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Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig

Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee

25/06/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Andrew R.T. Davies MS
Jenny Rathbone MS
Joyce Watson MS
Llyr Gruffydd MS
Mike Hedges MS
Neil Hamilton MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Gill Bell Y Gymdeithas Cadwraeth Forol
Marine Conservation Society
Jerry Langford Coed Cadw
Coed Cadw Woodland Trust
Jess McQuade WWF Wales
WWF Wales
Katie-Jo Luxton RSPB Cymru
RSPB Wales
Rachel Sharp Ymddiriedolaethau Natur Cymru
Wildlife Trusts Wales
Rebecca Williams Yr Ymddiriedolaeth Genedlaethol
National Trust
Tegryn Jones Awdurdod Parc Cenedlaethol Arfordir Penfro
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Katie Wyatt Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Katy Orford Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

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 09:31.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:31. 

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Can I welcome Members to the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, which is a virtual meeting? Can I note, for the record, if, for any reason, I drop out of the meeting, Jenny Rathbone, it has been agreed, will be temporary Chair in my absence? Do any Members have any declarations of interest? I take that to be a 'no', apart from those that have previously been declared.

I would just say that I've got quite a few memberships of different organisations, but they're all on my Members' interests.

2. COVID-19: Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda'r sector amgylcheddol
2. COVID-19: Evidence session with the environmental sector

Traditionally, I ask people to introduce themselves, but if you're happy, I'll go through the list here and welcome you. It'll make life easier for me because you're not in the order that you're down on my bit of paper. So, I welcome Gill Bell of the Marine Conservation Society; Tegryn Jones of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, representing the three national parks; Jerry Langford of the Woodland Trust; Katie-Jo Luxton of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Jess McQuade, World Wide Fund for Nature; Rachel Sharp, Wildlife Trusts Wales; and Rebecca Williams, conservation, National Trust in Wales. Can I welcome you all to the meeting? If you're happy, we'll move straight to questions, and I'll start: how have your organisations been operating since we've had lockdown, since the pandemic started, and have you had to furlough staff? And have you been unable to do certain actions in terms of protecting wildlife that you would normally have done? Who wants to go first?

I'm happy to go first, if you'd like me to. It really had three direct impacts. Firstly, income forecast is down, so, obviously, we've had to adjust our operational budgets to match that, if only as a precautionary measure. And, of course, the lockdown has actually prevented us doing some of our activities, particularly the public-facing work. So, that is engaging with the public, with membership, and the recruitment of additional membership and support. That's obviously had a significant effect on our income projections.

In terms of activity, again, it's the parts of our team that actually interact directly with the public that has had to stop, and also the team that interacts directly with other landowners—for example, giving advice and supporting new creation. So, those staff, many of them have been on furlough. We had about half our staff on furlough through April and May. There are fewer now; we only have about a quarter now, and, obviously, the furlough scheme has been a great help.

Looking forward, we're doing operational budget planning for next year at the moment. We work on calendar years for our budgeting, and we are looking at three budget scenarios, three different levels of reduction, with the most optimistic being about a 10 per cent reduction and the most pessimistic about a 25 per cent reduction. That is, actually, much better than the expected outcome this year, which has seen us cut about £0.5 million from operational budgets in Wales. That impacts on other people, because that's money that would have been spent on contractors and suppliers in Wales to deliver services to us.

09:35

Hopefully that's unmuted me.

Hello, everyone, and thank you for inviting us to speak at the committee. It's a very similar pattern to Jerry. I think there are three main impacts for us, the first being income. As Jerry outlined, we're needing to model the reductions of income from our visitor-facing activities, which are quite significant, but also the ability to recruit members. As a membership body, more than half of our income comes from our membership, either when they join and their ongoing subscriptions, or through appeals, legacies and other donations they make us. So, whilst the immediate shock is not quite as bad as for some other organisations right now, because, thankfully, our members are wonderfully loyal—and can I thank Joyce for declaring her membership as well?—we are in the fortunate position that our members have largely stayed loyal. We did see an initial spike of resignations at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, but it seems to be back to roughly normal levels at the moment, but the big impact will probably hit us in two to three years' time, when we see the lost impact of the retention of members that we weren't able to recruit, because we have not been able to recruit any members face to face, which is our primary source of recruitment.

So, income is one big chunk and is very concerning, and, at the moment, we're looking at about 10 per cent of our income across the UK being lost this year. In Wales, I have modelled on slightly different assumptions, but thereabouts—that we will lose about £1 million of net income in Wales this year, which is about 20  per cent of our income, because we're quite dependent on the visitor economy, with a lot of tourist facilities, cafes, shops and events in Wales.

I was just going to give—. If I may—

—just finish the other points, I'll cover them quicker. The second point was to say we haven't been able to deliver some of our key conservation work. That includes all the spring works we would have done, and, particularly, that involves protection for nesting species that are in really precarious positions. So, work was not able to be completed for lapwing and curlew where predator fences would have been put in or management works were due to take place. And we weren't able to get wardens out to the tern islands around Wales, and in one case we have lost—. The whole tern colony on the Skerries has not bred this year, which is really, really disastrous.

And the final point I was going to make, which we may want to pick up in more detail later on, is that we have seen quite a significant appearance of a greater amount of persecution and disturbance of wildlife during lockdown. We've got four active investigations into poisonings or shootings or illegal killings of birds of prey with the police at the moment, and we've also had quite a number of disturbances of tern colonies on beaches and nesting birds, some of which we believe were accidental—people didn't know—but some have definitely been with intent. So, I'll pause there. We may want to pick that up.

Firstly, good morning and thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to give evidence. I think, for the committee members, a point to be taken here is that, like all sectors, COVID's had a significant impact on us. What's been different is we're already a sector that has tried to diversify its business base, and that diversification into tourism and our trading arm has been severely impacted. This couldn't have been worse timing. So, for example, for us, there will be no trips to Skomer, and that alone is worth about nearly £0.75 million for us.

So, there are different impacts in different areas of the sector, depending on whether you're a land manager, if you have trading, or if you're relying more on membership. However, these impacts are not just immediate; they're going to be for several years yet, up to three to five years. So, the big message for you is that's going to impinge on our ability to deliver on the ecological emergency and the climate emergency. So, we have been having a lot of dialogue, because one good thing about COVID is the ability to do exactly what we're doing now—to meet up, to join, to have those more informal conversations, and that's been very productive. However, we haven't seen the realisation in true terms, like hard cash relief, real support in trying to stabilise the sector and actually to just address some of these problems. Despite our capacity issues—so, for example, the wildlife trusts, we've probably furloughed about 70 per cent of our staff—we have been giving a lot of evidence, a lot of input, into processes throughout this time, but I've yet to see a realisation of that, and one thing I'd like to cover in this meeting is how we take forward this time, effort and capacity that we're taking up today to give measure to the committee of exactly how we start transforming what we're saying and the messages that we've been giving consistently, year on year, into actual action and change.

09:40

Thank you, Chairman. I think our story is very similar, as other organisations, and the impact has been significant and drastic. But I think the point to make also is it's ongoing. We're not in that recovery phase yet. Our properties are still closed, our pay-for-entry sites are still closed, so that impact is still accumulating, and it will take us some more time to really understand and look at the overall impact. So, while we all have losses this year, and our pay-for-entry sites are lost, this is an ongoing story and we should not take this point in time as a point when we can identify all our losses.

But the other point to make, I suppose, also is a lot of the work that we do as charities has needed to continue. So, while we have been financially impacted, the conservation work has had to continue in some shape or form, and we are all under often statutory duties to protect environments, buildings and so forth. So, while we are not making the money, we are doing our best to continue to deliver against our obligations, and I think that's a really important point to note. While the visitors may not see it, there are lots of people beavering away really hard in the background to do what we can in what are actually very difficult circumstances.

Bore da. Lovely to see you all looking well. Thank you for inviting us to give evidence. I agree with everything that everybody's said, but one of the other things I think that's worth noting—and I'm sure that everybody else will agree with this—is the impact on monitoring and data collection and the long-term data sources, and the impact that that will have. We don't know—. We hope to have seen some improvements because of the reduced travel, and hopefully people enjoying their environment more, but just a few examples: we know that fly-tipping and littering and things have increased. We do know that there have been a lot more anti-social and illegal activities taking place. It's difficult to know those impacts. We haven't been able to monitor, we haven't been able to go out, we haven't been able to get citizen science, which we require to get all of our data, with all of our volunteers going out, because we can't do the mass events. So, this is a long-term effect, and we won't be able to see how that is impacting. Some places may take 10, 15 years to recover if there has been illegal activity.

