject links to work done by the Department for International Development. The Government have a good reputation for the international aspects of the work that they do, and too often we are not able to explore that in this place. Sadly, they do not get anything like the reward they deserve in the media and other channels.
To begin with, I will go gently on the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), as we might have slightly different views on Darwin, evolution and creationism—although I am not a creationist by belief. It is important that we pay due regard to one of our greatest scientists, whose name has outlived his reputation and the controversy he caused during his lifetime. Everybody has a view on Darwin; he was probably the world’s first celebrity scientist and his views will for ever cause controversy.
The Darwin initiative is important as it brings us together and makes the world a smaller place. I congratulate the Minister on all that the Government do through such projects. It might be a good idea for an annual report to be produced, even if it was only given to the Select Committee. The initiative needs to be given some prominence; otherwise, like other such matters, it will disappear into the minutiae of parliamentary reporting.
I come at this from a fairly jaundiced position. I have not done a lot of travelling—certainly not until I took this job. Kenya has been mentioned on a number of occasions, but the first time I went there, I was genuinely shocked at the lack of wildlife in the part I visited. If anybody wants a clear demonstration of the effects of conflict and climate change, it can be seen in parts of Kenya, even if that country is not necessarily one of the countries in Africa that have seen the greatest changes due to those two dreadful events. We tried to find some elephants, but the nearest we got to that was elephant excrement. There were no elephants to be seen, and neither were there many other animals because people had eaten them. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe said, that is one of the ways in which population impacts on the biodiversity of our planet.
I specialise in the Sudan, where, sadly, the conflict in Darfur carries on regardless of all the other things going on in the world. People were shocked to hear some in Darfur let it be known that they put a higher value on their donkeys than on their children. In the west that was seen to be entirely reprehensible, but without donkeys, people cannot collect firewood and that means that there is no future for humanity in that place, notwithstanding the conflict that is going on. To me, that demonstrates the interdependency of wildlife, livestock and humankind. Although we in the west may have certain views on how we would protect the human species, people in places such as Darfur do not see any future without livestock. We must always be aware of that when dealing with conflicts. I will not ask the Minister to come up with a policy or a project on that, but I have no doubt that either DEFRA or DFID will be asked for such assistance. When dealing with conflict resolution, we must ensure that we are able to have an impact in areas where livestock, or indeed the wider biosphere, has been devastated.
The reference to the Marine and Coastal Access Bill is welcome. That is a very good Bill; it is long overdue, but that does not mean that we should not celebrate it and get it through Parliament as quickly as possible.
I have a couple of questions that the Minister might be able to answer. They are on a subject that has not been raised, although we spent time on it some years ago. Although its importance has not lessened, the environmental liability directive seems to have disappeared off the radar: it would be interesting to know where it has gone. It may be a peculiarly covert EU operation, but the directive is important as it lays down responsibility in our part of the world for those who plant and, dare I say, abuse the planting of various species.
The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon spoke about the GM debate, which I will not go into—we all have our views on that. However, there are important ramifications for planting regimes, possible repercussions when things go wrong, and who bears liability for such matters. I presume that whatever we do in the EU will be taken forward as a policy into the wider world. Given the debate on GM acceptability, we must know where we stand, so I ask the Minister for an update on that.
CITES has been mentioned. A number of us tried to persuade the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to look at that. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper) is very keen for us to consider the matter. One problem is that we are already so busy dealing with events and everyday work that some of the more important global and strategic issues that have a bearing on CITES pass us by. It would be good to know how such issues can be brought into the light in Parliament, lest otherwise they disappear. Yesterday, I was present at the start of the debate on bees, which is a subject that is now receiving some useful attention. We can see how the plight of bees can spiral into a number of other issues, including pesticides and the way in which we consider landscape and territorial changes and climate change.
