Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig - Y Bumed Senedd
Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee - Fifth Senedd04/03/2021
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Janet Finch-Saunders MS|
|Jenny Rathbone MS|
|Llyr Gruffydd MS|
|Mike Hedges MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Neil Hamilton MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Annie Smith||Pennaeth Polisi Natur a Gwaith Achos, RSPB Cymru|
|Head of Nature Policy and Casework, RSPB Cymru|
|Arfon Williams||Pennaeth Polisi Tir a Môr, RSPB Cymru|
|Head of Land and Sea Policy, RSPB Cymru|
|Clare Trotman||Rheolwr Polisi ac Eiriolaeth, Y Gymdeithas Cadwraeth Forol|
|Policy and Advocacy Manager, Marine Conservation Society|
|Gwyn Howells||Prif Weithredwr, Hybu Cig Cymru|
|Chief Executive, Hybu Cig Cymru|
|Pete Robertson||Prif Weithredwr, Ffederasiwn Bwyd a Diod Cymru|
|Chief Executive, Food and Drink Federation Cymru|
|Professor Terry Marsden||Athro Emeritws mewn Polisi a Chynllunio Amgylcheddol, Prifysgol Caerdydd|
|Emeritus Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning, Cardiff University|
|Rachel Sharp||Prif Weithredwr, Ymddiriedolaethau Natur Cymru, yn cynrychioli Cyswllt Amgylchedd Cymru|
|Chief Executive Officer, Wildlife Trusts Wales, representing Wales Environment Link|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Andrea Storer||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Elizabeth Wilkinson||Ail Glerc|
|Marc Wyn Jones||Clerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:45.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 13:45.
First of all, can I welcome Members to the meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee?
We're having an evidence session, and we'll hear from two panels. Our first panel will consist of: Rachel Sharp, from Wildlife Trusts Wales; Annie Smith, head of nature policy and casework, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Arfon Williams, head of land and sea policy, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; and Clare Trotman, policy and advocacy manager, Marine Conservation Society. And I forgot with Rachel Sharp to say, 'chief executive'. So, croeso, welcome. Can I welcome you all to this meeting? And if you're ready, can we start with me asking a question? The Minister recently accepted the need for biodiversity targets in principle, but also referred to potential perverse outcomes. What do you think the potential perverse outcomes are? Who wants to go first?
I'll take that one if it's okay. Thank you, Chair. Thank you to the committee for some of the really great discussions on nature-recovery targets recently. I think the risk of perverse outcomes is often held up as a reason to hold back from setting targets, and we'd agree it's a good reason not to set simplistic and narrow targets. But it's a bad reason not to consider setting targets at all. We think the way to avoid perverse outcomes is to make sure that the targets are comprehensive. So, looking at biodiversity targets, you need targets about species abundance, species range, extinction risk, and also habitat—both extent and condition—to make sure that, for example, a habitat-extent target isn't masking the fact that your habitats are not species rich and so on. And we need a process of thorough transparency consultation and stakeholder engagement around setting the right targets. But we are at an absolute pivotal moment of really needing to see transformative change kick in, and targets need to come into our framework to make sure that that change is happening and to make sure it's driven at the pace it needs to be driven.
And we can always change the targets, of course. Anyone else?
As long as it's done transparently. I think, as your data improves and your ongoing monitoring and knowledge expands, as long as there's transparent processes, then review is part of a sensible framework.
Thank you. Everybody else is nodding, so I take it you're all in agreement on that. Yes. Moving on to Llyr Gruffydd.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Mae Annie wedi dechrau ateb y cwestiwn rôn i'n mynd i'w ofyn, a dweud y gwir, ynglŷn â sut mae rhywun yn mynd ati i ddatblygu targedau sy'n dargedau ystyrlon, a pha dystiolaeth sydd ei hangen. Rŷn ni'n ymwybodol, efallai, ein bod ni ddim wastad â'r data sydd ei angen yng Nghymru yn rhai o'r meysydd yma. Mae angen sicrhau bod gyda ni'r data cywir ac ein bod ni'n gallu monitro cynnydd yn effeithiol. So, efallai, dwi ddim yn gwybod os oes rhywbeth rŷch chi eisiau ei ychwanegu ar y pwyntiau yna yn gyntaf.
Thank you, Chair. Annie started to answer the question that I was going to ask about how we should develop biodiversity targets that are meaningful and what evidence we need. We're aware, perhaps, that we don't have the data that we need in Wales in some of these areas. We need to ensure that we have the accurate data and that we can monitor progress effectively. So, I don't know whether there's anything you want to add on those points first.
Thank you, Llyr. As you say, we don't have all the data we would like, but we have got data. We have many species groups where we do have indices that are regularly updated in terms of abundance. The state of nature report in 2019 reported on occupancy, and there's ongoing work to make sure we're getting better and better at using data held by the local environmental record centres, for example, to help us understand these pictures. Natural Resources Wales is in the process of producing a baseline evaluation report of sites of special scientific interest, which will point to the need for better monitoring on the ground as we go forward. But there is data out there that we can use to start building these models and developing the targets. I don't know if you can see that, but that graph comes from a paper by Georgina Mace and others, which looked at the 'bending the curve' concept. So, looking at halting the decline of biodiversity by 2030 in order to get us on the path to recovery by 2050, which is, basically, the mission of the CBD. And what that curve shows, actually, is that at the moments in time when there have been CBD agreements around new suites of targets that have passed by, that curve has continued on its downward trajectory. And, actually, we need something to make those international targets really bite in domestic legislation.
But the reason for holding up the curve was, basically, to show that it's possible to model these things, basically to look at what recovery looks like across these species and habitats that we're monitoring. You need good scientific input to this that you can then use those modelled curves, in terms of looking at where you need to get to, to determine what your milestones need to be in terms of getting there. And what that curve shows is the slowing of decline effectively bending the curve to halt declines by 2030 and begin to reverse them and start us on that upwards trajectory. And that's what is being sought, at an international level, through the CBD agreement this year, and what we'd like to see brought into the Welsh framework. And modelling like that will help you to set the milestones on the way—milestones that are part of the statutory framework, in the same way that we have the carbon budgets leading into the net-zero target. So, absolutely critical, because, as you've mentioned before, Llyr, we don't want to park all the action until the last few years before a target is due to be hit or missed.
Who does the monitoring, then? Who holds Government to those targets?
Well, in terms of monitoring, there are loads of obviously voluntary schemes, local record centres compile records, NRW has a critical statutory role, and the resourcing of NRW needs to be addressed in order to enable it to do that better and work with partners to secure that better.
But we were also talking today about the need for a new environmental governance body that will need to be brought in, through legislation, in the next Senedd, which must have a role as a truly independent body in taking that oversight of progress towards targets and whether the response—. You know, if a milestone is missed, the point is—in the same way as we have accountability around carbon budgets—the Government has to face up to that and look at what it needs to change, whether new regulation incentives et cetera are needed, in order to get us back on the right track. And so, that new governance commission will be in the right place to provide that sort of independent advice and oversight and make sure the right scrutiny happens.
Thank you. Clare, Arfon or Rachel, do you want to add anything? Thank you very much.
Well, it takes us on nicely, I think, Chair.
It takes us on. Environmental governance, Janet.
Hello, everybody. Right. Your organisations have made clear that the current interim set-up is not equivalent to a watchdog, which would allow citizens to raise concerns that could lead to a remedy of breaches. What assessment have you made of the possible impact to only allow citizens to challenge through existing means of redress, and with the need to undertake legal advice, what kind of barrier will this stance be to possible challenges?
I'm going to take that one again, if that's all right with everyone.
As long as your colleagues are happy, I'm happy.
I hope so. I'm looking for the nods as well. Thank you for the question. So, the real issue around the focus of the interim environmental assessor is that, I think, because that role is going to be in place for such a long time before we have a permanent statutory body in place—because, obviously, the Government's run out of time to bring forward legislation during the current Senedd, and there are steps to go through before legislation can be brought onto the books and a body can be set up—. So, it wasn't possible, I think, legally, is my understanding—or, certainly, in terms of the legal advice that the Government received—to create a body that was able to deal with complaints from the public in any way, because there could be, accidentally, an impediment there to access to justice, if people were misled into thinking that raising an issue with an interim person, who, in fact, has not got any actual powers, would lead to some sort of redress, because it won't. In the other countries of the UK where there are interim bodies in place, those bodies can compile complaints that can be dealt with when the permanent bodies are very soon brought into force. So, it is a gap. Essentially, we've lost the enforcement that was part of the delivery of our environmental protection, so inevitably they are weakened by that. Have I answered the question, or could you remind me?
Does anybody else want to add anything first? Rachel, Arfon or Clare? No. Are you happy with the answer, Janet?
Yes. Moving on as well to the development of the interim assessor role, in your evidence, WEL say that scope of the interim assessor has diverged somewhat from that originally envisaged. Can you outline what elements of this role remain from the suggestions provided by the stakeholder taskforce, and did the Minister ever convey these changes to the group? If so, was there a reason given to you to explain why the changes occurred?
Yes. So, the change is that rather than being a sort of figurehead that can receive what we might call complaints—people's concerns about failures to implement or fully deliver on environmental laws—the interim assessor's role is about looking at the functioning of environmental law across the piece. So, that might be about where the law's not working quite properly anymore because we've now left the EU and that's where the law came from, it might be that it seems not to be being applied as it should or not enforced as it should, and people can raise these issues, which is quite a—. I think there's still a need for Welsh Government to issue some wider comms on that really, to help people understand the nature of the role.
But originally the interim assessor's role was envisaged as that focus for complaints, so bringing in things together into a report, and, where there were issues that appeared to be urgent, escalating them to Ministers or to the Senedd for resolution. And the reason for changing away from that—I think I touched on it a moment ago—was—. The Welsh Government did inform the task group of this change just before Christmas; it was a very sudden change before the assessor's role was due to start. But, basically, based on legal advice, they'd decided that it wasn't appropriate to enable people to complain into that space, because then people might be led to believe that raising a complaint would lead to some action, some investigation, and potentially some remedy, whereas there are no powers available to the interim assessor to investigate or to seek remedies if issues are raised that were found to be valid. So—
Can I just ask you, then, do you see the remit of this role diluted?
It's a different role. It's a valuable role. It's a good thing to be looking at: is the law working effectively, where do we need to improve on implementation or improve the law to deliver objectives? But it's a different role.