Thank you. Tegryn and Jessica have both indicated that they want to speak, so Jessica first.

WWF doesn't have land management or trade, so the effect for us will be in the medium term, when membership changes will happen. So, we've not actually had any staff furloughed at a UK or Welsh level, and that's put us in a really privileged position of being able to support other organisations and take on extra work. We've been doing a lot of work around evidence-based collation, organising joint conversations with the future generations commissioner, and the Institute of Welsh Affairs is starting to produce lots of papers around green jobs, which I think we'll probably come to later on. We've actually been privileged to be able to hold a bit of space and enable other organisations and staff to be furloughed and support them in that space.

I just think it's worth mentioning as well that Wales Environment Link have done a lot of research on the impacts of the environment sector in Wales, in the way that organisations have just spoken to, and there's a paper that we can share on that. And I think one of the things that they've highlighted within that is the ineffectiveness of some of the Welsh Government's grants and payments to the environment sector; it's really put pressure on this. And we can provide more detail on that for the committee.

09:45

Thank you. And, finally, Tegryn. That's everybody now. Tegryn, we can't hear you. I don't know if you're speaking in English or Welsh, but if you're speaking in Welsh the translation isn't coming through. If you're speaking in English, nothing's coming through. We're still not hearing anything. Somebody's going to have to sort this out technically, and we'll come back to you later on. If I move on now to Joyce Watson. 

Good morning, all. I just want to explore a bit further: some of you have touched on your monitoring of biodiversity—sorry, habitat management. And I want to know what the impact has been overall on your ability to manage the habitats that you look after, and that would include things like invasive species management—all those sorts of things. 

Fundamentally, we've had to furlough staff for financial reasons, not because the work is not needed. So, we haven't had the capacity, particularly in our nature reserves, to manage land as we would like to have had. So, then, we're particularly concerned now, obviously, with the reopening of the countryside about some of the health and safety concerns that we have on sites, but also the lack of management for nature as well. And we really want to engage with our members on this, because, as is often said in this, we couldn't see this coming. It's had a huge financial impact on us, and it has compromised our ability to manage those habitats that our members come to us and join us for, and understand the reason why it's essential to manage those habitats. But it's not just that, it's also our advice to landowners as well, so it's more than just—[Inaudible]—sites. And also, our species monitoring has been compromised as well. In the meantime, we're going to continue to be compromised because, unfortunately, we have seen misuse of sites. We've even seen some instances of cruelty to some of the wildlife on sites as well. And, again, we're having to deal with these issues with reduced capacity and severe financial constraints going forward.

I'd reiterate what some of my colleagues were saying about we've not been able to access any Welsh Government relief, just because of the way that it was designed, or because of our internal structures or things like value added tax—[Inaudible.]—VAT registering. We haven't had a bespoke package like we have seen in, for example, fisheries and dairy. It does worry me that we're not recognised fully or understood fully as a sector, and I think the pandemic has just highlighted that lack of understanding. 

Thank you. There's a real mixed story in terms of the conservation work that we've been able to deliver. Where it's largely been able to be delivered through farming activities, those have continued. So, quite often on the larger holdings, where we use farming as the mechanism to deliver the conservation outcome, much of that work has been able to proceed. The major areas where we haven't been able to proceed are either where we've furloughed staff or where they would involve a significant amount of travel. 

I mentioned the lapwing and curlew, and, two years ago, we warned that we had 10 years left to save the curlew in Wales. When I was younger, the red kite was the biggest conservation issue. We've probably got maybe two, if not three, times as many red kite breeding in Wales as we do lapwing and curlew now, which were such common birds. There are probably less than 400 pairs of lapwing and curlew breeding in Wales now. It's really critical. So, one year of not being able to do bespoke management works—we're kind of an A&E for these birds breeding in Wales now—it could be that that is a significant factor in moving them towards breeding extinction in Wales. So, it's really very concerning that we weren't able to progress there. 

I mentioned not being able to warden the tern colonies. We couldn't get staff out to the Skerries, and we think that's where 90 per cent of the Arctic terns in Wales breed. And that site has been completely abandoned, we think because of gull predation or just too many gulls there without humans around to keep them at bay. The terns have left, and we know also that terns are quite site faithful. Once they leave a site, it can be many years, if ever, that they return. So, there's a risk that we could have lost the only roseate terns that breed in Wales, which also breed on that site as well. 

You mentioned survey work. Obviously, survey work is really mainly done for birds in the spring. So, very few of the breeding bird surveys were able to proceed. We won't be able to get a year's worth of data, which will affect all of the monitoring that feeds into biodiversity reporting and ultimately into the environmental impact work that the Welsh Government does, because the BBS—the breeding birds survey—collected largely by volunteers and organised by the British Trust for Ornithology, has not been completed this year.

And then there's also bespoke monitoring that should have taken place. So, there was a big trial management work for curlew, which was in the final year of collecting data and looking at the balance of habitat management and predator management, which were—. So, sites in north Wales were part of a UK-wide trial and that hasn't been able to do its final year of data collection, which may—. It's a bit unclear what that means for the whole study as yet. 

But the other thing to say is that some of the monitoring is being done for projects to see what project impact we've had, when we've been funded by, for example, the Welsh Government under the sustainable management scheme or funded by the lottery. We're going to need flexibility from those funders about whether we can deliver that monitoring at all or whether we can move that monitoring to next year, but there may be additional costs. For some species, like the shrill carder bee, we're hoping that we will be able to do the monitoring for that later this year, depending on when we get out of lockdown. But, clearly, the flexibility from funders about when they can deliver this funding is key. And the Welsh Government has given us positive noises, shall we say, but I would like to see things in writing quite quickly.

09:50

From a Marine Conservation Society point of view, we run Seasearch, which are volunteer underwater dives, and unfortunately we're not able to do those, because of social distancing on the boats. And so for any, like Katie Jo has indicated, boat-based surveying—so any marine surveying, basically—hasn't happened. And that not only includes obviously all the volunteer surveys, but people like Natural Resources Wales and the Skomer team and all their long-term data sets. They won't be doing any surveying this year. So, that's really quite critical to note. So, overall, I think it's to note that little or no monitoring has been able to happen during this time and that's both of wildlife or the pressure-causing activity. 

And then, secondly, very few of these pressures have actually decreased during this time. In fact, some of them may have actually increased—like we've already indicated, a lot of the wildlife crime and things like that and illegal fishing. And as I've already mentioned, too little time so far has elapsed for us to be able to see what effect that's going to have, both in the short term and long term. Ideas like—. We've got fantastic seagrass restoration going on and things, and they've only just been able to go out and monitor that—just in June—but that's just one of a very limited number of opportunities where we've been able to get out, not only because of the social distancing, but also because, as Katie Jo has indicated, of the financial implications as well. 

Thank you. Jerry, sorry—the difficulty with the screen is that people keep on moving on it. 

09:55

Just to confirm, the picture on habitat management is mixed. Some management has had to be postponed, with the possible implication that the cost to recover in future will be higher.

The other point I'd like to make is that many of the contractors that we rely on have had to furlough staff, and they now face quite difficult decisions on whether they try and rebuild or downsize. So, there are some uncertainties on the future availability of skilled and experienced contractor services.

Okay. Is that better? Can you hear me now?

Thank you. Are you okay if I go back to the—? Sorry, I've slightly missed the flow of the meeting there. What I was going to say is that our situation as local authorities, naturally, will be slightly different to the non-governmental organisation sector, but many of the issues are very similar.

A lot of our approach as three national parks was influenced and governed by the fact that we were inundated with visitors during the pre-lockdown weekend and, certainly, we were very conscious of making sure that the messages we sent out and how we acted and our work certainly didn't actually encourage anybody to visit there. So, some of the key actions we took straight away was to close the high-profile sites of the rights-of-way network. So, in our case in Pembrokeshire, it was closure of the coastal path. In Snowdonia, closing Yr Wyddfa and a whole host of others. And similar action in Pen-y-fan and other sites in Brecon. So, that was done using Welsh Government regulations there. We're still at the end of that process in a process of reopening those from now on.

One of the benefits that came out of that was, obviously, some of the local paths were open, so we did see some increased used from local use, although, naturally, that created quite a bit of an issue with some landowners who might not have been as used to people using their paths. So, there was always a bit of a balance there.

In terms of our organisation, most staff, naturally, went to work from home. A lot of the staff, possibly not in customer-facing roles and practical outdoor roles were not able to do that.