Like other hon. Members, I pay due regard to our own scientific prominence. Kew has been mentioned, but we also have the Royal Botanic gardens in Edinburgh. I also praise DEFRA. In the debate on swine flu in the Chamber yesterday, I mentioned the need to link the veterinary laboratories at Weybridge and the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright, which is, if not the best, then one of the best centres for vaccination research. We also have Rothamsted Research, which specialises in plant technology; although it is an independent research establishment, it heavily relies on DEFRA funding. It is important that we understand that, although we are discussing a specific initiative—the Darwin initiative—it can only operate in the context of some of the other things that we are doing. The institutions I mention are vital because they are pushing forward the boundaries of knowledge.
At the moment, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is undertaking research into food security. We received some fairly frightening evidence from Rothamsted Research on the degree to which the movement of population will require north-west Europe to go back to being a major agricultural producer—or at least much more so than it is at the moment. I am talking about not just self-sufficiency within the United Kingdom, but growing enough and keeping enough animals so that we can begin to support other parts of the world that are affected by climate change. That is an area of some conflict and one on which we may not have touched. We could go down all sorts of avenues, including the conflict over red and grey squirrels, bovine TB, which I am rather obsessed with, and the controversial question of set-aside. We have not yet resolved the degree to which we are prepared to protect our landscape. We could be asked to grow more crops and keep more animals.
In conclusion, I pay due regard to those involved in the protection of the great apes. My constituent Ian Redmond, who has been appearing on all sorts of television programmes, was behind the Forests Now initiative—a good initiative that aims to get the world to understand that it cannot afford to lose any more rain forest. In particular, it focuses on the great apes and gorillas. I have great respect for people involved in such projects, because their work, more than anything else, has brought home to us how biodiversity matters in all our lives and how, in those wonderful species, we can see our future as well as our past. I hope that that is an area in which the Darwin initiative can get involved because otherwise we will miss an opportunity to make it something that has more traction in the lives of ordinary people. We must use this educative process to go out and persuade people that this is an area in which they should invest. Moreover, we as a country must persuade other countries to do likewise.
With the leave of the House, I am delighted to respond to this excellent debate. I know we often say that, but the passion, expertise and insight of the various contributions show not only the success of the Darwin initiative itself, but how it stretches across so many areas. The initiative pulls together the three areas of the triangle of sustainability—the social, the environmental and the economic. If we get it right, we can do great things; if we fail, the impact is unimaginable. We need to continue in that direction of travel. I am grateful to all hon. Members for their contributions today.
The Government remain fully committed to tackling, both nationally and internationally, the issues of biodiversity. Let me begin by responding to the points made by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon). I am not being condescending when I say that he made a very good and thoughtful speech. I welcome his observations on the work that he saw being done in Kenya, which other hon. Members mentioned as well, and his commitment to biodiversity in the UK and globally.
Critical issues lie ahead. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) touched on one of them—set-aside and how we recapture the benefits of a scheme that was not designed to have environmental benefits, but did. He also touched on the fragile nature of our marine ecosystems and the sustainability of fish stocks and fisheries that depend on them. We have real challenges to deal with here. Recently in Luxembourg, I introduced the statements from the EU member nations on the first response to the Green Paper on reform of the common fisheries policy. I made it clear that the UK is committed to leading from the front and to taking a radical approach to the CFP and its fundamental pillars. We need to move forward in our own marine environment, across the EU and internationally, and to make difficult decisions on balancing livelihoods both on the seas and in areas that have fragile habitats.
I agreed with my hon. Friend when he talked about the need to do more on the ground. That is where we need to see the evidence, not least in the UK. Moreover, we need to consider what we do about set-aside, which is currently up for a 12-week consultation in which a couple of models have been advocated. One is based on the cross-compliance mandatory model, which gives certainty, but lacks the advantage of bringing people with it. The other is the voluntary one, on which the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association are working with support from my officials. When considering the two models, both the Secretary of State and I have said that we need a high degree of certainty that, having lost set-aside some years ago, we can deliver what has been lost. We must also consider what we will do if we cannot. I am interested to hear the response to that. Everybody recognises that the set-aside initiative, which was not set up to deliver biodiversity benefits, did deliver biodiversity benefits. If we can agree that we need a high degree of certainty about how to regain those, then I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend.