And so—. Sorry. The most important point, then, is the urgency of getting legislation in place to bring a permanent governance body that can fill that gap in citizens' rights that we've now lost, having left the EU and the umbrella role of the institutions, and also the robustness of our environmental regulation.
Okay. Thank you. Any of your colleagues want to add anything? I saw Clare nodding enthusiastically when you were speaking. Annie? No. Okay, back to you, Janet.
I've got another one. On the webpage, to raise a concern under these interim measures, it makes it clear that the assessor will prepare a report on the issue for the Welsh Ministers, who will subsequently lay the report and their response in the Senedd. In terms of the arrangements on the role of the Senedd, did the stakeholder taskforce propose any ideas for the relationship between the two, and could you also outline to our committee what role you wish the Senedd, and, indeed, its Members, to play under more permanent measures?
So, I think the role of the Senedd has always been something that the task group has discussed, and the political role in the interim period, I think, is really around transparency, so being able to hear from the interim assessor and consider that advice to Ministers and have some input or some view around how priorities might be drawn from that. So, I think regular reporting and scrutiny and transparency in any kind of communications around issues that are raised are really important.
I think that also applies, really, in the longer term situation, thinking about the independent governance commission, which is what the task group recommended and the Minister accepted the recommendation for in principle. It would need to be independent of Government, so accountable, instead, to the Senedd, so we'd see a clear role for a Senedd committee in regular scrutiny and updating with that independent assessor.
Thank you very much. Jenny Rathbone.
I just want to talk to you about the proposed legislation for the next Senedd that the current Government is—. Sorry, I think the sound isn't quite right. The current Government wants to introduce legislation on air quality, agriculture and environmental governance. Do you think those are the right priorities, or is there anything missing or something that you think should be of a higher priority?
I'll just give a piece of the answer to this, but I think there's a broader answer to this. So, I think, in terms of that governance legislation, and going back to the opening of that session, we would see the role of that legislation being broader in bringing in this framework for setting statutory targets for nature's recovery as well, especially given the role of that independent body in the continuing scrutiny and assessment of targets and their delivery. But I know that there were other issues, and so it's probably better for me to hand over to colleagues on that.
Before one of your colleagues takes over, do you not think that those targets would be perfectly possible to incorporate into an environmental governance Bill?
Yes. Yes, absolutely. Yes, sorry, that's what I meant to say—
Okay. All right. Okay, who wants to go next? Clare.
Thanks, Jenny. So, we know that Welsh Government have expressed an interest in developing a fisheries Act in Wales, and whether this ends up being an Act in itself or future issues policy, I think now is probably a good time to rethink the way that we manage our seas and really try to enshrine sustainability principles within that Act. We need to make sure we've got more clear and transparent reporting of fisheries through better monitoring and enforcement, and we also need to make sure that we are enshrining principles around maximum sustainable yield. So, I think, given what's been in the papers recently about what's happening to our fishing fleet in Wales, we need to do something that really supports our fishermen and also ensures that we have fish for future generations.
Fine. Okay, so do you think that that could be usefully incorporated into the agriculture and aquaculture Bill, given our need to be in line with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and to be looking at things in the round?
Yes, absolutely. Yes, enshrining those principles is absolutely essential. Whether or not it's done as a separate Act or as part of one that's already in development I probably couldn't comment at this time. But making sure those principles are there is probably the key, really.
Fine. Okay. All right. Anybody else want to come in—Arfon, Rachel? Rachel.
Hi, Jenny. I think I'd just add to that. I think there's a concentration here, isn't there, on terms like 'fisheries' and 'farming', and actually what we've already set out a pathway to undertake in Wales is the sustainable management of our natural resources. So, actually—. The purpose of legislating is either to regulate an activity or to conjole or incentivise certain activities. So, we need to be very clear about how it sets a pathway to those sustainable development goals that we want to achieve. So, in some ways, phrasing it around those farming and fisheries is actually that—the purpose of this legislation was actually a much wider agenda.
Okay. Point taken. Annie, do you want to come in on this point, because you've obviously put quite a lot in your written evidence about the importance of a sustainable food nation and transforming our food. Is that something you would expect to see in the agriculture and aquaculture Bill?
I'm going to ask Arfon to come in on that one, rather than take that one myself.
Yes, thank you, Jenny. I think, to start with, I agree with colleagues about that the sustainable management of natural resources is, I think, the basic principle for policies—marine policies and land-based policies. I think, by doing that, that then ties it into existing reporting mechanisms, the State of Natural Resources Report and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. So, to deviate from that would seem odd, really.
The sustainable food—. It's clear from coalitions that the RSPB is part of, such as the food policy group and also other groups, that we need a joined-up food strategy in Wales, a sustainable farm and fish to fork strategy that looks at supply chains from start to end, really—supply chains that are local, which retain as much of the value within the earlier part of the supply chains as possible, really. And key to that as well is also recognising that we will continue to import food into Wales, into the UK, but to ensure that those conform to principles of sustainability as well. So, I think at the moment, food, farming, land management, these things tend to be siloed. It's really important to start bringing these key policies together.
Okay. So, you'd expect to see all these important issues in that agriculture and aquaculture Bill, whatever we call it, but that it would need to deal with these issues holistically. Is that your position?
Fine. Okay. Just lastly, none of you has mentioned air quality. We know it kills humans, which is why we need to do something about it; could you just tell us what the implications are for nature? Does it kill nature as well, particular species? I simply don't know the answer and I wondered if you—.
It does have significant impacts, especially on plants and lower plants, airborne pollution. I can see that Arfon and Rachel are keen to come in, so I will—.
If we go to you first, then, Arfon.
All I was going to say was, yes, but Plantlife are obviously the experts on this. Certainly, the lower plants, as Annie has pointed out, can suffer from high nitrogen levels. We see farming systems that produce lots of ammonia have a huge impact on plants, and not just lower plants but plants generally. There is a very good policy paper that Plantlife has produced that details the issues associated with poor air quality that originates from many sources. But, yes, the simple answer is 'yes', Jenny.
It's just a wider point. Part of the hesitation around answering this question is the lack of evidence and because what we do, naturally, is concentrate on human health, and actually we do need to explore these areas and exactly what impacts our activities are having across the board.
Okay, thank you.
Just anecdotally from me, I noticed this summer, when there was an awful lot less traffic, an awful lot more butterflies and other animals of that type. Maybe it's just me, but air quality obviously improves where vehicles are reduced dramatically. I'll just throw it out; perhaps you may have some thoughts on it, before we move on. Rachel does.
I think one of the advantages—of the very few—has been this reconnecting people with nature through lockdown, and there's been this rhetoric around how nature has bounced back. It hasn't; it's still in decline, unfortunately, but what has been amazing is our ability to notice it, both in terms of it's been quieter, and also, particularly in the first lockdown, we all went for that daily exercise and and we didn't miss our walk. And that has really helped the sector, because people have started to be aware of and, therefore, appreciative of nature in their life and how important it is, particularly for their well-being. So, I think that's what you probably experienced, Mike.
Okay, thank you very much. On to forestry and woodland with Neil Hamilton.
These questions are for RSPB and Wales Environment Link, I suppose, as I don't suppose forests are an immediate concern to marine conservation. I'd like to understand what role the RSPB and the WEL have been playing in the development of the national forest. The national forest has been pretty slow in getting off the ground, if that's the right metaphor for a forest. Are you being consulted by the Welsh Government in this?
Thank you for that. I think I'll probably field the bulk of the questions around the national forest. Yes, but I think it's only just starting, so we're still not clear yet as to what the national forest is, the purpose of it, what it's going to look like, but I think these are early days yet with the national forest. So, we are welcoming the indication that there will be opportunities to discuss its development with the Welsh Government.
I think it's probably worth saying as a bit of an opener that, as a concept, we welcome it, provided it's based on some very sound principles and the kind of key principle being the right tree in the right place for the right reasons. I think, if we get the national forest right, there are huge opportunities to establish new woodlands in a way that deliver multiple benefits that benefit nature, benefit climate change, benefit society, but the key is the evidence that underpins where we place new woodlands and the kind of reasons for doing that.
So, I think what we must avoid is repeats of past mistakes—think of all the conifer blocks on deep peat in the uplands across Wales. So, we must ensure we avoid that, and it's really important that we don't—. I know that climate change is a big driver. I think we need to be much more joined up in our approach, otherwise we risk compounding one crisis, the nature crisis, by seeking to address another through tree planting. So, I think we've got a great opportunity. It's the start of it, so I think that the key stage of having those conversations now is paramount to a successful outcome.
Just to counter your point there, Neil, the Marine Conservation Society are actually quite keen for Welsh Government, when they're thinking about the national forest, to be thinking about the contribution that our seagrass and kelp forests can be making towards our zero carbon targets. There's vast potential in our marine habitats—I think it's somewhere in the region of 12,000 hectares per year that we sequester through seagrass, salt marsh and kelp at the moment. Obviously, great potential for recovery, so those conversations are something that we're keen to continue to have with Welsh Government.
Thank you. Jenny wants to come in at this stage.
[Inaudible.] national forest, because the Welsh Government is putting quite a lot of emphasis on the importance of having nature close to home, so nature, including national forest, close to where people are living, but the Woodland Trust is taking a frustratingly purist position where they're saying fruit trees are not native and therefore they shouldn't be planted as part of the national forest. And I just wondered if you've got positions on that, because I know of lots of historical fruit trees—people in north Wales even have businesses built around that. So, could you just explain why the Woodland Trust are taking this position?
It's probably best for Woodland Trust to explain that one, I would have thought. On fruit trees, I think we may be straying more into sustainable farming schemes and food production. I think there are clearly opportunities and a desirability for encouraging the establishment of fruit trees and the re-establishment of old orchards. The RSPB is working with others down at the Gwent levels, where that's very much part of that project.
Okay, but these things can fulfil a dual purpose, which is precisely why I'm interested.
Absolutely. I think what the national forest eventually looks like and what it contains is part of that ongoing discussion and conversation. This is some of the work we're currently doing, the RSPB is currently doing—looking to understand where exactly it would be appropriate to plant trees, and to plant trees that secure these kind of win-win outcomes. You spoke about carbon, and obviously there's a carbon story with trees. If you put them in the right places and you avoid putting them on carbon-rich habitats or nature-rich habitats, and, done properly, you can benefit biodiversity. So, we've got a series of maps of work—we've shared them with you, these win-win nature-carbon maps. We've got one on woodland, we've got one on peatland and we've got one on salt marsh, recognising Clare's comments about blue carbon. So, what the national forest looks like, what it's made up from, is important, but also it's as important to think about where we're going to locate this. So, the RSPB would be very keen to provide useful information in that regard.