In terms of finances, a ball park from our perspective in Pembrokeshire is a loss of about £300,000 of potential income off a £6 million budget. The situation in Snowdonia would be slightly worse than that in terms of the numbers, and, possibly, slightly better, if you like, in terms of Brecon there.

We have furloughed staff. As a public body, we didn’t really think furloughing and the job retention scheme was a scheme for us at the start. But, gradually, guidance changed, so our furloughing of staff has come later in the process there.

It's been an issue of trying to balance the public messaging, staying safe, and trying and ensuring that the national parks are going to be there for people to visit in the future.

I appreciate that some of this monitoring work requires specialist intervention. Gill mentioned the divers—the fact that you can't have several people on a boat together. But, nevertheless, all of your organisations are underpinned by large volunteer support, and I just want to probe what you have been doing to galvanise the new enthusiasm of the public for the outdoors. Everybody's been able to go for walks and many people are very happy to have something with purpose to do while they're out on a daily basis. So, if you could tell us what you have been able to do in order to galvanise people to monitor the environment.

Okay. Katie first. Katie, you're first, then Rachel.

Thank you, Jenny. I have to say, for me, this has been one of the most uplifting bits of the pandemic, and, boy, have we needed that. People have really responded to being able to spend more time out and about in nature and there has been a huge response on social media and digital platforms around the wildlife that people are seeing and engaging with, sometimes for the first time, because they're normally too busy or they don't get the chance to do that. And we've seen a really, really big response.

The RSPB's been running a whole range of new activities on social platforms, which—frankly, it's wonderful, almost, to have had this chance to really move that forward, because it's been creeping up very slowly over previous years and we've seen a real step change. So, we've been doing breakfast bird watch across the UK, and people send in their photographs and their sightings, which has been really popular. We've been trending at the top of the Twitter lists some mornings. We've been doing a lot of videos. Our site wardens have been making video blogs, because we've made sure that there is one person on every site doing essential checks and making sure that the sites are safe. So, those people have been able to make videos and personal recordings, which has been really popular. And we have seen a great uptake in our digital identifiers online—so, bird sounds, bird calls—and the Dawn Chorus Day back in May was very popular as well. So, we are seeing a huge increase in interest.

I should emphasise that there are steps along the journey from people being aware, people being interested, and there are quite a number of steps before people take action, and you lose people. It's a bit like a funnel: you lose people on that journey all the way. So, we are thinking very actively about how we move people along that kind of stepped journey from interest and awareness to activism, but we are also really pleased that we surveyed our volunteers last week, and whilst a good number of them are anxious about returning—we have quite a lot of people over the age of 70 volunteering with us—the vast majority of them are keen to return. Only a very small proportion said they weren't planning to return to volunteering and most of them are keen to know what safety measures we can put in place and what roles they can be involved in. So, this is a very active part of our conversation; it's involved some fast footwork, and I have to say I really commend the work that's gone on and the fact that social media has enabled people to be very proactive.

10:00

Okay, that's great. Gill, why has it not been possible to get local—

Jenny, on your initial question, I've got at least three other people who wish to answer part of it. 

I know you do, but there's three other people who want to answer the first question. 

You can go to Gill afterwards, but Jerry, Rebecca and Rachel all want—. Jerry and Rebecca both want to come in.

Okay, fine. Short questions so we can get through it—short answers, rather. 

So, yes, people have reconnected with nature, either their local green space or in their gardens themselves, and we need to try to lock down these lockdown behaviours going forward, but, again, it's going to be around capacity. We are working very closely with each other and I recommend—. NRW have really stepped up to the mark in this period of time and really have started to assist us in both our land management. Onward concerns about volunteering are mostly around health and safety. We have to make sure our staff and volunteers are safe, but we're very keen to resume that. We need to do more online digital training. We've all been doing—hopefully, you're all watching Skomer Live and engaging in 30 Days Wild, but we need to translate that into action and getting people actually to continue to reconnect with nature, because we all know the well-being benefits. 

Just very briefly, some of the online-based citizen science work, such as the Nature's Calendar, the phenology recording, ancient tree recording, there's been great interest in that and that has been continuing. What we can't do is run the volunteer practical work parties and we're not in—. There's all sorts of difficulties with that, as Katie-Jo has alluded to, and we're not in a position to restart those until into July. We've had lots of great feedback from the public, yes, and one of the reasons we know there's so much fly-tipping and other illegal activities going on is because there's a lot of reporting. 

Okay. Rebecca. Sorry, I think you've finished. Rebecca.

Yes, just to reiterate that point about safety of volunteers, many of our sites are still closed and our properties are still closed, so we will only be able to bring volunteers back when it's safe to do so and the Government guidance supports that, but there is a gap at the moment in terms of how we translate to action. 

No, I completely understand that National Trust properties are not—no indoor activities are going to be happening anytime soon. But outdoor activities—we know that the disease transmission is absolutely minimal, so—. Anyway, Jessica wanted to come in.

10:05

And that's it, then, and then we'll come back to you, Jenny. Jessica.

A slightly different take—so, we've been trying to galvanise that interest in nature into political action and activism. So, there's going to be a big mass virtual lobby of the UK Government. And that's really important for what happens in Wales, particularly around the green recovery. And, if the UK Government proceed with a green fiscal recovery, that will have positive impacts, then, in how we can do things in Wales, because a lot of the money will be coming from that direction. So, I can give more information on that at a later point.

Okay. Thank you. So, Gill, you mentioned that you hadn't been able to get out to monitor sea grasses. Why is it not possible to get local people to do the work that maybe your staff aren't available to do because they're not allowed to travel from a distance?

So, that work is undertaken by Swansea University, and it does require—. You have to be a trained diver. But, from our point of view, for Seasearch divers, they're all volunteers; they're just regular people who are divers who've been trained to do underwater surveys. And it's very costly to get the boats out, and you have to have a certain number of people on board. There are health and safety issues, if you—. I was talking with the fisheries people yesterday, and they've not—. The fisheries enforcement, the Welsh Government fisheries enforcement, boats haven't been able to go out because of health and safety issues and social distancing. So, it's an issue overall, and that obviously leads on to—. I know we're going to come onto this, but the issue is that we've had no enforcement of fisheries during the whole of the COVID, which has allowed for a lot of illegal fishing activities and other activities to take place.

Okay. Joyce Watson wants to come in, exactly on that point.

Okay. That's exactly the question I was going to ask, about illegal activity—you know, are you able to monitor it? Have you been able to do anything about it, and have you seen an increase in it? I suppose those are the three questions.

I'll continue on that theme, if that's okay, then. So, just remember that, although a lot of us were at home, a lot of activities, including fishing, didn't stop during this time, but, as I've just mentioned, unfortunately, the at-sea enforcement did stop, which has allowed a lot of illegal activities. So, I was talking to a lot of fishermen yesterday, and they were giving me anecdotal evidence that there is an increase, for example, in scallop dredging: at least 30 scallop dredgers within sites potentially within marine protected areas; no enforcement was taking place. I questioned then—. And then also, we've also had inshore activities as well. Other people have reported to me that there's been a change in where people are potting, and, because there's been less amenity, because fewer people have been to some beaches—I have to say not all—that the fishermen have actually changed where they've put their inshore tangle nets and pots in places like that.

But to have this anecdotal evidence that we have seen this massive increase in illegal fishing—. Unfortunately, when I asked the question, 'Are you able to then prosecute any of those vessels?' I was told that, because they haven't got on-the-water evidence, it's mostly anecdotal evidence, or it's mostly just vessel positioning, then they wouldn't be able to prosecute, which puts—you know, it's very difficult on those fishers who are abiding by the legislation and aren't trying to take advantage of it. And, as far as I can see, there was no way that we were able to then have any negative impacts at all on those illegal fishers, and if you remember that, if a scallop dredger goes over a marine protected area, it may take up to 15 years—just one trawl may take up to 15 years to recover.

So, it's shocking, really, unfortunately, that this has—. As I say, activities have continued, the pressures have continued. We don't know the impacts fully. We do just need some help from Welsh Government to try to make sure that we can see what has happened and how we can recover.

Yes, so the activity that most impacts on us is fly-tipping, which there has been a notable increase of. It gets reported to us, and, as any private land owner, we have to deal with it directly, which we are able to do, but it's a significant cost. For example, we had 1.5 tonnes of rubbish dumped at Wentwood forest a couple of weeks ago, and there have been numerous instances across Wales. We've also received more than usual reports of what would be illegal felling and activity in—forestry activity through the bird nesting season, which, of course, we have to advise people to report to NRW. 

