In today’s Westminster Hall debate on restoring nature on a massive scale to help stop climate breakdown there was an important commitment made by DEFRA minister, Zac Goldsmith.
Several hon. Members talked about the problem of burning peatlands. There is no doubt that they are right; the Government share that view. There has been an attempt, through voluntary initiatives, to scale back—to reduce and eventually eliminate—the burning of fragile and important peat ecosystems, but that has not proven 100% successful as had been hoped. We are developing a legislative response to the problem and we will come back to the House in due course with our plans. There is no disagreement with the hon. Members who have spoken today about the need to address the issue, but we have to do that through legislation, because the alternative simply has not worked.https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2019-10-28/debates/B12362DC-0F6A-481B-A1E6-973776F0F9F9/RestoringNatureAndClimateChange
We are funding the restoration of more than 6,000 hectares of degraded peatland, much of it in the uplands, and we are allocating £10 million to 62 sites across England. We will publish a peat strategy for England that sets out a vision to reverse the decline in England’s peatlands and peat soils.
Regular readers of this blog may recall this issue featuring here often in the past (eg these eight blog posts in the last 12 months; Policing the burning agreement, Wuthering Moors 76 – more moor burning, Bowland’s burning, Deep peat burning, Guest blog – Blanket bog burning: what’s planned? by Bob Berzins, Warm words on burning, Burning continues and Restoration burning is a myth).
Zac’s words are fine ones indeed – although as others have pointed out, we are (probably) on the brink of a general election…
But they are good words and we should expect them to be acted upon by any future Conservative ministers but also, given their recent words, by any future Labour ministers too.
It’s too early to notch this up as a full scale victory, but it appears to signal one is on the way. Those who have contributed to this nascent victory are many – they almost always are in any advocacy victory. Friends of the Earth have made a very impotant recent contribution and the RSPB has made an even bigger long term contribution. I’d just point out here that the combination was important- the RSPB work started eons ago, but their taking of a complaint to the EU almost exactly 7 years ago (15 October 2012) was incredibly important, and yet they would have made quicker progress had they campaigned on this issue, a role which FoE have adopted in the last couple of years with great impact.
But there are many others such as the admirable Bob Berzins, the Ban the Burn campaigners of Hebden Bridge, Extinction Rebellion (who have changed the climate of debate in 12 months), and likewise Greta Thunberg, and so many others who have created the context and the foreground for changes like this to come into being. As always, the grouse shooting industry has been the author of its own downfall – promising to be good and then demonstrably being bad (as is so often the case) in a highly visible and blatant manner. Yes, the grouse shooting industry has shot itself in the foot yet again.
Zac Goldsmith took this opportunity to do good – he was not forced to say what he did on peat in this debate, he could have banged on about anything and got away with it. What a change from Therese Coffey – the minister who did so little for so long.