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Britain's biggest environmental groups have warned the government that funding to tackle the climate emergency must be more than double next year to avoid an even greater cost from catastrophic ecological breakdown in the future.

Writing to chancellor Sajid Javid, as he prepares to announce on Wednesday his spending priorities for the year ahead, more than a dozen leading environment charities and other leading organisations said urgent action was required to raise spending, including:

  • Greenpeace;
  • Friends of the Earth;
  • Oxfam;
  • Christian Aid;
  • Woodland Trust;
  • WWF;
  • Islamic Relief.

Laying out their demands for meeting the climate emergency, the groups said that government spending needed to increase from roughly £17 billion a year at present to at least £42 billion over the next three years. Further increases would be required in the future should the government wish to meet its promise of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The groups said failure to deliver the bold rise in expenditure, equivalent to about 2% of economic output each year and around 5% of total state spending, would mean passing on an unsuitable economy with a "planet-sized debt" caused by a climate breakdown.

Despite welcoming the 2050 target promised by Theresa May, the charities said the date needed to be brought forward by several years and that policy and funding arrangements were not yet in place.

In the letter, the organisations urged the chancellor to demonstrate that he understood the gravity of the challenge by holding a climate and nature emergency budget to unleash a clean industrial revolution in Britain. It said higher state investment would encourage more private spending to bring about a low-carbon economy, stating "your department holds the key to ending the UK's contribution to climate change and reversing nature's retreat, while also setting off a positive economic transformation".

Boris Johnson had said there would be greater funding for big infrastructure projects but without giving specific details for low-carbon schemes. Polling carried out for the charities by Opinium found a majority of people want ministers to spend more on the climate emergency and nature more broadly.

Among the priorities put forward by the groups are:

  • an £11.6 billion expansion in transport spending, including a UK-wide car scrappage scheme to remove heavily-polluting vehicles from the roads;
  • money put into buildings and industry to boost environmental sustainability, while more funding should be given to help communities disrupted by the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Economist and executive director of Greenpeace UK said: "no one in government is still trying to argue that this is not an emergency, and yet no one in government is acting as though it is".

“We are still constantly pumping carbon into the atmosphere, and trying to ignore the problem will leave our children with a damaged world and a planet-sized debt. There’s a strong economic case and an overwhelming moral imperative for the chancellor to act.”

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Pretoria Energy Company (Arable) Limited, a company that produces feedstock for a sister company’s anaerobic digestion plants, admitted causing pollution to watercourses in Emneth Hungate, Norfolk and Aldreth in Cambridgeshire.

Both incidents were caused by silage liquor leaking from ag-bags and making its way into the watercourses. These large ag-bags are often stored on fields, filled with agricultural feeds and sealed airtight. The ag-bags used by this company contained approximately 318 tonnes of silage.

As the ag-bags are airtight and exposed to direct sunlight, a large amount of gas and silage liquor is produced in them. This means the owner must maintain them by releasing the gas to avoid the bag bursting and removing any liquor build-up to prevent leaks and consequential pollution.

On 7 February 2017 the Environment Agency were notified of watercourse pollution in Emneth. The attending officer found pollution caused by silage liquor escaping from eight ag-bags on the site, some of which has holes in the side allowing the liquor to escape. They discovered sewage fungus growing 300m downstream of the ag-bags.

A representative from Pretoria Energy Company (Arable) Limited attended the incident with the Environment Agency officer and said they would arrange to remove the ag-bags. However when the officer returned to the site on 29 March 2017, they discovered all eight ag-bags were still present and samples showed continued pollution on the nearby watercourse.

There was a further complaint at the same site in relation to odour, and on 19 July 2017 when the local council investigated, there were still 5 ag-bags present.

On 26 May and 30 May 2017 the Environment Agency received complaints for a separate site in Aldreth, Cambridgeshire. They found 14 ag-bags at the site, eight of which had completely failed but it was believed the liquor had been contained and not entered the watercourse.

However on a second visit on 1 June 2017, officers inspected the watercourse and discovered black, stagnant smelling water. They also found sewage fungus growing up to 535 metres downstream. Tests confirmed the water was clearly harmful to the biodiversity of the watercourse. The pollution was traced back to the ag-bags.