10:10

Thank you. It's very hard to know, because there have been fewer people out and about in the countryside, so we have received more than usual reports from the public than we would at this time of year about concerns about illegal activities. But, because there have been fewer people out and about, we probably haven't got the full picture, because most of the cases that involve investigation involve finding dead birds who have been poisoned or shot in suspicious circumstances.

So, in March, we had three kites found in Knighton, a peregrine in Brecon, three more red kites in Tregynon, buzzards found in Newtown and red kites found in Llanddeusant, which are all being investigated for either being poisoned or shot. And we've also had quite a lot of reports of habitat destruction—hedgerows, banks of scrub all being removed during the nesting season. And the police have been involved, but obviously they've been very, very busy. We've had 4x4 vehicles using the beaches in north Wales at Gronant, where the only little tern colony in Wales is located, and the police again involved very quickly and fences were put up by the council—so, a very helpful response from Denbighshire County Council. But, again, we wouldn't normally have that situation, because those sites are normally wardened—all by volunteers, and they weren’t able to do that work.

And also one of the other concerns is that quite a few of highly protected species are subjects of some surveillance, like GPS loggers attached to small numbers of birds, in order for us to understand what is happening to those species. So, we got special permission to be able to go and put GPS tags on a number of hen harrier nests this year, in agreement with the Welsh Government and the police, so I'm pleased that that work has proceeded, because, last year, we lost most of the hen harriers fledged in Wales in suspicious circumstances, and those GPS loggers are really important to helping us with that. And also the little terns at Gronant—there was a crowdfunding effort led by volunteers to put GPS signals on a large number of little terns in order to help understand their movements, but it's possible we won't be able to retrieve those this year to download that data. So, that would be really sad, if we've lost all of that data.

But mainly what we've seen is an increase in disturbance of nesting birds, because birds have nested in places where perhaps they wouldn't when more people would be out and about. Dogs off leads; quite an increase in drone usage across nature reserves—so, on Anglesey, we've got bitterns and marsh harriers, which have both been disturbed by drone use—and off-road vehicular access has been an issue. All of those have increased during lockdown.

Thank you, Chair. And just maybe a slightly different angle is the kind of anti-social behaviour that we've seen in some of our sites, which has been quite significant as well—be it littering, just keeping gates open and not closing gates, whichever way, and the impact that that has further afield. Bins—waste being left, even on small scale, has an impact visually, as well as practically, in terms of needing to clean it up. And, as we move towards reopening, it's really good to see that there is more work being done on reinforcing the countryside code. And, as people want to explore the countryside more after the lockdown, we really do need to prepare for those people who maybe haven't been so used to visiting the countryside in the past, and highlighting the importance of keeping gates closed if they are closed, keeping on dogs on leads, taking rubbish away with you, and those very little things that we do take for granted sometimes, but actually not doing them has had a—we've really seen a difference during these last few months.

Thank you. I haven't seen anybody else indicate. It's now coming up to 10:14. Can we have a short break until half past, and then recommence? Thank you all very much, and thank you for your patience. 

10:15

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:15 a 10:29.

The meeting adjourned between 10:15 and 10:29.

10:25
3. COVID-19: Parhau gyda sesiwn dystiolaeth y sector amgylcheddol
3. COVID-19: Continuation of evidence session with the environmental sector

Okay. Can I welcome everybody back to part two of this session? I move straight to Andrew Davies, who has got some questions.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, witnesses, for the evidence that you've given so far. I have two questions that I'd like to put to you. One is on the supplementary budget, but, first of all, I'd just like to try and tease out some information from you in relation to how your organisations have benefited from Government support to date. We have had quantifiable losses given to us. I think, Tegryn, that you touched on about £300,000 for your own national park in Pembrokeshire, on a budget of £6 million. Then, someone else highlighted how they had managed to furlough staff. So, it would be good to try and understand whether the Government schemes—both UK and Welsh Government—been helpful to you in the way that you've been able to sustain yourself through the crisis. Coupled with that, what's your view on the supplementary budget that was only debated yesterday in Plenary?

10:30

Hi there. I think that's unmuted me. Yes. Thank you, Andrew. In RSPB, we furloughed about 50 per cent of our staff, and that's been the primary financial support, and it has been very significant. In RSPB Cymru, it's almost 60 per cent of our staff because we have a lot of staff in forward-facing roles at visitor centres, and that has been a very significant source of income replacement, really. We have chosen to keep those staff on at full pay, so there's a 20 per cent gap that we will need to find, and that is because we want to treat our staff fairly. So, I think that the other support that we have been able to access has been through local council rate relief. Those are the two main schemes that we have been able to access at the moment.

The support for SMEs has not—. We are not counted as an SME as a UK-wide body in most sense of the term, so we've not been able to get support through that route. Most of the funding for charities has been angled towards those charities that are providing immediate human relief to the COVID crisis. So, we've not so far managed to access that support. We have had support from private charitable foundations in Wales, which is fantastic, and we have also applied to the National Lottery heritage emergency fund at a UK level.

I know that there's going to be a question from another Member on other sources of funding, but I was just trying to focus on maybe Government support, I was, following earlier evidence about the furloughing scheme.

Yes. There's been very—. The challenge for the sector is that we don't easily fit into any of the existing categories. The response from the civil service to date has been very supportive, but there's been no appetite to create anything bespoke for the sector, which, as Rachel said, is disappointing, given that we are going to need the environmental NGO sector if we are going to respond to the nature crisis. I think that one of the things where the pandemic has drawn a real stark contrast is: the scale of the response to the pandemic has rightly been very significant; the scale of the response to the climate and nature emergency looks somewhat paltry in comparison, really, now. I think that we are expecting a step change in what we hope will be a green recovery.

You asked us about the supplementary budget. I suppose that I feel kind of disappointed that we've had to make cuts to any of the environmental budgets, but I do think that there have been some pragmatic cuts, and we've seen less cut to the environment sector budgets than some of the other budgets. But, that said, the environment sector budget was pretty small anyway, and we don't really have the scale of investment that we need in the right ways to deliver it.

So, the main investment that we were expecting this year was a major capital fund for Natura 2000 sites, for peat restoration, for woodland creation. At the moment, only a small number of those funds have opened. We are still trying to encourage the Welsh Government to open the Natura 2000 capital fund, and it's far from clear whether that will progress at all. There is no significant revenue funding this year in the sector. So, there was a very small budget. We've seen a decrease in it. It was probably to be expected, given the pressures of COVID, but it just draws an even sharper relief that we've got very little funding to play with, and it is not the scale of funding that we need to respond to the nature and climate emergency.  

Thank you, Chair. A very, very similar story to Katie-Jo. The National trust has furloughed about 80 per cent of its staff. We are gradually bringing people back as we reopen, but that has been a very significant source of income for us over the last few months.

In terms of other support, we, as an organisation, are looking to the Westminster Government and colleagues in DEFRA, and continuing conversations with the Welsh Government and, specifically, through NRW. There is a willingness to try and support, but it's complicated. Like Katie-Jo said, organisations like ours don't fit into boxes very easily. So, asking the right questions to get the answers needed to progress those opportunities are complicated. It's stretching all our thoughts in terms of how we can make that happen.

The impact will continue in terms of other things that we're doing. Obviously, we've reduced costs as well to try and mitigate the need for support. We have to look at what do as well, and reducing costs has been a significant part of this year, which will again have knock-on effects.

In terms of the budget, I think the word 'disappointing' is probably the best word we can use. It's expected, it's a public health emergency, the funding needs to be there to deliver on the front line, and we're not on that same front line. Longer term, we will be, and we will be part of the recovery process, hopefully. I think our efforts should be drawn to how we can support the recovery, and we'll move on to talk about green recovery shortly, I'm sure. 

10:35

Thank you. It's a similar picture in terms of support. I think it's never a one-size-fits-all, and people have got to try and fit into whatever schemes. One of the issues I'd highlight from our perspective is that where we support other organisations, particularly smaller NGOs, we've tried to retain that support. So, we've tried to make sure that those difficult decisions are not passed on to others. It's not a great amount, but hopefully, it helps people locally.

In terms of the budget, I think it's been already highlighted, I think there's a difference between the front line and immediate issues and the longer term. I have great concerns about the fate of communities in the three national parks, about land owners and their ability to continue to function there. So, while I would never argue for a budget cut in the environment sector, part of me is quite happy that support is being given to ensure that the building blocks of our communities are getting though this, and hopefully we can make the case for greater long-term investment moving forward.