Marine conservation zones were also mentioned. Working with stakeholders—fisheries, dredgermen, energy companies and green NGOs such as the Finding Sanctuary project in the south-west—is the right way forward. We are trying to introduce proposals, confront the evidence and make decisions together. However, we cannot distance ourselves from our obligations under Natura 2000 and the habitats directive. We will have to make some tough decisions and tough calls and get them right. We will then need to work with communities and businesses and all stakeholders to implement our decisions. There is a whole heap of things to deal with, including nitrate protection zones and the water framework directive. I welcomed what the hon. Member for Newbury said about doing much more on the ground, here in the UK and internationally. Collectively, the House and Ministers will have to make some decisions on how to improve our biodiversity.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) mentioned the principle of compensatory conservation, which means offsetting unavoidable harm to biodiversity. The principle is already in legislation and policy: the EC habitats, birds and environmental liability directives require biodiversity offset in certain circumstances; section 31 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 also contains provisions in that regard; and planning policy statement 9 on biodiversity and geological conservation supports biodiversity offsets. PPS 9 states:
“Where a planning decision would result in significant harm to biodiversity…interests which cannot be prevented,”—
that is the important thing—
“adequately mitigated against…or compensated for, then planning permission should be refused.”
We would then look at the offset. There is scope for offset, but it is not a substitute for the other measures I talked about. As in the oft-repeated remark, if one has only a hammer in the tool box, everything looks like a nail. We need more tools if we are to drive forward positively.
The consultation on set-aside, which I mentioned, was launched on 4 March 2009, and I encourage hon. Members to contribute to it. We need to ensure a high degree of certainty when it comes to recovering some of the benefits that we have undoubtedly lost, not least in farmland birds, as my right hon. Friend said.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) made a very good contribution to the debate and I recognise his and other hon. Members’ long-term commitment. He is right, as a number of hon. Members have said, that the Darwin initiative is an unheralded success story. For a little bit of effort and expertise, and some resources, and by working in partnerships on the ground, we can deliver not only enormous local benefits, but have a significant impact on biodiversity targets, not least in the overseas territories. My hon. Friend was right that Darwin predicted the effects of habitat and environmental depletion on flora and fauna. It is right and appropriate that we celebrate the fact that the initiative that bears his name helps to mitigate some of those impacts. My hon. Friend also drew attention to CITES and the convention on migratory species, which are encompassed by the Darwin initiative.
On marine conservation zones, to which a few hon. Members have referred, I am looking forward to the introduction of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, to debating it on the Floor of the House and in Committee and to going through the details. I am absolutely committed to delivering an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones. I want the zones to mean something and for them to be well worked out so as to bring people along, and for that to happen in good time. As hon. Members have said, I want them to be properly devised, managed and resourced.
I also want to consider compatible uses, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe has said. The debate on wind farm development is interesting. At one time, NGOs were wholly opposed, but now, many NGOs, including those that once opposed them, are looking at their potential for reef and habitat development and so on. I went to Reading this morning to launch the second of three workshops on the marine science strategy, to which I will return in a moment. Indeed, the evidence from marine science will allow us to make good decisions, rather than making “get reaction” decisions, including on compatible uses. As the Bill progresses, it is right that we enhance the existing expertise in marine science, of which there is a great deal.
I have made clear in today’s announcements our continuing commitment to the long-term funding and sustainability of the Darwin initiative. It would be churlish not applaud the fact that the initiative was set up under a different Government some years ago. We have built on it year after year and, under the stewardship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe and other Ministers, augmented what we have done and built the budget. Also, cleverly and intelligently, thanks to those people who select and propose Darwin projects, we have ensured that the money goes a long way.