Thank you. That takes us back to Neil Hamilton, who's got questions around this point.
As you just said, Arfon, it's important not to repeat the mistakes of the past. We don't want huge blocks of monoculture, as in the bad old days of Forestry Commission planting after the war, and so on. Nobody wants to go back to that, and it's important, when talking about the national forest, not to see this as a unit. When we're planting trees, all over the country for different reasons, as Jenny's just been saying, we're promoting diversity and also improvement in land use. Planting trees can help also to alleviate potential problems of flooding and so on. So, even in urban environments, we can have an element of the national forest. In fact, arguably, one of the most important things we can do is to continue the greening of our cities and towns. So, can you tell me what input you had in this respect, in putting forward a view of what needs to happen to ensure planting occurs in the right places, as you just said, to ensure maximum environmental, social and economic benefits, because all these should be seen, I think, as a unity?
I agree with all of that, and I think our input—. We've been inputting into this in some ways for a considerable period of time now, through helping influence the woodland opportunities map in Glastir. So, there are data sets out there, and there are maps out there, which are intended to inform where we plant trees. Those maps, I guess, we recognise they're at the core, so we're working with Government to improve those, and part of this work is working on these opportunity maps that I mentioned earlier on, so that we can feed into this kind of debate. It is an important debate, because woodland creation is going to be one of the main tools that we've got for meeting our climate change targets. If Wales is going to achieve net zero, then appropriate use of woodland and appropriate creation of woodland are going to be part of that.
Perhaps I'll just refer you to a really useful paper that the Woodland Trust produced back in December of last year, which highlights the very point that you make there—that it won't just be a blanket approach to woodland creation. There is a wide range of opportunities that we can utilise in order to hit this target. But I think there's an important message, if we're looking to use woodlands to deliver multiple benefits, in that the evidence clearly shows that broadleaved woodlands are a more effective means of helping meeting climate change and biodiversity commitments than softwood plantations. Whilst there will be a need for soft wood, if we're looking to invest public funding into a national forest, then broadleaved woodlands should be prioritised.
Just to finish, as well, we keep thinking about woodlands, but hedgerows are a bit of a cinderella habitat. I think there's real scope for helping to meet multiple targets through better management of hedgerows.
I'd entirely agree with that. Rachel, have you got an insight into this on behalf of the WEL as well?
I would just say that our position is very similar to what Arfon's just set out there. I think what's important about the national forest is that we look at our global positioning. We are globally significant for things like Atlantic oak woodland, and we do have our own rainforest in Wales. So, we want to see that contiguous habitat created to create those resilient ecosystems that we require. So, we'll be looking for this to be very well planned and for it to connect up particularly blocks of ancient woodland. There is scope to have mixed stands, so there can be elements of commercial woodland, but, again, it has to be in the right place for the right reasons.
And so, we are looking forward to developing this concept with the next Welsh Government. Hopefully, that will be carried forward in the future, because I think also people want to see this. I think it's going to be something that the Welsh people can get very much behind and be very proud of. And we have cultural reference—we have things like the free zone around some of our upland areas. So, we will look forward to playing an active role and want to be integrated into the process.
I'd like to ask about the sustainable farming scheme. Can you tell me if you think the proposals in the sustainable farming scheme for woodland creation are appropriate? Do they add value in replacing the Glastir woodland creation scheme that you mentioned just a second ago, Arfon?
I think I'll probably start the ball rolling with this one as well. I think we need to see an improvement in the guidance around how and where to plant trees through public policy. That's an area that the Government, NRW and other stakeholders need to work on, and perhaps invest in, to ensure that we end up with the right trees in the right place, and that we certainly avoid woodland creation in places that has a detrimental impact on the environment, on biodiversity. There are examples of woodland on habitats that basically reduces environment value.
So, on the points that Rachel made before, I think there is scope, and this is what our work shows—rather than a blanket approach, there is scope almost within all farms to create woodland if you approach it in almost a modular way, be it small woodlands, hedgerows, corridors, riparian strips, more woodlands connecting, buffering. I think we need to look at all these options, really, and provide the right advice and guidance to enable farmers and land managers to benefit from that approach.
I think we'd like to see natural regeneration feature more in Welsh Government's thinking on policy going forward. I appreciate it's very difficult. If you're planting trees, you can measure trees, you can count them growing out of the ground. I think, on natural regeneration, the evidence shows that natural regeneration is probably the most beneficial when it comes to climate change and biodiversity. So, I think incorporating natural regeneration, going forward, will be key.
And just to reiterate the point, this is a publicly funded policy, the sustainable farming scheme. The evidence shows that broadleaved woodlands are a more effective means of capturing carbon and benefiting biodiversity than plantation softwoods. Therefore, if we talk about investment, that's where investment should be prioritised. Commercial forestry is commercial, it's market driven. There's a role for markets to inform that particular sector, going forward.
Lastly, then, I'd like to ask about the 'Making Wales a Deforestation Free Nation' recommendations. Can you provide further details of these, which you've referred to in your written evidence?
Absolutely. As I said before, there are a couple of briefings and a couple of documents we can share with you after this. If Wales is to be a truly globally responsible country, then it needs to look at the implications of actions beyond Wales. Back in 2020, the WWF and the RSPB produced the 'Riskier Business' report, which identified that a small number of commodities that we import require an area of land roughly equivalent to 80 per cent of the UK. These are commodities like palm oil, soy, beef—as I say, relatively small commodities. It's looking at ensuring that a sustainable Wales functions sustainably beyond its boundaries as well. This is what the deforestation-free Wales is about—ensuring that the stuff that we import, either feed or beef or coffee or whatever, isn't having a detrimental impact globally elsewhere, and that, particularly, it's not leading to deforestation.
We'll move on to the marine environment. Janet Finch-Saunders.
Thanks. We're talking about marine conservation zones in Welsh waters. In your evidence, the MCS points out that no legislative changes to reduce macroplastics have been introduced in this Senedd term. Given that your evidence also says that almost half of MPA features remain in unfavourable condition, and the known impact of such plastic on our waters, can you explain what immediate and, indeed, long-term actions an incoming Welsh Government should be doing to address the impact of these pollutants? And if I can just say, for the committee's benefit, I've done a number of beach cleans with Clare—I'm sure you've all done them—and it really is the blight of this time. Anyway, that's just my soapbox bit there. Clare.
Thank you, Janet. Adding to your point, really, in terms of the beach cleans that we've done, there's evidence to suggest now that what we're finding on our beaches is only 5 per cent of the makeup of the actual pollution that's in our seas, which means that 95 per cent isn't getting collected, which is pretty horrifying when you think about it, really. In response to your question on macroplastics, actions speak louder than words, and there has been, throughout this Assembly term, new policy development, some investment in circular economy initiatives, but actually we haven't had any legislation on anything to tackle macroplastic pollution. We're still waiting for a deposit-return system, legislation on extended producer responsibility, and also single-use plastic initiatives. So, I would say, for the next Government, that this needs to be legislated on as a matter of priority, really.
Priority or immediate priority?
Immediate priority. Thank you, Janet.
Thanks, Clare. Evidence from the RSPB says that there is still potential for a negative impact on an environment that is already not resilient under the Welsh national marine plan. You've proposed a marine development plan to assist with this. Can you give an indication of what directions you would wish the Welsh Government to implement under such a plan, especially with reference to how it would assess the increasing impacts of developments?
Thank you for the question, Janet. I think what we've seen, even in the couple of years since the Wales national marine plan was published, is a real upsurge in interest in development in the marine area, of marine renewables in particular. The marine plan takes a broad aspirational approach. It's got great policies in it, but in terms of spatial definition, it's much more scant. Where it has looked at strategic resource areas and so on, it has considered opportunities for development sectors and it has considered constraints in terms of where different sectors rub up against each other, but the environmental constraints haven't been planned in, so we get this situation where developments come forward—and to bring developments forward, developers invest a lot in sites and surveys, et cetera—but we get conflicts around casework because of the high sensitivity of some of the areas that are still treated as being open for development in spite of designations and so on.
I think the Welsh Government has not been willing to take an overview of the capacity of the environment for development. It would rather let that industry competition and innovation come in to make the most of it, really. But unfortunately, it's selling a bit of a false promise by implying that this whole area is open and there for development, because some of these tensions can arise along the line. So, actually, taking a spatial planning approach that looked realistically at these environmental constraints as well as other sectoral constraints, and considered what the capacity is—you know, we need to think about cumulative impacts when we think about the kinds of species and habitats that can come into conflict with developments in the marine environment. There may be some displacement of places where sea birds or cetaceans feed, for example, that might be tolerable, but they've got to go somewhere. So, you've got to have an overview of cumulative impacts, in the same way that land use planning does this, looks at spatial allocations and assesses them strategically. Nothing's perfect, but once things like that are locked into a plan, then you don't get the same level of contest further down the line and debate further down the line, when much site-specific investment has been made.
The final point to make on that is that, with a plan to give this additional clarity and additional guidance about locations and things—and it is a fact that some of the high-resource potential for energy, for example, is in really environmentally sensitive areas, because it's off islands or in spaces between islands, or whatever, where there are tidal races. That is a fact, but if there's more resolution about what's acceptable and what the capacity of these areas is, then the industry is potentially pushed and encouraged to innovate and work out how to make use of some of those less optimal areas for delivering some of these developments. So, we really need to accelerate the process of some more locational specificity in the plan and some sort of honest thinking about cumulative impacts.
I've had some interesting discussions with the Crown Estate today, actually.
Clare was doing an awful lot of nodding there, so I don't know whether she wants to add anything to it. And I think Rachel wants to say something as well. Clare, do you want to say anything?