A similar picture. I've already stated that 70 per cent of our staff have been furloughed; not because the work hasn't been there, it's just a financial necessity. I agree, we do constantly in our sector need to show that we are managing things efficiently. So, we've been very grateful for the furlough scheme. However, obviously, that is going to be coming to a graduated end, and so we do have concerns of onward—how are we going to make up those shortcomings—and concerns around maybe perhaps future redundancies, and we will probably see that within the sector. So, an already small sector is actually going to contract, whereas actually, the demand and the need is ever increasing with the ecological and climate crisis. So, in the longer term, this has to be addressed, but we have an understanding in the shorter term.

Another issue around Government funding is the way that grants are being received, particularly the SMS scheme. We are still waiting on payment from last year, and that's severely impacting our cashflow situation. So, that's the first port of call: please give us the money you owe us. That would really help. And then also, in the medium to longer term, we need to start budget planning, and continuity of funding is going to be quite critical to that. So, as we come out of furlough, we need to plan to know what our likely budgets are going to be so that we can try to retain as many staff as possible, and I'm sure that rings true to Government trying to maintain employment. 

And then, we'll go on to the other elements of the systems—

Could I just ask you, Rachel, you've said, 'Give us the money you owe us', is it typical that that money remains outstanding and it's no different this year, or has COVID affected the payment from Welsh Government to you and the timelines are taking longer to get that money into your account?

We already had issues pre COVID in payment, and actually, what's happened now is there's been what's been called reprofiling. We understand that staff have been redeployed, but at the moment, my understanding is that there are eight major schemes that are yet to be paid. Surely, those can be worked through. We've written to the Minister twice through the Wales Environment Link network. We've had what I would call misleading responses, and we haven't seen payment.

10:40

We'll have an opportunity to raise that in a fortnight's time with the Minister. On to Gill.

Thank you. I just want to express about the supplementary budget: obviously, we've said how disappointing it is, but I think it's worthwhile pointing out that funding green and blue—can we please all call it not just green recovery, but green and blue recovery. Thank you—can offer improved environment jobs, sustainable businesses, enterprises, social benefits, economic security, and cost savings, and it seems like we're cutting off our nose to spite our face in some ways. And then, also, it's also been demonstrated that economic, ecological and health benefits of environmental regulation greatly outweigh the costs. And those costs do not significantly impact on overall productivity or GDP.

So, really, I wanted to start off this session by saying that this is a unique opportunity for the world to rethink how they do things, and, unfortunately, that doesn't appear to have been shown in yesterday's session.

Yes. I think we recognise, as has been mentioned by some others on this call, that this budget had to be very much about an emergency budget—a COVID emergency budget. So, whilst there were some cuts to the environment portfolio, these were less than other portfolios. I think the principle was strongly put in Welsh Government's response around the nature of the climate emergency is still recognised, and that's something that they're going to be looking to be addressing.

So, for us, the real test will be the next stage, where we start to move from emergency response to the recovery. So I think when—. Gill started to touch on this, I won't go into it now, but I think that that is going to be the critical test. And we're developing Wales Environment Link and some principles and tests for what a green recovery and a fiscal stimulus package, coming from both the UK Government and Welsh Government, will need to look like. We're also looking at where those green jobs and the economic rationale behind those will sit for Wales.

Thank you. Going back to your original question, the furlough scheme has been a very big help and provided some stability early on. And now, hopefully, we are largely coming out of that, with the exception of just one or two staff, who are still completely unable to do the work that they should normally be doing, and that has been the big source of help for us.

Just on the budget, if I can just make a general point: the situation we're facing is going to require major reallocations of funding across the board. So, green recovery and green and blue recovery is very much everyone's business across Government and not just for the environment portfolio. So, it would be good to be able to appreciate the big picture right across Government on what is being invested in.

I still can't get used to having to unmute myself all the time. I'd like to talk about other sources of funding—non-governmental sources of funding. I don't think it's generally realised as yet quite how severe the impact of COVID has been on the economy as a whole. We won't actually feel those effects until we start withdrawing from schemes like the furlough scheme and so on. But with a 20 per cent drop in national income in this quarter, according to the Office for National Statistics, and that likely to continue, we're going to find that Welsh Government, to start, will have a massive hole in its accounts for which it's got no real scope for filling unless the UK Government steps in and increases its block grant. And businesses and charities are in much the same position.

I note from the evidence that the Woodland Trust sent in—and I dare say that this is typical of everybody's experience—in the first five weeks of lockdown, there was a 50 per cent increase in those cancelling their direct debits for membership and so on. So, there's going to be a massive squeeze on income, both from Government sources and non-Government sources. But I wonder if you could perhaps indicate to us the extent to which your activities are currently funded by non-governmental income, how that has been affected by COVID so far and what your projections are for, say, the next six months. Where will you be next spring?

10:45

Thank you for the question. Marine doesn't tend to get very much Government grant, so we currently have no income from Welsh Government at all, and that's another point to raise—that, unfortunately, even though environment doesn't get a lot of funding, marine gets even less. So, the main thing we've benefited from is the furlough scheme. We're quite a small charity in comparison to the others, so we're looking at, potentially, 30 per cent, if not further, losses in our income.

We are mostly funded from either corporates or from trusts and grants. We've seen indications from those that they may have to go into more social enterprises, but some others have been very supportive. So, it's a bit of a mixed picture, really, but it is a concerning time for all the charities in looking at all of the income that we receive and how it's going to be impacted by COVID. But we are looking at significant losses.

Thank you. I think we have three major sources of non-Government income, which are, actually, each of them more substantial than Government income. One of those is direct public support through membership and supporter donations, and, certainly, those are being impacted by the general economic situation. But the future projections are very difficult to make, and, as Katie-Jo was saying earlier, we very much hope that that supporter base will be quite loyal and will try and recover. Of the other two, one is legacies, which is an inherently unpredictable business, and the other is major corporate support. We have quite strong hopes that those will continue to be important.

Public sector funding is particularly important for project work, and certainly that will depend on whether we're able to continue doing the scale of delivery projects. I think that is going to be a challenge, because there's a challenge there, also, in the resources needed for project development.

Looking longer term, the general economy is going to have implications—difficult to predict just how severe—and there is, of course, a tendency for other funders to switch funding to health outcomes from environmental outcomes, which may also affect our sector, although I think, increasingly, the message that the environmental sector is actually about health and well-being is being increasingly appreciated.

Just following up on what Jerry was saying, environment and health go together. Schools are going back on Monday, and I have questioned the Minister for Education as to how we are going to ramp up outdoor education, because, obviously, that's going to increase our capacity for the number of students on site. I just wondered whether any of you have contacted your schools to offer your services to assist schools to understand how much education can be done outdoors.

I do want to go back to Neil's point, as well. But, to Jenny's point, we have direct contact with about a third of all junior schools and limited capacity for secondary school. We do most of our work trying to influence curriculum and also promoting nature in schools. So, we have, for example, created a YouTube online channel for home education. But the question is—. We would love to be doing this type of work. We don't have the capacity, and we don't see the educational budget, and that is another element of the lack of—. We have recognition of the need for cross-governmental department investment into nature, but we don't see the realisation of that.

10:50

Thank you. Through the Pembrokeshire Outdoor Schools network, we have contacted all schools in Pembrokeshire seeking to engage with them. As a school governor, I think there are significant complications about reopening, where possibly the take-up of that isn't that great at the moment, but hopefully, certainly with the new curriculum coming in, there will be an increased appreciation, both in the short and long terms, of the benefits of outdoor education. 

Thank you. It goes back to the point that Neil raised around the massive gaps in the available finances to provide that stimulus to the economy, and how we can plug that in Wales, assuming and hoping that we get some increased package from the UK Government, which has devolved power with no attachments to it. But we're starting to do a lot of research in WWF and with colleagues in Wales Environment Link around innovative financing models, so, how we can lever in private investment. For example, I know Katie-Jo has been doing some work at a UK level around the green bonds approach at a UK level. There are also private companies looking to do social responsibility investments, so we need to be a lot smarter in Wales around how we lever that different kind of funding in for environmental outcomes. That's something that we're going to be working on that we'd like to share with the committee as that proceeds.