The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) was a fine substitute today in his Front-Bench role and brought an interesting perspective on science and research, of which he has great knowledge. He commented on my constituency’s biodiversity. Ogmore is a former coal mining constituency and, curiously, it is the southernmost habitat in the UK for several semi-Arctic tundra species. I can stand at the top of the Bwlch mountain looking down at the splendour of the landscape, knowing that there are fragile species not only in SSSIs, but in places such as my constituency; all hon. Members can give similar examples. That awareness helps us to connect the local to the national and international.
The hon. Gentleman talked asked about the publication of operational research. The research that comes out of the Darwin projects is made available and published—reporting is a condition. All reports are published on the Darwin website. Depending on their nature of the reports, not all appear in peer review publications, but I am pleased to say that they are all made public.
The hon. Gentleman will be interested in the marine science strategy. I chair the ministerial group on marine science and champion it in government. I urge him to put his thoughts into the strategy, which will underpin much of our work on the marine environment. The strategy will not replicate what we have been doing: it will recognise what is good, but it will also identify the gaps and develop the synchronicities between various organisations that have a good science and research base. It will point the way forward on what else we need to know about the UK and international marine environment. With his background, I am sure he will want to contribute to the strategy as it progresses.
The Minister is aware that this is a big subject. Indeed, the former Science and Technology Committee, which left no scientific stone unturned, conducted an inquiry on investigating the oceans, which was debated in Westminster Hall. The Chairman of that Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), is keen to ensure that the Government follow up the report’s recommendations.
That is very helpful. Many of the suggestions in that Science and Technology Committee report are being taken forward in the strategy. The strategy will not replicate or prevaricate—it will propose what we need to do to improve marine science, and it will be well thought out.
I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said about GM. There is a wide variety of views on GM, both in this House and in other UK Administrations, but it is absolutely right that we have balanced, evidence-based discussions on the benefits or otherwise. What can we see from the GM testing that has been done? What does it prove? I do not think that either side has entered the debate with a closed mind, but we should make decisions based on the available evidence. That must be a common theme of our consideration of environmental matters, including the potential impacts of GM on neighbouring fields, crops and so on.
A lot of good work is being done on GM, including by the Royal Society, which will report later this year. That will help us to debate the issue in a cool-headed way as well as to consider whether it has domestic or international potential. I welcome the balance in the hon. Gentleman’s comments on GM, as it can often be an emotional issue.
The hon. Gentleman raised a query about the Budget statement. That falls slightly outside my area, so if he is happy for me to do so, I will take the point back to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and ask her to write to him.
The interdepartmental group on biodiversity is important, not least in respect of the overseas territories. I am pleased to say that it will meet on 11 May to discuss Her Majesty’s Government’s strategy for biodiversity conservation in overseas territories, with which the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and others have been helping. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, the JNCC and others will be there, which is good. We need something to get our teeth into, and the report will help. I look forward to reporting back.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Government are now fully seized of the importance of bees. Bees are generally important in terms of biodiversity, and scores of beekeepers are lining up here to lobby us, quite rightly, on issues that are important to them as well as to society more widely.
I apologise, Mrs. Anderson, because I tend to respond extensively, so I will try to get through my comments quickly. The hon. Gentleman asked whether a country’s performance is a deciding factor in future Darwin grants. As I am sure that he knows, Darwin grants are made to project leaders, and developing or host country Governments are not directly involved. That is interesting, because it allows innovative projects that produce research and that involve groups on the ground doing the work rather than the Government. The benefits of the work being done on the ground have consistently shown me that that is the right approach. All projects are subject to monitoring and evaluation, and the results feed into consideration for future project proposals for specific leaders or, sometimes, for specific countries. Does Darwin have a direct contribution to the 2010 target? Not as such. There is no direct link, but we will be preparing a thematic study on its contribution to the 2010 target towards the end of this year.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe made an excellent contribution. I acknowledge his wide-ranging work on the issue and his continuing work with the Born Free foundation, the British Trust for Ornithology, Globe International and other organisations. He and I have shared a privileged role in such overseas initiatives. It is a genuine privilege; it leaves a mark, and it is something to be proud of. I note the comments made in this debate about the events happening on the Floor of the House, but it is fair to say that we have important business here in discussing the initiative and wider biodiversity issues.