It's a very interesting debate, because we all know that we need to reduce our carbon and sustainable energy has to be a key component of that, but it's how you deploy that. At the moment, the ambition of scale and pace is actually potentially going to put our desire—and quite right desire—to reduce our carbon footprint in direct conflict with the ecological crisis. I know it sounds very simplistic, but the sun shines everywhere and, unfortunately, it rains everywhere. Maybe a better model for Wales could be this investment into local small-scale community energy, where the profit goes back to the community, rather than what I call the 'carbon headache'—you know, large-scale mass production that then rubs up against the ecology of an area. Surely that's going to be a better model. But my concern particularly with the green recovery is that there's almost a race within our generation to have these large-scale windfarms, particularly, that are going to cause an impact on the ecology. I think that we need a major rethink. In the future, this could be something that we look back upon and think that this is a real mistake that this generation has made.
Clare wants to come in now.
Just to add that we know, through the most recent NRW indicative site condition assessments, that nearly 50 per cent of features within marine protected areas are in unfavourable conservation status. So, we are already actually looking at a marine environment that isn't resilient. To add a huge amount of increased pressure on our environment through not just renewables but other types of activities in our environment is not going to end well in terms of trying to get us out of this nature crisis that applies to the marine environment. So, I second everything that Annie and Rachel have just said in terms of having a rethink on this.
I have huge concerns. Pressing on these proposals further, what existing information and tools are you proposing to help develop such a marine development plan? What assessments have you made on the funding needed to develop the Welsh Government's collection of this information further? What stakeholders have contributed to the plan's development thus far? I suppose, really, what I'm asking there is how many other stakeholders have you managed to have discussions with that feel the same as you do and that really need to be coming forward now to get stuff on the record, like you're doing this afternoon.
Do you want to go first, Annie?
Well, just to say that, you know, as the others have said, we're in a nature and climate emergency. We need to be careful that we don't exacerbate the former in dealing with the latter. But, of course, we do need renewable energy, and we need it quickly. We have had some discussions with the industry around this, who can certainly see benefits in not having these site-specific issues arise so far down the pipe, and a more strategic approach that hopefully avoids those kinds of conflicts, that everyone can sign up to. I think that, in terms of data, that is a challenge, and something where the Government will need to work with industry, as well as institutions and non-government organisations, to address. The industry bodies are some of those that collect information the most actively in relation to proposals. So, there is data out there about the marine environment that is privately held—and this is a well-known challenge—but that isn't publicly available for this sort of purpose. Clare can probably say more about that than me.
Clare's about to say something about it.
It was just a quick one, really, following on from Annie's point about data. We have had conversations with the Welsh Government and others about moving to more holistic, strategic planning of our marine environment than just looking at certain industries through a strategic resource areas development. Data has been one of the reasons why something that is more holistic isn't on the cards at the moment. But, I think, sometimes, it is about knowing when the data is good enough. What we need to do is use what we have to start trying to develop something that is more integrated and that doesn't just look at two or three key industries or key areas that are a Welsh Government development priority.
I just wanted to pick up on one small subject, but an important subject—to ask Clare about any discussions that you may have had about measures to control ghost fishing, e.g. the licensing of lobster pots. Have you had any of that? It seems such a simple thing to do.
From conversations that have taken place within the Wales marine action and advisory group and the fisheries liaison group, which are Welsh Government-appointed groups, there is support with fishers and other members of that group in terms of fishing-for-litter initiatives and taking things like that forward. I think that Brexit and COVID have got in the way of a lot of those conversations as of late, in terms of developing future fisheries policy. I think something that complicates matters, particularly with regard to ghost fishing, is that we still have a limited understanding as to the density and the distribution of pots in Welsh waters. I think, if we were to move to a system of quota-based management within a flexible licensing regime, we would be able to control, really, the number of pots that are getting distributed in Welsh waters more effectively.
It's worth also reflecting on the fact that there are ways that we can identify where pots are through things like radio tagging, but it is very difficult to recover pots once they've been lost. There are other opportunities through putting in end-of-life controls into things like pots, like, for instance, biodegradable hatches, which we know have some effect. But, ideally, what we want to be doing is creating all fishing gear that can biodegrade and isn't going to end up as litter, either creating an issue with bycatch or ending up entangling marine life. So, I think the message there, really, is that there needs to be a lot more done, in terms of our circular economy commitments, to actually move towards developing fishing gear that isn't going to be made up of nylon and then persist in the marine environment for 100 plus years, really.
Okay. So, licensing of pots, at least, to put a marker in the sand, you don't think is going to provide part of the solution.
It is part of the solution; it is part of the solution. Moving towards gear that can biodegrade safely in the marine environment would be the next step, really, yes.
Okay. I appreciate COVID and Brexit have put everything else on the back burner, but, in principle, do you think Government is agreed that we could do a licensing scheme reasonably quickly?
I think there is an ambition to do more. And I think—
Thank you. Great.
Okay. If we can move back to the green recovery and nature-based solutions, how should the progress of a green recovery be monitored, and who should be monitoring it? Rachel.
Green recovery is absolutely critical, especially at the moment. We know that we need to address, not just some of the economic inequalities, but health inequalities, and we are really looking for this in a green and just recovery. But it must address both the climate and the ecological crisis and, actually, what we're starting to experience is more of a focus on climate solutions, rather than nature solutions. And so we really need to look at how we integrate nature, and particularly how we develop a well-being economy, rather than just an economy based on GDP principles, including making nature really integrated into our economic approaches, so it becomes part of the economic contract.
But, unfortunately, what we're seeing is that the environment is being siloed again. The Counsel General has a green recovery process but, instead, Sir David Henshaw has been asked to set up an ecological element of the green recovery group. As environmental NGOs, we've been very keen to engage with this process and, in fact, Sir David Henshaw's green delivery group has received over 168 proposals. There just seems to be a lack of clarity or support or understanding, where all this process—. You've got to remember that the sector, at the moment, is really at low capacity, but we've really tried to engage with this process. We think it's the right process. I think it could have a huge potential to put nature right at the heart of Government policy, really understanding the ecological benefits. Mike, you talked about nature-based solutions. In one way or another, we've been talking about nature-based solutions throughout this whole debate today. It's quite clear that we need to really start to understand nature and restore it and put it back into our ecosystems, so it can provide all those services that we need today, but we'll increasingly need more in the future, as we see more frequent, more severe storms with climate change.
We've done a lot of the testing in Wales, and the UK and globally. So, we know the theory, we know how it can work. What we need is the investment at scale to start implementing some of these and demonstrating this. I think that's going to be quite key to make this very relevant to everyday people. At the moment, when we talk about flood prevention, people still want grey infrastructure, still want brick walls, and I can fully understand that. But, actually, let's look at where that water is coming from and how you prevent the flood waters coming towards your property or your business. And this is what I mean by part of the well-being economy. Recently, we've seen the Dasgupta report that actually looks at understanding the economic benefits of taking this type of approach, and, for those of you not familiar, it's very similar to what the Stern report did for climate change—it really showed the economic case for investment. So, I think we've tested the theory, we are starting to understand the concept. I don't think that's embedded in society yet. So, for you as politicians, decision makers, and also for us as environmental non-governmental organisations, that's going to be a very important next step—to get that wider understanding and support.
And also the blue recovery—huge potential in Wales. We know that coastal communities are going to be impacted from leaving the European Union, both in terms of the academia decline, potentially, in research projects, and also impending recession and Government jobs. Now, you double the size of Wales when you take in our marine environment we've got, not just in terms of blue carbon, but also eco tourism. So, a huge agenda. We'd really like to be embedded in the process rather than siloed to one side, and we really need to understand the big-ticket items, where the investment is going to come to. At the moment, a lot of us are part of a group of 100 different participants, in a scheme called the national nature service, and this will really look at jobs and career pathways into the green economy, exactly what's needed, and we've got the economic evidence et cetera. I'm just very unclear where this sits within Government, where the investment for such a programme is going to come from, and this is at a time of a deepening ecological crisis.
Thank you. Anyone else to add anything? No.
If I can move on, what is the latest position on challenges for environmental NGOs? I know Rachel has just spoken about some of them, but what are the challenges, and what should we be doing to give you more support?
We constantly face challenges, but, obviously, at the moment, that is compounded by the continued lockdown with coronavirus, which has really put a lot of the sector into crisis, into financial crisis. We've lost now—. Effectively, we're going into our second year of losing our trading income, because a lot of what people come to see is often—. My organisation has Skomer Island. The puffins are about to land. We need to get that tourism season under way to—. But it's not just that—it's our membership and appeals. It's going to take us a three-to-five-year period to start to recover, and this is at a time of really high demand. People have wanted to access that green space—our nature reserves—and are starting to really understand the well-being benefits of nature.
But we've been losing a lot of what we would call our traditional funding—particularly, with the UK's shared prosperity fund, it's very unclear about how that's going to come to Wales, how what was previously LIFE funding is actually going to be allocated to the sector. Recently, NRW undertook a sector support report. This had six key recommendations, and it really set out the resolve and what we need. We need that implementing. We've talked about reliable funding, meaningful partnerships, that long-term support for our organisational development with core funding. I can't—. Every single time we're asked this question, we give fundamentally the same answer. It's really difficulty for us to find core funding, that revenue funding to have all those support posts to exists as an organisation. We've traditionally been able to attract project money, because that's all the really exciting stuff, where we're engaging communities or doing stuff on the ground and you can actually physically see what we're doing. But, without the organisation to do it, then it's not going to happen. A lot of that revenue money was coming from membership appeals, our trading activity, and all that's gone at the moment. Also, not just the support from NRW, but wider support as well—. We're a very innovative sector, and we need to be supported in that; we are looking at innovative funding, funding from anything from corporate philanthropy, how to repurpose existing funding. We're not short of ideas or enthusiasm for this, but we are low on capacity, because, unfortunately, we were able to look at furlough, but, fundamentally, we've had a huge dent in our income and we've had very little direct support from Welsh Government.
We're really thankful to organisations like the National Heritage Lottery Fund, Esmee Fairburn Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation et cetera, they've all been—they had amazing response and really came to our rescue—the Sundance Foundation et cetera. And NRW really came with a strategic allocation fund, and, actually, some organisations would have gone under if it wasn't for that response.
Thank you. Any—? Yes. Arfon.