Then, I think I'd emphasise as well that the money that we do spend in Wales needs to be a lot smarter in how it integrates nature and the value of nature into all the different aspects of the budgets—so, education, health, et cetera. There's been progress on that, but I think there's still a long way that we need to go—how investing, say, 1 per cent of the health budget in nature-based solutions will actually switch to a more preventative approach to a lot of the issues that we're seeing around mental health, access to the countryside, exercise, et cetera. So, it's introducing a different mindset, and it relates back to the core part of the problems, and the drivers—the issues that we're seeing both with COVID and in the climate and nature crises around how we define our economy. We're seeing a lot of progressive countries moving to a concept of a well-being economy. So, it's looking at how we value things beyond just GDP and how we build that into our economic system and decision making. So, that's something that we'd really like Wales to explore a lot more, and we're going to be helping to do that.

Thank you. I really support what Jess has just said there, actually. Just to go back to Neil's question, I think I've covered most of it in what I've said in other answers, but I think the most important thing is to stress that the depth and the length of the recession ahead of us will be critical in determining the future of the NGO sector, because, for most of us, the Government funding is an important addition in terms of delivery and in terms of big projects, but most of us have income sources outside of Government funding, primarily from the public. So, that recession will be the main issue.

If I can say, on the education side, I think the future of outdoor education not on school sites is very challenging, because already it was difficult to get schools to pay for buses to taken children out, and if they've got to be socially distanced, that's going to be even harder. But we're doing what we can, and we've uploaded huge amounts of resources onto Hwb, the Welsh Government's online learning platform, to support home learning.

But I think one of the challenges we have got is that, with sustainable development and a greater understanding, what's happened is that other subject areas such as health and education have all looked at the nature budgets and said, 'You can spend that on health and nature', and I think our mindset is, 'No, you need to spend some of your budget on the investments that can make the most for people and nature'. At the moment, we see that most of the nature projects are not really being spent on nature delivery and nature recovery; they're being spent on human interventions, which are all good and really needed activities, but it means we have lost the funding for nature recovery, and what we need to do is to change the mindset and integrate nature delivery through the whole budget portfolio. We're incredibly siloed at the moment, and it's very difficult for organisations like ours to even get a meeting with civil servants in the non-environment parts of Government. We've been spectacularly unsuccessful at it, I have to admit. Many of the organisations on this call, four, five years ago put together a proposal for what we called then 'A natural health service: a green prescribing', with a number of social bodies. All we were asking for, I think, was £40,000 to do some scoping of what scaling up our many, many successful climate projects would look like to a Wales-wide level, and we were unsuccessful at getting any support from the health sector. So, we really, really struggle to get out of the environment box and to get this integration. I think if the committee could really probe that area with the Minister and ask other Ministers what they're doing to deliver on environment, that would be incredibly helpful. 

10:55

Thank you, Chairman. My comments follow on perfectly, really, from Jess and Katie-Jo. We were talking a lot about funding streams now, but there's also an element about decision making here, in terms of what decisions are available to you as politicians and to organisations about what a green recovery might look like and how it could be delivered. And it is moving away from that silo thinking. Some very quick suggestions: things like how we use the planning system in a way that actually benefits green outcomes as well as economic outcomes, and is the planning system fit for a green recovery in the future? What businesses do we invest in and how do they support the green recovery overall? How do we measure success? Some of the traditional measures of economic success have excluded or made it difficult to get that balance between economic, environmental and social where it might be in the future. 

So, funding is one thing and it's hugely important, but we shouldn't put all our eggs in that funding basket; there's a lot to be done around decision making, ways of working and the opportunities that exist. And how do we as an environmental sector support you as decision makers in looking right across Government?  

Yes, thank you. Just a point on schools, obviously, we have an estate that schools are very welcome to use, but the issue that always comes up is transport and the difficulty of physically getting to it. I'm sure that part of the solution is a really concerted investment in additional green infrastructure—bringing the green infrastructure to the school rather than make the school travel—and that is the business of the planning department, economic department, transport department. 

We're going to come to that next when we get to Llyr, but I think Rachel wants to say a few words before we move on. 

I think that we've been really grateful for support from a lot of the private funders that we have, and I think it's testimony to our relationships that certain people like Esmée just literally gave us money, but I think we need to unlock that potential and I think it goes—. The WFG Act's five ways of working is what we need to embed into this whole agenda if we are to address all of these issues. We are forced into a very short-term response because of COVID and the recession but, hopefully, we'll be able to—. We're putting forward lots of ideas around green jobs, about health inequalities, about social inequalities that we want to address and that we think nature has a role in. 

We also want to talk about prevention. There's real concern growing in our sector, actually, about marine renewables and the potential impact that that might have on nature, and also if we don't get the right tree in the right place, any forestry investment could actually drive the wrong type of outcomes. We need to embed nature not just—. There's a really strong, brilliant agenda around climate change and carbon, but the nature crisis is just as equal a crisis and often it gets—. When we talk about the environment, we talk about energy, waste and transport and we replicate that in our structural funds; we're still talking about transport, energy and housing. Where is the nature part of this? Until we address that—. 

And that collaboration—. The third sector, in understanding our role and how we are that catalyst, and, if you stabilise us, the cost benefit of the sector is quite—. Again, we can prove that; we've got all the evidence in place. And then that involvement—there are going to be real calls, in going into a recession, about how we address inequalities, especially around health and social inequalities, and we already have functioning projects in all of those communities and we want to play an active role. We just need to be enabled.

11:00

Thank you, Chair. We've been talking for the last 10 minutes about what I was going to ask actually, but perhaps I could pursue it further. I take that Rachel's remark about stabilising us is a reference to the need for core funding. 

It's not just about core funding. It's also about the cross-departmental: a lot of discussion and a lot of goodwill. And I think there is a real opportunity at the moment, and if you look at the need for transformative change, that time has to be now surely in terms of climate, ecology and health inequalities. Surely this is the opportunity.

It is certainly a window, absolutely. So, how do we achieve that coherence and cohesiveness? Because obviously there's a number of organisations here, we have Natural Resources Wales, we have the Government itself and other bodies, be they public, third sector or even private organisations, that need to play their part. How do we make sure that everybody is moving in the same direction in a mutually complementary way?

This is something that I've been looking at as part—. Wales Environment Link have set up a green recovery taskforce. So, environmental organisations are moving together in that space and sharing our thinking, and hopefully we'll have one voice and output and resource that can be used to help this space.

We've seen that NRW has been requested to set up a taskforce for Lesley Griffiths. But we still don't really know the relationship of that to the work that Jeremy Miles is doing with his round-table, and we're really getting quite concerned now. We can't get information on this, so we're getting quite concerned that the green recovery has been siloed as a green recovery, and then the fiscal stimulus package, whatever that looks like—we have no idea—is going to be business as usual or brown without any environmental input.

For the transformational change that we need, all of our recovery in Wales needs to be green, or certainly the brown aspects or the more dirty elements of our industry need to be looked at, about how that can be greened and supported for it to be more environmentally friendly, otherwise we're not just going to be able to deal with this nature and climate crisis. So, we've got some concerns around the siloing, potentially, of the green recovery into Lesley's portfolio. It would be great for you to explore that with the Minister some more and her relationship to the other work that Jeremy Miles is doing. We've been calling on the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, who's set out some of her ideas for a green recovery, to take note of all the different pieces of work that are going on, and really to play a co-ordination role for this.

We're really conscious in the environment sector around a green and just recovery. So, we really want to make sure that, as much as possible, our work is looking at this through a social justice and equalities lens and to support those people in poverty. Because what we've seen from COVID, and we knew was always underlying in the economic system, was this massive injustice. So, intergenerational justice for young people is going to be a critical issue. If they're out of jobs now, they're more likely to be out of jobs in the future, and they're going to bear the brunt of the cost for this recovery in their future economy.

We've seen the movement around black minority ethnics and then also a lot of concerns around disabled people. So, we want to make sure that the jobs that are created—the green jobs—are also ones that are accessible to these excluded groups. We're seeking to work with organisations like the anti-poverty coalition. But we've got limited resources to do that, and there needs to be a platform, at a Welsh Government level or the future generations commissioner, to bring those different sectors together to make sure that it's green and just for Wales. And we haven't seen that integration happen yet. If they can do that, fab. We'd love that, and when we can bring our specialism on the green jobs together with different organisations and interests. 

Building on what Jess said, which I completely endorse as well, I think, in terms of the role the sector can play, there's a short, medium and long-term piece here. So, one of the things that was really evident, this time last year, when Welsh Government announced a very significant capital investment in the environment with a one-year capital fund, was how difficult it was for the sector to respond. We simply had not got the capacity or the projects on the shelf ready to be able to deliver meaningful projects within one year. And I think, in the absence of any revenue funding to go with it, it meant that is was almost impossible to spend that on the kind of ambitious projects that we all wanted to.