My right hon. Friend noted that the budget had grown, but he remarked on the fact that it was brought forward. There has been shared support for the initiative in this debate, and we all hope that that shared commitment will continue and grow where it can. We are in difficult economic times, at least for the Government, but the commitment that I have demonstrated here shows our direction of travel.
My right hon. Friend’s personal observations on Darwin projects on biodiversity and livelihoods on the ground were instructive, not least because I now know how to keep elephants out of my garden. He is right to flag up the fact that the Darwin initiative, as I said in my opening remarks, not only yields environmental gains, but results in wider social and economic gains and improves people’s livelihoods, which, through line or thread, must run through much of Government policy overseas.
To update hon. Members on the overseas territories, it is worth pointing out that although environmental management is a matter for the overseas territories, we recognise that they have capacity constraints and often need assistance. Since last autumn, we have committed a further £200,000 to biodiversity in overseas territories to fund baseline surveys and other research and support conservation projects. That is on top of the flagship species fund of £50,000, the more than £200,000 in support for the agreement on the conservation of albatrosses and petrels and the added priority that we are giving the overseas territories through the Darwin initiative.
Since Darwin began in 1992, nearly £200 million has been awarded to biodiversity projects in overseas territories, and we are looking to do more. I am aware of the support among stakeholders for doing more in the overseas territories and of the significant biodiversity gains to be made there.
My right hon. Friend referred to the work of Pavan Sukhdev to put a value on environmental goods and services. When I was a lecturer a long time ago, we talked about such things. We started from the blueprint of growth and worked through how to measure environmental goods economically and whether we even needed to do so. The reality is that we must factor in the gains and benefits, as well as the losses, if we lose more habitat. Pavan Sukhdev’s work is innovative, exciting and groundbreaking, and the work of Globe International complements it well.
My right hon. Friend spoke about the effects of biodiversity enrichment on a local level in his constituency. Biodiversity enrichment includes managed realignment, a controversial but interesting area of my portfolio, because of the gains that it can bring on all fronts. In his constituency, it has brought wins right across the board, which is excellent to hear.
My right hon. Friend mentioned many things. I can give him an assurance on ivory. As he knows, along with our international partners, we sanctioned the one-off sale of ivory to China, which caused some controversy. However, we will monitor carefully what is happening through the monitoring of the illegal killing of elephants programme and other initiatives, in order to see what impact that sanction has had. We certainly do not envisage sanctioning anything like that again—we see it as a one-off—and we will monitor it carefully as it goes forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud made a good contribution; he undersold himself as he rose to his feet. He rightly described the Darwin initiative as one of DEFRA’s and this Government’s best-kept secrets. It is, and we can do more. He said that we should produce an annual report. We do, and it goes straight to DEFRA’s website—it is there for everybody to see—but we could probably do a little more to circulate it to Committees, hon. Members and others. I will speak with my team after I leave this debate to see how we can publicise it more. The initiative is a success story, but we need to use it as an indicator for how we work across a range of areas to benefit biodiversity.
That is a very good suggestion. On the back of the debate, I will do that. We ought to do it each year, as a matter of course. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. For the benefit of busy MPs and busy peers in the other place, we can front-end it with a summary of what is being achieved and why they should pay attention to it.
Indeed. I agree with my right hon. Friend. The report is excellent and very readable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud mentioned the excellence of the science base in this country, and he is absolutely right. I will be at Kew next week celebrating the “Year of Darwin” alongside Her Majesty—I promise that I will be in my best bib and tucker. Others from throughout the United Kingdom who contribute to our science base will be there, too.