Thank you, Mike. Sorry, I was a bit slow off the mark for the last question. I just wanted to take us back to nature-based solutions, perhaps, just quickly for a minute. I just want to pick up on a couple of the points that Rachel made there, and the intrinsic value of nature. I think we mustn't lose sight of the intrinsic value of nature. This has a right to exist, outside of all sorts of economic arguments. So, there is that right for biodiversity to exist and for us to ensure that we restore nature. But I think there is—. With nature and the role in maintaining society, I think there's just a lack of understanding at the moment. I think we're starting to recognise ecosystems and the resilience of ecosystems and how important they are to people in society. Well, basically, when you break ecosystems down to their component parts, it's nature, it's nature interacting. So, not to invest in nature is a failure to invest in ourselves. It's a fool's errand not to invest in nature. So, we really need to get our heads into a space where we understand—our collective heads into a space where we understand—the value of nature, and it needs to be mainstreamed in Welsh Government decision making across departments—not restoring nature is not going to serve our best interests going forward, intrinsic aside.
And just to demonstrate that societal value of nature, RSPB has done some—. Again, alongside the mapping work we've done on the key nature-based solutions for woodland, peatland and salt marsh, we've also looked at the economic benefits of investing in these three core habitats. And the findings are, our conclusions are, that, for every £1 invested in woodland, there's £2.79-worth of benefit; salt marsh, £2.48-worth of benefit; and peatland, £4.26-worth of benefit. So, there are hard, sound reasons for investing in nature. And we've also—. Another piece of work that runs alongside this—some work on understanding the green jobs potential—we've shown that investing in, restoring and maintaining biodiversity will create 3,000 new jobs for us in Wales. Those are jobs that aren't—. These aren't short-term jobs; these are long-term jobs helping to manage nature going forward. So, restoring nature has a huge part in that green recovery and the jobs and growth, the sustainable growth, from COVID. So, I think it's important to recognise that we cannot survive without nature, but it also has a key role in helping with economies and jobs going forward.
Okay. And, Rachel, you wanted to come back.
Yes. I was just going to completely agree with Arfon there. There's a great deal of emphasis on what nature can do for us. Actually, we need to be looking at we can do for nature, because of the catastrophic declines that we've had, and fundamentally understanding that, when you invest in nature, only when you've restored those ecosystems can they start to function. And then, often, a lot of the difficulties we find ourselves in at the moment are because we have degraded those ecosystems. We have huge potential in Wales, and particularly the concept around concentrating nature-based solutions in place-based areas, where you're actually looking at if you really understand and restore nature within a given area, you can get all these multiple benefits, but also reconnecting people to nature. If anything, lockdown has taught us how important getting out into clean, fresh air—back to Jenny's point earlier—and really being able to enjoy the great environment that Wales has to offer, is.
Do you want to say anything, Clare?
I will come in just to really reflect on what Rachel was saying earlier about impact on funding streams. We don't, as a charity, actively manage any nature reserves, but we do employ policy, research and science staff under our three core programmes. It was a struggle to get core funding for these posts prior to COVID, it still is now. We have benefited from the furlough scheme, but once that comes to an end, and once that additional financial support ceases, we—. And whether the funding streams that were accessible to us prior to this are still available is unknown, really, so there may be a bit of a lag in terms of how we support ourselves as an organisation in the next year or two.
And I'll finish off with a final question for all of you, because we've got about four minutes left, so you've got a minute each to answer this. What one thing would you want us to put in our legacy report, which you think would be of benefit to your area of interest? Arfon.
If I just kick off, I think probably maintaining the very positive direction of travel of the sustainable farming scheme, taking forward the public goods for public money agenda, looking to provide opportunities for farmers and land managers to receive payment for restoring nature, and providing society with essential environmental goods and services.
Okay. Thank you. Annie.
Thank you for the question. We're going into an absolutely critical year. There are huge global decisions to be made this year about future deals for biodiversity and for climate, and a commitment, domestically, to legally-binding nature recovery targets to really help Wales show leadership within that global forum, and help to harness that new opportunity of the sustainable farming scheme, nature-based solutions and our green recovery and help to drive transformative change and keep us on track to really turning around—bending that curve of biodiversity loss would be my critical point for the report. And I just wanted to say thank you to you as a committee for all your really important scrutiny over the current Senedd, and thank you for involving us in this discussion of your legacy work, because I think you've got a really important job here in making sure this urgency is carried into the next Senedd.
Clare, and then Rachel to finish. Clare.
Thank you. My final closing thought really would be, as part of future fisheries policy, whatever that looks like outside of Brexit, it needs to be fully documented and sustainable. We need greater investment in management and the recovery of our marine protected area network, and we need, as a matter of urgent priority, new legislation to tackle macroplastic pollution. Thank you.
Thank you. And Rachel.
I think the committee's done some great work, and it's really getting that great work implemented—turning the tide; everything that Clare just said. But it's this recognition, it's putting nature at the core of our decision making, and really understanding that when you talk about the environment or green, often people are talking about energy, waste, transport, and now climate, it's very rarely people really talk about nature, and it's the scale and pace. If we don't restore nature in the next five years, we're at serious loss of coming to a critical stage with key populations. So, really having that focus on our role in halting the loss of nature's decline, and understanding what we can do for nature.
Well, at this stage, can I thank Rachel, Annie, Arfon and Clare for coming along and talking to us? And not just today, but the number of times you've come along and given us evidence, given us advice. I've found it very helpful; I'm sure my colleagues have as well. So, thank you for today, but thank you for everything you've done. Before we break, two things I forgot at the beginning: we've got an apology from Joyce Watson, and I should have asked for any declarations of interest. I don't think there are any, because there haven't been when we've discussed this in the past. But I should have done both of those. So, thank you very much. We'll have a short break until 15:10. Thank you.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 15:00 a 15:10.
The meeting adjourned between 15:00 and 15:10.
Good afternoon for our second session of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee. Can I welcome Gwyn Howells, chief executive, Meat Promotion Wales; Professor Terry Marsden, emeritus professor of environmental policy and planning, Cardiff University; and Pete Robertson, chief executive, Food and Drink Federation Cymru? I thank the three of you very much for coming to talk to us today. If I can start off with the first question, which is on the short amount of time between agreeing the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement and it coming to effect, what were the immediate impacts on food exporters? Pete Robertson to go first.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee, I really appreciate it. Obviously, a significant challenge was the uncertainty around the rules, what was going to be the final deal or the final details of how trade was going to happen. So, since June, I would say businesses and food exporters have been looking to identify what the rules were going to be, what the trading rules were going to be, and some of them were as prepared as they could be, some of them weren't able to prepare, because they weren't sure, and some of them were so busy battling with the challenges of COVID and keeping their businesses alive that they couldn't necessarily look at either of the other two.
So, the situation evolved, the COVID situation and impact on businesses, and then, obviously, the announcement came on Christmas Eve. Obviously, that's too late for anyone to prepare. The one level of preparation that the businesses had taken, and I'm sure if we start to talk about Holyhead port—there was a lot of stockpiling, so people who were exporting got the exports over the border, be it the Republic of Ireland, and the imports into Wales beforehand. So, to a certain degree, what that meant is the immediate challenge, so the immediate volumes had a significant decrease. They were talking—I think I remember numbers to the tune of 60 per cent reduction in flows through Holyhead port at that time. So, to a certain degree, the initial challenges took time to unfold, because to a certain degree, the volume and demand were depressed by the stocking and also by the lack of the volume requirements from hospitality.
Since that point, it became relatively clear that some specific industries—you'll have heard of the challenges with the seafood industry—were met with immediate problems. The other type of immediate problems that were encountered, very much on exports, were around paperwork, different interpretation, a rule in Spain was being applied differently to a rule in Italy, and so there was quite a lot of—this is maybe more Gwyn's area, but I know of one particular exporter who exported a lorry load full of carcasses. One of the carcasses had fallen off the hook. Ordinarily, that carcass would have been destroyed and the rest of the load waved through, but the entire load was stopped and destroyed. So, there were some specific challenges early on, and some of them are still—. What's starting to unravel is which of those challenges are structural and which of those challenges are the 'teething problems'. To a certain degree, we are still finding that out.
Anybody else want to make any comments? Okay, moving on to the next question from Jenny Rathbone—oh, sorry, Terry.
Just to add that I think immediately, I picked up that there were, as Pete said, problems with paperwork, but particularly with export health certificates, which have put a lot of pressure on the system, and it's been multiplied because of the fact that not only you can't streamline that so easily, you have to do more export certificates, particularly if you've got compounded or combined products that you're processing and they're going to different destinations. So, this has been a major problem since the new year.
Excuse me, Chair, can I just pick a follow-up from what Terry said? A very important aspect that will disproportionately affect the Welsh food and drink sector is the challenge of groupage. So, groupage, and it ties in exactly with Terry's point about export health certificates. An export health certificate is required for every single different product that goes on a lorry. So, groupage is a combination of different suppliers bringing their products together to make it economic to ship it, whether overseas or wherever that is. In a world of export health certificates, every one of those products on that lorry has to have a separate export health certificate. So, I'll give you a specific example—it is seafood, but just to give you a sense of the challenge: a business in Anglesey that sells seafood ships it ordinarily to Boulogne, that business now has to ship its products up to Scotland to try to combine with a delivery from Scotland so it can get an export health certificate and it can then ship it down into France. So, that's the type of practical impact.
That touches on the questions Jenny Rathbone is about to ask. Jenny.
Yes, thanks very much. Thanks very much, Professor Marsden for your paper, which we got late last night. I think it highlights some of the really complex issues that are well beyond just minor glitches in relation to our trading relationship with Europe. So, I just wondered if you'd just like to summarise how these various non-tariff barriers are going to affect our trade with the EU and the ways in which we're going to have to either get around them or change the way we do things.
Yes, this is a very perplexing question. It's a bit like throwing a jigsaw puzzle upside down, as our grandchildren do, after you've made it for 20 years with an internal market, and seeing where all the pieces drop. So, it's quite complex. And I think, in a general sense, I don't think these issues are going to be resolved very quickly. There was an issue about teething issues and aircraft turbulence going into the atmosphere, but the more recent evidence suggests—the manufacturers' trade association last week suggested that these things were more endemic within Brexit. And they may have been a bit more complicated with COVID, so it's difficult to separate these things out. So, the issue is can some of these issues be streamlined in negotiations and so on, or not. Do we have to live with these sorts of issues?