So, I think, a really good thing that would help stabilise the sector now would be for the Welsh Government to put in place what I would call 'project development funding' for the sector to access, around agreeing what the most important major projects could be for the next five to 10 years; around peat restoration in Wales—we've got some really important peatlands; around a new national forest, which I know is already on the agenda, but looking particularly at a new Celtic rainforest. What's the next generation of the restoration of a Celtic reforest, which, after all, is the international habitat we contribute to the world on an international stage? We've also got some really important wetland habitats in Wales as well—both upland and lowland wetland habitats—and most of them are in a parlous state. So, we could put a programme together that looked at our protected sites, those three habitats, I think, and some important species on the edge. And I think we could put together a programme that all of the NGOs, NRW and the national parks could coalesce around, and we could be paid to contribute to do that and develop those into fundable, deliverable projects. So, that would be the first short-term stage.

The second stage would be to put up the match funding, so that we can go and leverage what Government support is available, either through the private sector, the social and environmental investment bonds, just innovative financing that many of us are looking at, or with bodies like the lottery, for example, and to put up the public sector funding that will enable us to proceed with confidence.

And then I think something that we need to start working on now, which is really for the longer term as well, is some of these more visionary green recovery ideas. There are some fantastic ideas in the sector, but we are not getting in the door to speak to the main architects of the recovery because we're pigeonholed in the environment sector. We've got great ideas about a natural health service, which is much more about engaging and preventative health care, making sure people live active lifestyles with access to green space near them, and the support we know that gives to their mental health from an early age.

We've got great ideas about a green workforce. We know we've got many young people who will be unemployed, and we know that we can get them active and engaged in nature because we know they care passionately about the environment. And we've got lots of great ideas that go beyond our traditional sector, and we're really keen to engage in this more visionary, new space that has opened up as a result of COVID.

11:05

Before we hear from the others, do you mind if I just ask another question, and then they can touch on that as—?

Can you let Gill answer the first question? Then I'll call you back in. Gill.

I support everything that's just been said, but just to say that I have to flag marine, as usual, because all of those—. It was a very terrestrial focus as usual. We were very disappointed when there was a discussion about the national forest, just to show that even within environment, there's quite a lot of siloing, and we do need to be invited and be asked our opinions. As Katie-Jo has indicated, there's a lot that we can do.

So, for example, at the moment, as Rachel indicated, from a Welsh Government point of view, they're pushing forward with a lot of marine renewables. They may have their place once we know the impacts that they're having, but there's been no discussion at all about looking at the other benefits that the marine environment can bring, such as for carbon capture and storage. So, for example, seagrass and saltmarsh habitats store twice as much carbon as terrestrial habitats per unit area, and unlike the terrestrial sites, they don't get saturated, they continue, and there's been no discussion about that. Absolutely nothing has taken place, and it's really frustrating when the sites aren't well managed and we've not been able to get the goods and services that we could get out of the marine environment if they were better managed and the resources were better managed. And so, we just need this re-think, really.

Okay. Llyr wants to ask another question and I know Jenny wants to ask a question. I also know we're getting very close to running out of time. So, I'll let Llyr ask his, Jenny ask hers, and then I'll go right across everybody I can see on the screen and give you a final opportunity to answer those.

Thank you, Chair, and I think Gill's point is very, very important actually, and it's one that we need to take on board. So, we tend to be talking about the money here, of course, which is natural, but I see in various documents that have been presented references, for example, the RSPB talk about—well, I mean, you all talk about—the need to strengthen environmental laws and regulations; Rebecca touched on planning and the need for urban design, for example, to reflect these opportunities for people to engage with nature and have access to green spaces. So, can we maybe just, sort of, broaden the interventions out a little bit? What kind of strengthening of laws and what kind of interventions on a more, sort of, practical level are we talking about, other than just the cash?

11:10

I just wanted to go back to the issue I was trying to raise around outdoor education. I'm not talking about the wonderful work you do in your centres where children have to arrive by coach; that's not going to be happening anytime soon. I'm talking about how we deliver on what Jessica was talking about in terms of inequalities and we transform the playgrounds of our schools to be venues for education in the outdoors, because schools don't necessarily know how to do this and I'm hoping that you guys do. So, I need to know what your thinking is about contacting local authorities, contacting local schools and actually helping them do this. 

Thank you. I'll make my way around everybody now on the panels, so no need to indicate. I'll start with Rachel because you're the first person I see. 

Okay. Quite a long answer for you, Llyr. First of all, as I reiterated at the beginning of this, we are still asking to stop the loss of nature around pesticides, pollution, planning decisions, procurement as well, and also nobody's mentioned Brexit yet. Everything's going to be compounded by that. So, the future protections, there's lots of uncertainty about what a new enforcement body will look like or the new environmental laws that'll be coming in. The same if not better has been the promise, and we want to uphold that.

And also we haven't talked about nature-based solutions. The other element of this is when you invest in nature you get all those multiple outcomes, and it's beyond me why, therefore, we are not having a more rounded conversation about the investment into these because we could be going into a drought season and we will no doubt have flooding, and climate change isn't going anywhere. We have a lot of the resolve, we just need to have that longer term conversation.

And again, I'm going to reiterate what my colleagues have said: we really want to engage and have a lot to deliver, we just need to be enabled. So, yes, we would like to work a lot more with schools, but we need education staff, we need our land management staff to be able to go into schools and we need to explain those multiple benefits. So, yes, we'd like to—. So, we need a road map: we need to actually start planning this out and understanding it.

And I agree with Gill: why isn't the national forest including kelp forests, for example? We need to be a bit more imaginative. We double the size of Wales when we take in our marine environment. And instead, our response is, 'Well, we'll fill it with marine renewables.' Well, actually, that could severely impact on our sea bird colonies where we haven't taken a—. We're the only country, I think, now left in the UK without a sea bird strategy. We're globally important for them.

So, we need to get this right and we need to embed this thinking more. So, we need doors opening within Government and we also lack conduit to private company investment. We've all been looking at our links to private companies. We've been asking for many years within Welsh Government for research and development in this field. That hasn't been forthcoming. Wales is rich in natural capital, both in our terrestrial and in our blue potential economies. So, what we don't want to do is see a repeat of business as usual.

And the final word would be on 70 per cent of Wales is farmed. If we don't get the sustainable land management payments right, in other words public goods payments right, and if we don't attract private investment into the work that we want to achieve through that, I don't think that will produce results, and that's where nature's recovery will come from, terrestrially.

And the other element of COVID has been communities really wanting to play their role, and I would really like to encourage communities to provide that local, organic, sustainably produced food, particularly the horticulture sector. Get rid of the five-hectare limit. Let's enable people to really play their role because I think they have had a severe awakening to this agenda through the crisis, so let's build on those lockdown behaviours we've seen, and enable those new community links that have all been formed across Wales. 

11:15

Rachel's covered everything, almost, there. So, just to add a bit more emphasis around the biodiversity targets that are still needed in Wales to help enable more of that mainstreaming through that budget process to happen. So, similar to what we've seen through the climate change emission reduction targets, if we had something similar for biodiversity, it would really help integration then through the budget-making process, and enable more investment in nature's recovery.

The other thing that Rachel touched on that we haven't really covered today, which has a vital role in post-COVID green recovery, is improving our local food infrastructure in Wales to help suppliers and consumers access that space. That will need investment from Welsh Government and local authorities, public service boards working together to enable that, and WWF has recently done a report through Cardiff University that looks at the different mechanisms to enable that to happen.

Then, I think there's a real need as well to bring people into this conversation, so, as Rachel said, how we use that interest in our local systems and our economy and move that into a space where people are being able to determine their future, and where the investment goes at that local and national level is really important. So, whether we want another Wales that looks at this and brings that conversation into budget processing and prioritisation I think is something to think about for the future.

Thank you, Chairman. Not to repeat anything that's already been said, I think the other point I'd like to make is that we need to think about how we view the environment as not being something that's rural. We're still seeing a very urban-rural divide in terms of thinking and policy development, and environment isn't something for rural Wales and the economy for more urban Wales: we need a sustainable economy in rural Wales, which tourism is part of and farming is a foundation, but other sources of income, too. Also, we need to bring nature to people, not take people to nature in rural Wales, and we need to think about how we develop a better understanding, a better narrative about how we talk about where you go and find nature. I'll leave it at that, but I also endorse everything that's already been said by Rachel and Jess.

