The report from the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which is the first major review of the government’s Environment Improvement Plan, has concluded that milestones risk being missed, and government needs to speed up and scale up delivery.
The report highlights a lack of action on government commitments to reduce pesticide use, protect hedgerows, and restore biodiversity.
It found that out of 40 environmental targets, including those set under the Environment Act 2021, evidence can only be found to show that government is largely on track to achieve just four.
Soil Association Policy Director Brendan Costelloe said, “It is deeply concerning that the government is failing to make progress on its environmental targets, but farmers hold the solution.
“Pollution levels from intensive livestock production remain unacceptably high, and government must introduce a fit-for-purpose system to prevent this by putting farming at the heart of the solution to the nature and climate crises.
“Today’s report from the Office for Environmental Protection highlights that every single farm may need to shift to nature-friendly practices for the UK to meet farming water pollution targets. It is clear we need a wholesale shift from degrading, intensive agriculture to organic and agroecological farming, yet the government’s ambitions currently fall far short of this.
“We continue to call on government to double investment in agroecological farming and to help farmers access the advice they need. Soil Association farming advisors are here to help farm businesses, but the government must also adequately fund Natural England.”
Recommendations from the report that the Soil Association urges swift government action on:
- A detailed plan for woodland and tree planting schemes beyond 2025, ensuring appropriate weight is given to planting schemes in nature-friendly farming.
- Acceleration of actions to enable assessment of whether soils are being managed sustainably including defining sustainable management, development of indicators, and evaluation of current regulatory and governance frameworks to support policy development and implementation. Farmers already working to get a sustainability score through Soil Association Exchange are already proving that soil assessments and improvement plans are possible and wanted by the farming community.
- Reducing the environmental pressures and impacts of the farming sector by taking a “food systems approach” that looks at production and consumption, focusing on a broad range of actors within the current food chain to enable a more effective policy. The Soil Association urges government to bring forward many of the forgotten recommendations from Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy, an extensive piece of work already commissioned by government to do just this. A key next step will be to swiftly implement the proposals for at least half of food in schools and hospitals to be local and sustainable, giving our farmers an obvious market for doing the right thing.