The Office for Budget Responsibility yesterday estimated that there was about a 15 per cent drop in heavy goods traffic; probably reduced trade with Europe, one way or another; and overall about a 0.5 per cent drop in GDP over the next few months. So, that's the sort of reality that we are facing in the UK and in Wales, and in other parts of the United Kingdom. And so, I think there's a shorter term issue, with people trying to deal with all of these issues, but then there's a medium to long-term issue about Wales continuing to develop its food and agricultural policies in the context of trade agreement continuity and the trade agreement that exists, and the reality of that. So, I think it's putting more emphasis on, if I can use the awful word, an endogenous development for agri-food in Wales, I'd say.
Okay. One of the particular issues I picked up from your paper was the need for official veterinarians times I don't know how many factors. There's a shortage of them anyway, and the potential for them to become completely—for this work to be done by unskilled individuals. Obviously, I'd like your comment as well as Mr Robertson's.
The sorts of issues I've just been raising are only one part of the story. The other part of the story here is, obviously, we've had a history of public sector local authority cutbacks, but also efforts now by the Food Standards Agency, in a rather uneven way, to deregulate professional qualifications of environmental health officers. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has put in a concern about this that they're seeing a pressure from the FSA to deskill, effectively, professional qualifications of staff for inspections in the future. And this is happening, of course, in the context of job shortages and pressure in the system as a whole. The environmental health officers are very concerned not only about the effects of Brexit, but the combination of this happening at a time when there's also a pressure to diminish the professional independence of what they are doing, and also a pressure on veterinarians as well. So, the issue that is concerning here is not only a traditional concern about maintaining professional standards and issues of conflict of interest if you were to get other people to do this sort of work, but it's also about risks—food risks, actually; quality, standards and food risks. We can't have people waving some of these things through. So, there's concern there amongst these professional bodies that these quality risk issues could increase.
Okay. We had the horse burger scandal a few years ago; is this the sort of thing we're going to see in the future? I don't know who wants to go first, Gwyn or Pete, but I'm sure you both have views on this and how it impacts on your businesses.
I think it's actually quite interesting, because obviously, our sector is a highly regulated sector already in terms of the standards—the food standards and the operational standards in the manufacturing facilities in which we operate. I think it's interesting to take Terry's perspective, as it's one of the things that we found. When you think about the purpose of an export health certificate, someone who qualifies as a vet and spends years to gain all that expertise and knowledge and understanding probably doesn't necessarily do that to fill out a 20-page piece of paper to stick on a lorry and send it to Europe. So, you can understand why it's difficult, whether you have a number of vets or not, to actually create the demand for those individuals.
The one problem that we will also need to consider, which is a sector-wide problem, is something that's not happened yet, and the thing that's not happened yet is there's products called composite products. So, if I give you an example, if a product that's ambient has got a product of animal origin in it—say dairy, for example—if you were to export cheese crisps overseas, you'd have to have an attestation on the export health certificate to say that you knew the source of the dairy in the flavouring that went in the cheese to flavour the crisps. And so there's a potential headache here on the other side of Terry's perspective, which is that it's just way over the top in terms of the regulation. What happens is that, instead of testing the right materials or the right products and focusing the efforts where it really matters, the system just gets clogged up, and then that actually creates a greater risk to the overall safety of the food, because the system just can't process what's important.
We had these issues in the health service and we resolved it with multidisciplinary teams. So, in terms of vets not spending eight years qualifying and then just filling in 20-page forms, would you envisage a similar sort of system there, where you have the person in charge, who has the appropriate veterinary qualification, with a team of other less well-qualified people?
I think that's one solution. I think it's a combination of solutions. For us, the food is safe now. Are we saying that a packet of crisps isn't safe because of the potential dairy within the product? There's a sort of risk analysis, there's a risk assessment about that, I think. But ultimately, to pick up the start of your question, Jenny, will things change? Yes. Will the industry need to reimagine how it operates and how it does business? Yes. Do we need to look at our supply chains in Wales and beyond Wales? Absolutely. So, it's a real moment for the sector and the industry. We can take it as potentially a moment of opportunity or a moment of need and desire, but it's definitely a real tipping point for our sector in Wales.
Does anyone want to add anything?
How is this impacting on your members, Gwyn? Gwyn, can you hear us? Because we can't hear you at the moment. You've just muted yourself now. You weren't muted before. Can you speak now? No, we still can't hear you. Gwyn, can I suggest we come back to you? Maybe the technical team need to have a conversation with you, because at the moment we're unable to take evidence from you, and we do want to hear from you. There are lots of issues that we'll come onto later about how we're going to change. Gwyn, can you speak now? No. All right. Chair, shall we come back to Gwyn? Because I think we could go on at great length on this, but I think in the interests of keeping to time, we probably need to move on.
Mr Robertson has given us a couple of ludicrous examples of useless bureaucracy already in the course of the last few minutes—one about an entire consignment of carcasses having to be destroyed because one falls onto the floor of a truck, and the absurd example he's just cited of the export of cheese-flavoured crisps, and all the form-filling and complications that that apparently brings about. I'd like to understand, in the context of whether these are teething issues or are endemic and therefore are likely to endure, whether these kinds of problems are being faced by exporters from the EU into the British market. We've seen other examples of what, on the face of it, seem to be absurdities, like a lorry driver having his ham sandwich confiscated at the Dutch border as an illegal food import, and a contracted consignment of shellfish rejected at the French border because the importer had filled in the form for importation in the wrong colour ink. So, I'd just like to get some feeling for whether we are here going to face some kind of sustained campaign of non-tariff barriers as a kind of protectionist device, or whether this is a problem on both sides of the channel for importers and exporters of food. Are the same challenges being faced by your counterparts across the channel?
Can I take that one please, Chair? The answer to that is 'not yet, but it will come'. It's one of the things that we're actively engaging in with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other parties, because the rules on importation and exportation and the borders are effectively in three phases. The first phase is from 1 January, where effectively, from an exporting perspective, the EU has put the checks in place—the border control posts and the sanitary and phytosanitary checks—but the UK has not put anything on imports. So, the imports are currently flowing. From 1 April the SPS or the paperwork will then need to be in place, but not necessarily all checked 100 per cent at the border. So, the next crucial date is 1 April, and you're absolutely right that that will impact, and our concern is how ready are imports from Europe to make sure that they're ready to have the same paperwork. Then from 1 July it's full border control posts. So, effectively there's a phased change, but you're absolutely correct to highlight that we haven't seen the full impact on imports as yet, and given that we import a third of our food into the UK, that's something that clearly is going to be a concern for Wales.
Given that we have a massive deficit on our current account of imports and exports into the EU, and that is mirrored in the food sector as well, obviously it's in the interests of both sides that trade should flow as easily as it possibly can. That's of benefit to consumers generally, so it's very important that we should understand where the trade-offs are going to be if we're going to find that trade becomes more difficult to undertake. That creates, of course, domestic opportunities for British manufacturers for displacement of imports, but nobody wants to see needless blockages in trade between countries, because that's the way that competitive advantage is achieved for everybody.
Does anybody want to answer that, or shall I treat it as a comment? Back to you, Neil.
Chair, can we pick up with Gwyn, or—? Is that okay, Neil, before we launch into Northern Ireland? Gwyn, could you just tell us how the new import and export arrangements have affected your members?
Just to check, can you hear me now?
Right. Okay. That's a start, isn't it, really. The European trade in particular, the export trade, is really important for the red meat sector in Wales. It's the lifeblood of a thriving industry, in fact—£200 million-worth of exports from Wales every year on lamb and beef, predominantly to the European Union. So, I think, yes, there have been problems in terms of health certification, paperwork and bureaucracy; we knew that. The port scenario in terms of interpretation and delays is work in progress; I think the UK Government are aware that it needs to make that a swifter process to reduce costs and to allow unfettered trade, certainly going from here to Europe through France, Spain and the Netherlands.
But I think there needs to be a part, I think—and it's probably a political answer, really, or the political solution—that's a recognition of equivalence and equivalent standards. And if we could reach a sort of protocol between the European Union and the UK in terms of what are equivalents, what products have very absolute alignment, then that could aid the journey of export trade quite significantly. And if you add digitisation into that and avoid all of this paperwork—you know, this is going back to pre 1992 when we entered the single market. That's what we were doing then; it was exactly the same process, so it's déjà vu, really. But the world has moved on, the processes haven't, and there is a dire need for that to happen. For our part—[Interruption.] Sorry, Jenny.
No, no, I don't want to interrupt you. Go ahead.
I was just finishing. For our part, I think, yes, it has been probably difficult and is still difficult, and there are delays. The UK Government must get that right for our industry when trade is ramped up increasingly month by month as the year goes by now. We can't have delays in July, August and September when perishable goods are at port and are facing 24 or 36-hour delays as they have been. Sorry, Jenny, to cut across.
No, no. I understand your argument, but it often takes three years to sort out the detail on these sorts of trade deals. Therefore, what would be the impact on your members in the summer, when you're exporting much more normally, if we can't resolve them before then?
Well, the impact would quite simply be—and we've seen it in 2001 and 2007 when exports weren't allowed because of animal disease, foot and mouth in those years—that the farm gate price for our producers plummets, and so we don't want to see that. And whilst I think Mr Hamilton said, yes, the retail scene is very, very strong in the UK market, so food retailers are doing very, very well in that respect, and the industries that supply those retailers are also capitalising on that, for our part, for our industry, carcass balance is key. The retailers, multiple and independent, don't sell all of the full carcass on lambs, for example, or indeed beef, but they rely on other markets to make the carcasses most profitable. Therefore, that European market is a really important export valve in that respect. Otherwise, what will happen is that it devalues the whole carcass and it will be undersold, and we don't want that to happen, obviously. Because the industry had a massive sigh of relief on 24 December: 'There are no tariffs'. Okay, there are the non-tariff barriers that we're talking about now, but the fact that we had no tariffs and no WTO trade conditions was a sigh of relief, and we must make sure that we have unfettered exports and flow both in and out. That's the answer.
Thank you very much. Neil Hamilton wants to talk about Northern Ireland.
Yes. I'd like to ask whether Northern Ireland remaining aligned with EU rules on industrial goods causes any particular issues for Welsh food exporters. Obviously, it's obvious, given the examples we've just been listening to in respect of other borders, that we could also have problems in Northern Ireland. We've seen, with the vaccine scandals recently in the EU, that the border perhaps isn't quite as important to the EU as it appeared earlier on in Northern Ireland. Clearly, this is another possibility for disruption for food exports from Wales in particular. I'd like to get some understanding from you in practical terms of what your thinking is on this.
Can I take that one, Chair, please?