The company admitted causing pollution in both incidents. At the Emneth incident, they tried to identify drains on the site and checked the ag-bags, but failed to pump out any of the silage liquor which ended up in the watercourse. They blamed extreme weather as a factor for the second incident at Aldreth, saying it caused the ag-bags to burst and the ground had been too hard to absorb some of the liquid.

Magistrates said the company had been reckless in respect of both incidents and ordered them to pay a total of £45,648.50 in fines, costs and compensation.

Major 'Love Water' campaign launched
Published: 02 Sep 2019

A major campaign has been launched to encourage the UK public to help the country to protect water resources for future generations.

'Love Water' is a campaign involving more than 40 environmental groups, charities, water companies and regulators that seeks to raise awareness of the importance of water and the role everyone plays in protecting it.

Clean, healthy and easily accessible water is essential for not only health and wellbeing but economic growth. Population growth and the climate emergency puts increasing pressure on the water environment.

There is less available water in the UK than most other European countries, and the UK is facing hotter, drier summers and an increased risk of water shortages.

The average person in the UK uses an eye-watering 150 litres of water per day. 'Love Water' seeks to raise awareness of the small changes people can make to make a big difference to protecting our water.

The campaign will feature many events and initiatives, including beach and river cleans-ups and various water saving projects, to engage the public and encourage them to enjoy water and the environment.

‘Love Water’ is also calling on businesses to get involved through promoting activities and pledging to save water and protect the environment by reducing pollution and waste. The campaign hopes that businesses will make water-saving and pollution reduction a part of their operational and corporate responsibility targets. 

Michael Roberts, Chief Executive of Water UK, one of the organisations involved, commented: ''The Love Water campaign is a great way to get the public to think about the link between the water we all use and the rivers and lakes that provide it and sustain our environment. We all need to take action so that this country does not run out of water in the middle part of this century. Only by working together can we bring about the changes needed to ensure we have a resilient water environment now and in the future.''

Thames Water Utilities Ltd appealed the £2 million fine handed to them following a guilty plea to an environmental offence, but the appeal has been dismissed.

The company was fined in December 2018 after they admitted causing pollution from the discharge of untreated sewage from one of their pumping stations into a nearby brook. The incident took place in 2015 after a malfunction in the operative pump at the pumping station. Although alarms highlighted the malfunction present, and staff were aware, no immediate steps were taken to correct it. Consequently 82,000 litres of untreated sewage discharged into a nearby brook which killed a large number of bullhead fish in the watercourse.

This was not the first time the company had been convicted for an environmental offence. The judge considered the previous convictions and fines and the company’s recklessness by failing to act when imposing the £2 million fine.

On appeal of the fine amount Thames Water argued the fine level was manifestly excessive. They claimed the judge had failed to engage in the step-by-step exercise required by the sentencing guidelines and had further failed to explain how he reached the figure of £2 million.

The appeal court dismissed the appeal and upheld the original £2 million fine.

They commented the judge’s sentencing remarks in the original case had, like the appellant claimed, failed to set out clearly how they reached the fine and not engaged fully in the step-by-step approach the sentencing guidelines requires. However the court ruled that had the judge engaged in the step-by-step approach required by the guideline, he would have reached the same conclusion as he did when applying a less structured approach.

In terms of whether the fine was manifestly excessive, the appeal Court stated the offence was a breach of environmental law committed by a very large organisation due to corporate recklessness, therefore it can’t be said the fine was manifestly excessive or wrong in principle.

Thames Water had also argued the fine imposed was greater than for a previous conviction in Reading Crown Court. The appeal court said the sentence imposed by Reading Crown Court could be of no persuasive effect in deciding the fine for this case.

Finally, Thames Water asked the appeal Court to note the difficulties faced by very large organisation in assessing fines in any case. They suggested an additional table should be added to the sentencing guidelines to provide ranges of finds for different categories of offence. The court stated it did not set out sentencing ranges by reference to figures because very large organisations varied greatly in size and in the nature of their operation. Consequently the Sentencing Council had taken an informed decision to provide only general guidance for sentences in relation to very large organisations. There was therefore no basis for amending such an approach and the appeal was dismissed.

