Defra ‘lamentable’ over nature strategy

By Georgie Keate

Ministers have come under attack for failing to put the environment at the centre of the UK's economic decision-making, a cross-party committee has declared.

The Commons' environment, food and rural affairs committee criticised the government for ignoring ecosystems that are worth billions of pounds to the economy.

"Our natural environment supplies us not only with food and materials but also with vital services that ensure society's well-being, such as clean air and water, soil nutrients and recreational spaces," said Anne McIntosh, the committee chair.

The report criticised the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) slow response to the natural environment white paper published over a year ago, questioning its commitment to protect natural capital.

"It should not be solely the preserve of the public sector to protect and enhance nature. Significant funding can be harnessed from the private sector, for example to help prevent flooding and to provide clean water supplies.

"But government must act now to set up the right regulatory frameworks to support such payments," McIntosh asserted.

The report labelled Defra's inaction over environmental matters a "lamentable lack of ambition" and called on the Treasury to begin a campaign for environmentalism.

Friends of the Earth's head of nature Paul de Zylva, commenting on the report, said: "The Treasury-pedalled myth that protecting the environment is bad for business simply doesn't add up – it’s time to recognise the true value of nature by putting it at the core of government policies."

The committee has asked the government to deliver an action plan timetable, weigh up the benefits of environmental regulation and engage with the public over nature and public health.