Actually, I can give you some practical examples. One of the things that the Welsh food and drink sector has done, especially in west Wales and especially in the more rural areas of Wales, is it's tried its best to market its products through the internet, closer to the consumers. For a lot of the businesses who were facing into the hospitality sector, in some cases the business was lost overnight, and they decided to create online offerings, and with those online offerings, actually, before the end of the transition, it was a viable proposition to, say, sell cheese from Snowdonia, sell it in an online offering and have some to go to Northern Ireland, some to go the Republic of Ireland, and you actually started to see a business model. In some cases, there was some fantastic collaboration in the sector where businesses came together to create hampers and things of that nature. So, it was great to see the entrepreneurial spirit within the Welsh food and drink sector. The challenge with that, obviously, is that there is a certain value for those products, and as soon as the costs go up, then the value proposition of that whole business model unfortunately falls away. So, when you had the entrepreneurial spirit of the businesses, effectively they suddenly get to the stage of saying, 'Well, we can't make this work; it's a hamper with 10 different products—how do we deal with that for the export health certificate? How do we get that shipped? It has to go in this direction.' There were delays. So, there were some businesses that actually started off to try and build businesses with the Republic and Northern Ireland and they fell by the wayside. That's one specific Welsh example I can give you.
And that's exporting into Northern Ireland and not exporting into the Republic?
It was in both cases, because, to a certain degree, if you think about the trade between Northern Ireland and Holyhead, for example, one third of all the goods that come through Holyhead actually originates from Northern Ireland. So, from the island of Ireland, it's very obviously highly integrated.
Professor Marsden, have you got something to add to that?
Just to say, just reiterating that, there's also been evidence of redirection already of trade between and a loss of trade for Welsh ports, particularly Holyhead and Fishguard, particularly from Dublin, as a result of this—taking a more circuitous route around the seas to northern France rather than coming across the land base of Wales and England. So, there is a concern here about the level of trade that could be used in Holyhead and Fishguard specifically, potentially losing out to Scotland and Liverpool and the French ports. I just reiterate Pete's point about the difficulties of, particularly, the small SMEs. I'm not so sure about the problems for supermarkets, although that's part of the base of the controversy at the moment about relaxing and keeping the grace period for longer. Supermarket shelves seem to be doing all right, as far as I can see, in Northern Ireland, but nevertheless there are still worries. I think it's particularly a problem for the small exporting business in Wales of novel products, exporting anywhere.
Can I just come in there?
Just to answer Mr Hamilton's point, for raw meat exports, my understanding as of this morning is that the major plants are having no problems, more than they would going to France or Spain, in exporting to Northern Ireland. Yes, there's added bureaucracy, but there are no delays and it doesn't hinder exports, and they are quite large-volume exports—you know, truck loads at a time. Therefore, that is the current situation, certainly in terms of Wales to Northern Ireland—no major issues to report as of now.
Just to go back to what Professor Marsden was saying, I notice that, in your written evidence, Professor Marsden, you say that Holyhead and Fishguard have faced over a 50 per cent drop in traffic, mainly with Dublin, as Northern Ireland more directly now bypasses Dublin for Cairnryan or Liverpool, and Dublin exports go to the EU directly by sea to France rather than via land through England and Wales, and that's obviously an important development. It's important for us to understand whether this is likely to be a short-term or a long-term phenomenon.
Absolutely. I mean, unless some of these rigidities are resolved, with the implication of collaboration between the EU, Northern Ireland and the UK and Wales in terms of going to a much more streamlined digital system, then—. This may be just an immediate reaction, you know, and things might sort of settle down a bit, but it is very worrying, I think, for Welsh ports particularly because we're Ireland-facing, let's face it; geographically, we are facing Ireland.
Could I just pick up, if that's okay, on that point? Just a couple of things. The first one is just from a practical perspective. There was a ferry operator that was running three ferries from Rosslare and down south Ireland to Dunkirk/Calais and they transformed that into 15 ferries, 15 sailings, in the first week of January, and, clearly, that's where a lot of that traffic went from Ireland. The interesting question is: is that a sustainable business model?
To pick up Terry's point, he's absolutely correct about the digitalisation—I think Gwyn mentioned it first—because, in any supply chain, what you need is certainty. If something's going to take 10 days, fine, it's going to take 10 days, but I need to know that it's going to take 10 days, not 12 and not nine. And so, with the ferry sailings, there's a certain amount of consistency, and, from that point of view, there'll come a time when businesses will have to evaluate, once the system has settled down, probably beyond July, in the UK compared to that longer route of going round about. So, I just thought I'd mention that.
Before you come back, Neil, Jenny wants to come in.
Yes. I just wanted to ask Professor Marsden why the traffic from Northern Ireland is preferring to go to Liverpool or Scotland, rather than Fishguard or Holyhead. It's all part of the island of Britain. Why are they going there instead?
I think it's something to do with the trade going between Northern Ireland and southern Ireland and that it's quicker or easier to be seen to be going to Liverpool rather than to Wales, in that sense. So, there was trade that went between Northern Ireland to Dublin and then came to Holyhead and Fishguard, and that's now going from Northern Ireland, from Belfast to Liverpool. So, it's cutting out the border. There's obviously the border between Dublin and Northern Ireland, which is the other dimension to this. So, there are routes both ways that seem to be reducing the attractiveness of Holyhead and Fishguard.
Thank you. Returning to Neil Hamilton.
To go on to another question and this is a question for Mr Robertson, really: the Food and Drink Federation has been strong on the implications of the rules of origin for food manufacturers' ability to take advantage of preferential terms under trade agreements. Could you set out for us an illustrative example of a food manufacturer being affected by the rules of origin in this way Secondly, I would like to ask does the the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement satisfy the
Food and Drink Federation’s concerns in this area?
I can give you a practical example from our past as a manufacturer. So, as a manufacturer in north Wales, we used to make breakfast cereals, and 66 per cent of the product is actually rice. That rice gets imported and, actually, it can come from a multitude of places. You have to balance the various different supplies to harvest, to seasons and all the rest of it to have a full year's supply. Now, in making that product and processing the product, because the rice is more than 30 per cent of the product, then it will not be considered as a UK product. As a consequence, it will attract import tariffs. The import tariffs on rice are hundreds of pounds a ton. The rice is about £600 a ton, and you've also got additional Meursing code challenges. If you multiply that all through, give or take, a box of breakfast cereal is 5p more expensive. Now, that's obviously for an ingredient that comes from overseas; we cannot source that in the UK, so that's something that just needs to happen.
The thing about rules of origin is that it is almost like the tariff is the trade card, and the rules of origin is the access to that trade card. If the rules of origin from our perspective—. We had discussions, and rather than go through them with you, what I would rather do is get my expert to write to the committee to share our perspective on the rules of origin, because it's a very complex area and I don't want to put you to sleep.
Oh, you won't do that. We're inured to boredom here. [Laughter.]
Thank you very much. Moving on, Janet—
What I'd like you to answer is my second question, which was does the trade and co-operation agreement fulfil or satisfy your own concerns in this area?
Some, not all. I'm quite happy to put in writing to the committee our particular view in that area.
Okay. Thank you very much.
Thank you. On to Janet, who is going to ask questions about the long-term structural change in food supply chains.
Thanks, Chair. In your evidence, you say that greater recognition should be given to the fact that production systems are vastly different from damaging and intensive farming in other parts of the world. Do you think that our branding campaigns do enough to highlight this difference? What steps would you like policy makers to explore to further underline this distinction?
Terry, I think, wants to go first.
Yes, Chair. Just to respond to that. The second half of my paper is looking more positively in the medium and longer term about all of this, which I think we have to do. Clearly, all of this suggests a reinvigorated export promotion for Welsh products, which tries to even out some of these new obstructions. That's one important thing.
But, I think that the times are right, and COVID reinforced this. Brexit reinforces it, because if you think about it, this suggests trying to reduce food miles. If lorries aren't ploughing across England and Wales at the same rate, maybe we should take advantage of that. One issue here is about the relocalisation of supply chains. This is where, I think, Welsh branding and the idea of more geographical indicators for Welsh products could be a major gain over the next year or so. I think that we need to get more market savvy in terms of the new market arrangements. They are not going to be easy, but we should be going into Ireland and Northern Ireland and Europe and promoting—as we have been doing, I know—more vigorously Welsh products, and also using all of these new business models.
What's also clear about all of this to me is that the logistical just-in-time long supply chain model is coming under duress. It's never going to disappear, but it's coming under a lot of stress. So, we need new business models of what we call nested markets, and logistical systems, like we were talking about earlier, as Pete was talking about, in terms of the business model with Welsh cheese, which can confront the consumer much more directly. So, I think now is the time; 2021 onwards is a good time to really push a varied system of supply chains and business models for Welsh food, and to promote that in Europe. We have a lot of good relationships with different regions in Europe. We shouldn't forget that. We shouldn't just take Brexit as a given. It's one type of detachment, but it is not a detachment from the relationships we have with Brittany or with northern Spain or with Italy, and I think it's a matter of recreating these with new, smart market supply chains.
Earlier this week, I asked the Welsh Government to look at taking a decisive step and introduce financial incentives to develop purification plants as a means to assist our shellfish sector. What other steps do you think should be encouraged to modernise the Welsh fishing industry? And I can tell you now, they've been having problems for a good few years, pre Brexit. But, anyway, I'm interested in what your thoughts are about purification plants, and why we don't have them in Holyhead.
I'm not sure who that question is aimed at—anyone want to answer it?
I can answer it, not necessarily the details on the purification plants, but what I would say is that one thing that's become clear in COVID, when you look at the supply chain, is that there is an opportunity for Wales to add more value to the food that it generates and the food that it creates. Now, the supply chains obviously need to be efficient, need to keep the costs down, to make sure that people can have access to the food. However, I think that is quite an interesting example, because obviously the product doesn't work in the tier 2 and the tier 3 waters now, and, as a consequence, that can't then be exported. So, that's one example, and I'm sure there are other examples. We could talk about other sectors where goods are shipped to England and packed and then sent back to be sold to Welsh consumers. So, I think that's something that we all—they're nodding their heads—know is something that is a potential opportunity for Wales.
Jenny wants to come in on that point.
Are the supermarkets prepared to change and not have all the eggs in north Wales go all the way to Norfolk and then come back again in boxes marked 'made in north Wales' or 'laid in north Wales'?