Did you say 'Katie-Jo'? Just checking.

Okay, thank you. I'll try and not cover anything anyone else has said. So, in response to the schools point, Jenny, I'm happy to pick up more of this outside this meeting with you. There are lots of very practical barriers about who is going to look after that bit of the playground and who's paying for it, and it tends to be a voluntary effort, but it comes in waves of the passions of individuals. We've been running a programme for a number of years in Cardiff where schools can design their own green improvements, and the kids are involved in doing that, and it's been very popular, but it tends to be quite cyclical, because there is no responsibility on the school, really, to look after that; it tends to be down to an individual teacher. So we'll pick that one up longer term, I think.

In terms of the non-financial investments for a green recovery, I think we don't have any certainty around what our new environmental laws in Wales will look like post Brexit. We need to enshrine the environmental principles into Welsh law and have some really clear independent environmental governance, and again that is still unclear. We've been calling for binding nature recovery targets, as Jess said, and we need to see real commitment to doing that, because as we hit a recession and funding gets tight, the first thing that all public authorities do is retreat to their statutory duties, and on the whole, nature is not one of those, so we won't see much progress at all unless we have that framework. I think that's absolutely critical.

I think there's much that we can do to align policy, and some of that might require new legislation. So, a really good live example of that at the moment is we've got a number of marine applications for developments for renewable energy going through both the Transport and Works Act 1992 and the marine licensing in separate stages, which means that the environment is done at the end, which is really unhelpful, and it means that we get this kind of creeping consent for projects before we properly understand their environmental impact. And I'm particularly concerned that where we've got projects like Morlais, which is largely public sector funded, where we appear to be keen to take enormous environmental risks, when, actually, there could be a win-win approach around a smaller development that also invests in marine evidence gathering with that public money, and that we really understand the environment into which we are putting novel technologies, and then we can be a world leader. But if we just put new technologies in without understanding the environment, put pressure on NRW to consent things, we're not going to be a world leader in anything. 

And then, I also think that it would be a really valuable thing, as Rachel said, in the planning system, to be really clear that there will be no net loss of nature in any development. So that puts the onus on the developer to bring forward mitigation or compensation, and to do that in a co-ordinated way that links to our area statements, so we're starting to invest in the most important things to restore the natural world.

And the point that I would say is that I think that some of this requires leadership. The environment is really difficult sometimes; we don't understand it all and it doesn't always present us with easy choices. It sometimes means that we have to make compromises or go back to the drawing board and do things differently. And I think that there is a real onus on leadership through this, and being really clear that we are a country that wants to restore our natural world. I think I've seen great leadership from our First Minister so far, but we really need to see that translated into the green recovery plan.

And I will mention money, finally, because I think that there is a fantastic investment here. In 2010, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did a report that said that, for every pound spent on a protected site, there was £13 benefit returned. That was 10 years ago, and we know that the cost—a report was done on the costs of restoring all of our protected sites in Wales by NRW—was a £144 million. Now, that actually seems quite a small figure now to restore all our important sites, and I think that would be an investment—one step of investment well made. And then, of course, we've got investment in the wider countryside through a reformed, sustainable land management policy.

And I will just emphasise— because I did miss it out before, Gill—the marine environment; I do think that the Welsh marine environment is actually getting more important in the context of global changes. So, we're seeing that many, for example, sea bird populations in Scotland, are under huge pressure as the temperature of the water is changing. And also, we're seeing vast expansion of offshore turbines in the North Sea, so we're expecting displacement of quite a number of our sea bird populations to the west coast. So, I think the Welsh marine environment is well in need of a complete overhaul as to how we see it. We have hardly any civil servants working on it, most of them are working on fisheries, which is a tiny portion of the marine environment, and I think that area is overdue some scrutiny. 

11:20

I'll just mention two specifics: let's see a really major reallocation of funding towards delivering all the very fine environmental guidance in 'Planning Policy Wales', including on green infrastructure and habitat protection—put some real impetus behind actually delivering that; and likewise in accelerating the move to supporting really sustainable, nature-friendly farming, and dealing with the water and air pollution issues. I think, you know, if we just did those two things, that would be a major step forward. And the acid test is shifting the allocation of spending away from things that increase emissions and pollution and destroy habitats, to things that do the opposite. And then just briefly on schools: our free tree packs remain available with a new corporate sponsor, and a large proportion of schools in Wales have taken those up, so that will continue. 

Thank you. Nothing much has been said there that I would disagree with. But some very quick points: I think one that probably needs to have been across Government vision here of a green-blue world that we want to live in—and I suppose that there's an element of debate there, because I sense that there isn't an entire agreement in this meeting of what that might look like, but certainly, once that's agreed, there needs to be a reallocation of resources to deliver the outcomes it aspires.

While I don't disagree with the comments about the urban requirements, I'm going to take the opportunity of making sure that the rural environment isn't forgotten. I think what we've seen here has been a very quick move to a different way of working there and we'll need to make sure that there's sufficient investment in rural areas for that to continue. So, there needs to be investment in broadband so that people can live and work properly and have access to facilities in rural areas. Transport on a local basis is another issue as well. We've seen tremendous benefits out of different ways of working; the fact that this meeting hasn't involved lots of us travelling to Cardiff is a real positive. We need to make sure that that small change continues for the future. I think that that will make rural areas far more viable, which I think will be very positive for the wider environment and wider communities as well.

11:25

Thank you for that. I was going to say, read my article in the Evening Post about the future of meetings. Gill.

Thank you. I'm last but I've still got quite a few things to add to that. I just wanted to make the point that people won't miss—there have been lots of surveys to show that people are very supportive of it, so you're pushing against an open door here. People want to save the environment. But I would also like to see a green/blue recovery to make sure that it's ecosystem based, because you've got to remember that it is one system and it has knock-on effects. Things like agricultural pollution and nutrient sediment run-off make the marine environment fail in its legal duties.

You talked about what specifics you would need—you did ask that question—well, we need well-managed sites and yes, we need the new legislation and any legislation post Brexit. But we have existing legislation, we have to make sure that we have monitoring and management and enforcement to ensure that that is actually undertaken correctly. So, for example, we don't have any highly protected marine areas in Wales. If we had those, we would know that things like the weight within a site would go up, the density of how many animals were in there or how many plants and the size of them, and bigger animals produce more babies. So, for example, European sea bass: if you have an 80cm European sea bass it produces 14 times more babies than a 40cm sea bass—14 times. Just little things that we can do. It's not rocket science. We just need to manage the activities to allow recovery.

And my final thing I have to say, because I appreciate what the time is, but it hasn't been mentioned at all, is that we have to think about the circular economy and making sure that we push through to make sure that we reduce our carbon footprint through making sure that we focus on reducing and repairing and that we bring through all the legislation that has been planned on deposit return systems, on extended producer responsibility, and on single-use plastics. And that's something, again, that the public are very keen to do and it will tie in with the green recovery and the green/blue recovery.

Can I thank everybody? As somebody who's an evangelist for a deposit return scheme, I very much welcome that last comment. We've gone massively over time and we haven't come to the end of our questions, but thank you all very much for coming along. It's been very informative and I'm sure that a lot of things you've said to us today we'll be saying to the Minister in two weeks' time, making some of the points that you've made to us. I think one of the strengths of these meetings is that we can act as a conduit between the sector and the Minister in public, because the Minister will be replying in public.

So, thank you all very much for coming along. Coming back to what Tegryn said, I think the future of meetings like this is with you sat at home rather than you all travelling for an hour or two hours. I'm not sure where Tegryn lives in the Pembrokeshire area, but if he can get up there in less than an hour and a half, I congratulate him, and if I was planning it, it would be two hours. I know that an awful lot of other people who have come from other parts of Wales. Now we've got this technology and we've got it working, dragging people the length and breadth of Wales cannot be the future if we care about our environment. So, again, thank you all very much.

4. Papurau i'w nodi
4. Paper(s) to note

I now move on to our next item, which is to note some papers. Are Members happy to note the following papers? Welsh Government response to the committee's report on fuel poverty; correspondence from the Chair to the Counsel General and Minister for European Transition; correspondence to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs from the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee on the Agriculture Wages (Wales) Order 2020. If we're happy to accept those—.

11:30
5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 (vi) a (ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Can I move, under Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix), to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting? Can I suggest that we have a five-minute break? Thank you.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:30.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 11:30.

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