I apologise if I have gone on for some time and hope that I have dealt with most of the issues. The Darwin initiative makes a huge contribution to conservation work internationally. It supports people’s livelihoods, the sustainable use of natural resources and poverty reduction. Like Darwin himself, the Darwin initiative has greatly enhanced scientific knowledge. A number of new species have been discovered as a direct result of projects, such as the three corals in the Galapagos Islands and the new species of orchid in Costa Rica.
Darwin projects also leave a clear and lasting legacy, as Darwin did. I often hear it mentioned that, to date, training provided under the Darwin initiative has reached more than 50,000 people. That figure alone is confirmation of the importance of the programme and why it is so successful. Many Darwin projects are at the cutting edge of thinking in conservation science, increasingly exploring emerging issues such as climate change. As I mentioned earlier, the links between conservation, livelihood and poverty-reduction projects have involved working with local communities and helping them to develop local organisation and policies that strengthen their rights and responsibilities for the protection and management of natural resources. The funding that I announced today will help to continue building on those achievements.
Closer to home, we have made good progress, but we need to do more. We have made good progress in our priority areas and towards our biodiversity targets. We expect to meet our target to have 95 per cent. of the area of SSSIs in favourable or recovering condition by 2010. Through the UK biodiversity action plan, we have shown that we can be successful when we target resources at particular species and habitats. For example, the number of stone curlew nesting pairs increased to 351 in 2008, exceeding the target for 2015. More than 2,000 hectares of lowland heathland, one of the UK’s most threatened habitats, have been re-established. Environmental stewardship schemes to date have achieved 37,000 km of grass margins, which help to prevent the pollution of water and protect hedgerows from agricultural activities, 30,000 km of restored and newly planted hedgerows and 125,000 km of hedgerows under environmentally friendly management, providing nesting sites and food sources for birds and other wildlife.
But are we on course to meet the targets for halting biodiversity loss? The formal assessment of whether global and EU targets to reduce and halt the loss of biodiversity have been met will be in 2010. All countries, including the UK, have been preparing their reports for the convention on biological diversity, which meets in its 10th conference of the parties next year, setting out the actions and progress made. The UK biodiversity indicators that we published at the beginning of the month provide an overview of progress. As I said at the start of the debate, although there are some exceptions, the overall picture is that the rapid declines in UK biodiversity during the last years of the 20th century have substantially slowed and, in some cases, halted. Our report to the CBD will show that we are unlikely to meet the target to halt biodiversity loss in its entirety, but that we are on course to meet it in some areas and to exceed it through reversing trends in others. It is clear that further progress is essential, and we are committed to taking action to achieve that.
As has been mentioned, we also need to safeguard the marine environment. I focused today mainly on land-based biodiversity, but the same principles and ambitions apply to our seas. We are committed to an ecologically coherent network of protected areas in our seas by 2012. The Marine and Coastal Access Bill, so well supported here today by hon. Members’ comments, combined with European legislation, will provide the systems and tools to do just that. One of the network’s purposes will be to protect areas that harbour rare and threatened species, or that are biodiversity hotspots.
Finally, we have to continue to play our role internationally through the Darwin initiative and our work on major biodiversity conventions. The next Darwin funding round will be announced this summer. It will continue to enhance our contribution to biodiversity work in countries where it is most needed and where the available resources are insufficient to address the issues involved. We must then secure international agreement on a successor to the 2010 biodiversity target. The existing target has galvanised action by Governments and non-governmental organisations the world round to tackle the most urgent problems, but now we cannot afford to lose that momentum, and we must redouble our efforts to achieve a halt in biodiversity loss.
I thank hon. Members for a worthwhile debate and for some well-informed contributions. I look forward to continuing this sort of debate in the months and years to come and to report on whether we are achieving, both domestically and internationally, our targets on biodiversity, not least through the Darwin initiative.
Question put and agreed to.