I think, obviously, the thing that we have to confront, when we get into that conversation, Jenny, is the fact that the food prices are so low in the UK comparative to where they've been before. We have got a highly integrated, effective supply chain, which ensures the best it can that food is reduced. Interestingly, one thing that I did want to mention, when we talked about Northern Ireland, was one other challenge that Welsh food and drink manufacturers will be taking, which is that retailers are asking for more and more detail from the manufacturers for their products, and that in itself creates a bit of a challenge, because, obviously—especially if you're a branded manufacturer—that's, to a certain degree, your intellectual property, and you're not necessarily keen to share it with that level of detail. But in terms of the—. There's a balance. For me, there's a balance. You're going to need large-scale supply chains, you're going to need harmonised supply chains, but that doesn't necessarily mean there's not room for different models, as Terry has suggested.
Okay. But, coming back to Terry, you highlighted the impact on small and medium-sized businesses and the threats to their business as a result of all these layers of bureaucracy. One of the things we saw, at the beginning of the COVID crisis, was that milk wasn't collected from the farm, because the processors were somewhere near London and they just couldn't be bothered, and we seem to have a shortage of processing capacity to make the shelf life of whatever it is we're producing more resilient.
Yes. I think that's right. I think that short circuiting comes to mind, and I think we need more pressure to develop short circuits. What I mean by 'short' is that they're more immediate, fewer links in the chain between producers and consumers, and therefore producers and local producers can create and add more value to their products, and that's been proven. I think we could move much more in that direction there. So, I think it's not beyond the bounds of possibility to see, in the next decade, not least because of environmental and consumer pressures, never mind the pressures of markets that we've just been talking about, that more people will want to buy immediate, short-circuited-type products. Therefore, we need to create these new supply chains that are trying to do that and build capacity.
In our reports, we've been talking about the infrastructure question. The infrastructure question is not just digital, it's actually physical. We need to try and bring in food hubs into Wales. In the horticulture sector, the beef sector and the dairy sector we've divested the infrastructure across the border into other parts of England and Europe. So, when we talk about relocalisation, we're not just talking about local branding, we're talking about new facilities to provide processing and so on within the boundaries of Wales. Now, I think the food and drink strategy has been trying to do that, with some good important work on clusters in these areas, but we've got a lot more work to do, particularly if we want to put a priority on green veg in Wales and if we want to restore more high local value-added products of beef and dairy.
So how quickly are we going to be able to turn that around, given that the transition arrangements are getting more and more ruthless? You've got the April deadline and then the July deadline. That's going to make it an imperative, isn't it, that the products—
Yes. I think you've got to face disruption with disruption. You've got to have another form of disruptive evasion. So, we've had a form of disruption in Brexit, and COVID in many respects. I think you've got to attack that with an urgency—not wait, but attack it with other forms of disruptive innovation, which say, 'Right, okay, this is the new landscape, let's find ways in which we can try and rebuild the missing middle in supply chains in many cases', that is to say the process and the local value adding that we can put in, and actually bring farmers together—and we've got some great examples of this in Wales, by the way—in a partnership approach to produce beef quality products and dairy products and then sell them across the borders and so on, not least in England in that sort of context. So, just at the time when we've got this disruption, which is, in respects, externally generated, if you like, we need to create our own disruptive innovation internally, domestically, within the Welsh system of food and really put some more urgency under our food and drink policies, I think.
Okay. Janet, I don't know whether you've finished. You disappeared for a short while.
Yes. Okay. In a CCERA report, we concluded that the Welsh Government should undertake a mapping exercise to assess current processing capacity in Wales, with a view to identifying gaps. The Minister replied with a claim that her department regularly undertakes this research. Do you think the current research techniques are adequate? And can you also explain what sort of investment would be necessary to undertake our proposed mapping exercises?
Do you want to go first, Gwyn?
I think that's a very, very good question, and it follows on from what Terry was just saying there now. I think we need to—. Whilst we have a production base, in terms of the industry I work for, the red meat industry, there is, at times, a need to process more of it, which is the added value bit, instead of exporting our raw materials elsewhere. I think we're in a good position on lamb, and I think, very soon, we'll be in a stronger position on beef, with some advancements and introduction of new processing capacities within this calendar year. But I think more needs to be done, because, at the end of the day, I think the message I would have is that we have a fantastic story to tell. We produced a report a couple of months ago now in terms of the credentials that we have regarding sustainable beef and lamb production, and they're incredible figures, which are independently verified, researched by four universities, Oxford, Bangor, Limerick and California university, which basically concluded that, whilst we've got room to improve in terms of the sustainability credentials, we have the most—well, amongst the most—sustainable beef and lamb production anywhere on the planet. So, given the provenance, the traditional landscape and the offering that we have, and build on that the sustainable credentials that we have, we have got to capture that, produce that, process that and sell it not only in Wales and the UK, but further afield. Because I think we have a wider responsibility. Whilst we need to be cleaner in terms of the carbon emitted by all of the production that we undertake, we also have a responsibility more globally to produce food in a temperate climate more responsibly environmentally than other parts of the world, say the arid regions or in south America. And I think we have that responsibility—'this is where your food should be produced'—which gives us a marvellous opportunity to build an economy and wealth creation, which includes jobs on the back of that. So, I think it's a big, big opportunity for the industry in Wales, for upland Wales.
Can I just follow on from that, if that's okay, to pick up a point, which I think is really interesting when it comes to the supply chain, which is this aspect of sustainability, Gwyn? I think what the additional processing does and manufacturing—I would say 'manufacturing', because that's my background, rather than processing, but the manufacturing of the products gives us the third potential pillar of the sustainability. We have a very strong dynamic of social sustainability, environmental sustainability, but we've also got to consider the economic sustainability, and by having a supply chain that has more manufacturing capability in Wales, that does exactly as Gwyn would suggest—it helps to bring higher skilled jobs, it helps the economy, it helps to drive it, and then you've got the three pillars of sustainability within a supply chain.
In terms of the supply chain, Janet, I think—. As I understand it, the Welsh Government are in regular contact through the clusters that Terry's mentioned. However, I think there's always a case to have a good look at the supply chain. I think it's good to do that, it's good to understand that, because it's one of these topics that's very much—you know, business resilience is very much high on the agenda, and so it's important to make sure we've got a clear view of where the opportunities are to combine the added value potential, the brand value of Welshness potential, to help us drive that economic agenda and help us out of the situation that the whole world, effectively, is in.
Thank you. Now, the Government's consultation document states that
'strong reliance on one major market'—
'and export product'—lamb—'is a risk.' For some time now, I've been making clear the need to increase lamb shelf life to improve our export potential. What immediate and long-term steps would you like the incoming Welsh Government to implement to improve lamb shelf life, specifically around the teaching of hygienic practices within the supply chain, and would statutory targets assist in achieving this?
Who wants to go first?
Do you want me to take that, Chair? It's probably in my area. So, yes, a very good question, and, as we seek markets even beyond the EU, in the middle east and far east, shelf life becomes a bigger, bigger issue and a bigger win. Shelf life is no magic wand; it is for everybody to participate and to do the best that they can, from the farmers to the auction marts to the hauliers to the processors to the refrigeration to the retailer. So, it's in everybody's interest. The good news is that, whilst we are probably not as good as the antipodeans in terms of shelf life of product, we are getting measurable increases year on year now, and the latest one is about a 7 per cent increase, year on year, on shelf life. So, we are making progress in that, and farmers are playing their part and the whole supply chain is pulling together. And there are tangible benefits, which we are seeing and are measuring on an annual basis. So, that is good news. Yes, there is more to be done, and we want to be in the vanguard of helping that happen, but we are seeing that, which makes us (a) reduce waste when the retailers are selling the product, but it also gives us a competitive edge if we have a shelf life that is equal to or better than our competitors'. So, it is work in progress, there's no magic wand, there is no one solution, but it's something definitely that is improving in Wales on an annual basis. And that is very good news, I must say.
Does anybody else want to come in on this? Back to you, Janet. No? Okay. Llyr Gruffydd.
Thank you, Chair. I was keen to maybe just take a step back a little bit and look at the food system in the round, because I led a debate a few weeks ago in the Senedd about the broader food system. We've been talking here about predominantly the Government's food and drink strategy, which has an economic focus, but of course we know that the Government has food policies and strategies and action plans and initiatives in a health policy context, in a tackling poverty policy context, in education and school dinners, tourism food strategy, and I always feel that nowhere is there somewhere or something that brings all of those threads together in a broader, more coherent food system policy. And given that this session is really to inform us in our consideration of our legacy report—it's the baton, basically, that we're passing on to the sixth Senedd as a committee—I'm just wondering, whilst of course you need to retain a focus on those discrete areas and have bespoke policies, is there a fundamental overarching vision for food missing here?
I indicated in the second part of my paper that one of the concerns I have is the slow-moving nature of the changes that, post Brexit, we are proposing in policy terms, not just in Wales, but also in England. We're talking about a transition to a new agriculture support system in 2024-25. I'm concerned that a lot of food businesses and farmers will go through the floor between now and then, and I think it's urgent. So, that's the first point. The second point, I think, is that—. Well, there are three areas—agricultural policy, food policy and rural development policy—that need to be remade urgently, certainly after the next election. This is an urgent agenda, I think, for the incoming Government, to put these things together. Okay, they can have specific distinctive features, like the farm policy can be linked to payment for public goods, as it's called, more environmental restoration, but it also needs to link in with what we're talking about here, which is the food economy, and it also needs to link in to rural development.
There was an announcement last week about the consultation on a new rural development programme in 2024. Why are we waiting until 2024 before we're even thinking about putting something into practice? I think we've got to get out of the box here, actually forget some of our long-term and slow glacial processes, which we've been involved in in Europe. Twenty or 30 years to marginally reform the common agricultural policy—we haven't got that long. So, I think we need to compress the time frames and integrate. I think we need to integrate, take a systems approach, and have bespoke policies for farming, food and rural development, which are linked together and work together in some sort of harmony. I think that's the real challenge now for 2021. I don't think we should be waiting for the end of the rural development programme or the European regional development fund; they will dwindle on, but they're yesterday's stories. The new story is taking back control, so let's take back control. These are devolved areas of competence, of course. Let's develop an integrated food strategy, which has elements of food, rural development and agricultural policy at its heart. We can do something really novel and world beating.