What does the 25 Year Environment Plan mean for the marine environment?

31/01/2018

The long awaited UK Government’s 25 year Environment Plan was published earlier this month. This makes some interesting and welcome general commitments:

1. We will set gold standards in protecting and growing natural capital – leading the world in using this approach as a tool in decision-making.

2. We will seek to embed a ‘net environmental gain’ principle for development to deliver environmental improvements locally and nationally.

3. In future, we want to expand the net gain approaches used for biodiversity to include wider natural capital benefits, such as flood protection, recreation and improved water and air quality.

Chapter 5 of the Plan sets out some commitments to secure clean, healthy, productive and biologically diverse seas and oceans. The headlines - sustainable fisheries policy and achieving good environmental status - are not particularly new, although the recognition of Overseas Territory obligations and opportunities is to be welcomed. However, the introductory section to the plan (p26) includes some more specific commitments relevant to marine including:

  • Reversing the loss of marine biodiversity and, where practicable, restoring it.
  • Increasing the proportion of protected and well-managed seas, and better managing existing protected sites.
  • Making sure populations of key species are sustainable with appropriate age structures.
  • Ensuring sea floor habitats are productive and sufficiently extensive to support healthy sustainable ecosystems.
  • Reducing the risk of harm to people, the environment and the economy from natural hazards including flooding, drought and coastal erosion.
  • Ensuring that all fish stocks are recovered to and maintained at levels that can produce their maximum sustainable yield.
  • Significantly reducing and where possible preventing all kinds of marine plastic pollution.
  • Seeking to eliminate the use of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) by 2025.
  • Reducing land-based emissions of mercury to air and water by 50% by 2030.
  • Managing and reducing the impact of existing plant and animal diseases; lowering the risk of new ones and tackling invasive non-native species.

A lot of the marine commitments sound like ‘same old’ but the broader commitments to reverse the loss of marine biodiversity and a ‘net environmental gain’ principle for development are new. The proposed consultation on post-Brexit environmental governance structure (p11) will provide an early indication of the scale of the Government’s environmental ambition alongside the proposed consultation on establishing a statutory basis for embedding the net gain principle (p33).

All the evidence tells us that we need to and can do better in stewarding the marine environment not just to achieve environmental goals but also to realise social and economic objectives. The 25 year Environment Plan provides an exciting blueprint for future management of our seas – I for one, hope that the Government fully delivers on the plan.

Take a look: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/25-year-environment-plan

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