Hundreds of trees have been planted as part of the first project to trial natural flood management techniques to help improve protection for the people of Leeds living near the River Aire.

The pilot site on a working farm at Eshton Beck now has 650 new trees planted by staff and trainees from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and volunteers.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust also worked on three further pilots on the same site, with the help of volunteers from the area.

The flood alleviation work involved:

  • building 66 log and brash leaky dams;
  • planting a further 850 trees;
  • undertaking 0.5ha of woodland management;
  • building a 20m-long log revetment;
  • using timber to prevent bank erosion;
  • installing 200m of fenceline and a water gate to protect the new trees from nearby grazing stock;
  • creating leaky barriers and woody dams;
  • stabilising river banks.

The aim is to see how natural techniques can slow the flow of water and reduce the risk of flooding downstream. The trees include dogwood, guelder rose, downy birch, alder and willow which will be planted along with hedgerows of hawthorn, blackthorn and hazel. It will form part of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme, led by Leeds City Council in partnership with the Environment Agency, which has a catchment wide approach to flood risk as it enters its second stage.

The £500,000 pilot programme, funded by Leeds City Council, uses natural methods to slow the flow of water from upstream in the catchment. This includes land management to reduce water run-off, woodland creation to increase tree canopy cover, and river and floor plain restoration so that the landscape can hold more water in times of flood.

These pilot sites will allow the team to monitor and research the techniques used to gather evidence and increase their understanding of the benefits they provide for reducing flood risk. The pilot programme will also be used by the Environment Agency and Leeds City Council to develop a co-design approach to working with landowners, tenants, local authorities and other key partners such as the Aire Rivers Trust and the White Rose Forest. This will help to develop future plans for the catchment.

Working with natural processes to reduce flood risk, known as natural flood management, is an important part of managing and reducing flood risk in a sustainable way alongside more traditional engineering solutions. The interventions will also create habitat for wildlife and help regenerate rural and urban areas through tourism.

The second phase of Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme has a strong focus on natural flood management, with proposals to create new woodland areas which would more than double canopy coverage in the River Aire catchment. It focuses on protecting the Kirkstall corridor, which was badly hit by the 2015 Christmas flood, and areas beyond the city boundary to further reduce the possibility of the river flooding in Leeds.

Chris Milburn, Project Executive at the Environment Agency, said this work: "contributes to local flood risk reduction and wider environmental benefits, slowing the flow of water locally and to downstream communities".

Don Vine, Conservation Officer with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust added: "we have already seen some small changes along the watercourse due to our recent work and we will be monitoring all these interventions over the next few years to measure impact - not only river flow, but also water quality and wildlife".

Fifty more towns to receive funding
Published: 30 Aug 2019

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that an additional 50 towns will benefit from the £1 billion Future High Streets Fund, taking the total number of towns to benefit from the fund to 100.

The money can be used in those areas to:

  • turn empty retail units into new homes and workplaces;
  • improve transport and access into town centres;
  • invest in vital infrastructure.

Johnson said "our high streets are right at the heart of our communities, and I will do everything I can to make sure they remain vibrant places where people want to go, meet and spend their money".

But as town centres have been facing challenges, the Government decided to expand the High Streets Fund to support over 100 high streets to regenerate, backed by £1 billion of investment.

"This scheme is going to re-energise and transform ever more of our high streets - helping them to attract new businesses, boost local growth, and create new infrastructure and jobs".

The 50-town extension to the shortlist comes after the £3.6 billion Towns Fund was announced last month. It included an additional £325 million for the Future High Streets Fund, taking the overall fund to £1 billion.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick commented "interest in the fund has been huge, and with so many strong applications, I am extending the number of towns moving forward to the next phase and getting a chance to develop their proposals".

The Government explained that successful candidates would progress to the second phase of the Future High Streets Fund and receive up to £150,000 to support the development of detailed project proposals that can be submitted for capital funding.

The local authorities going to the next phase of the fund include:

  • Dudley;
  • Barrow;
  • Fylde;
  • Calderdale;
  • Newcastle-upon-Lyme;
  • Nuneaton and Bedworth;
  • Tamworth;
  • Middlesbrough.

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