News

DAERA provide an update on COVID-19
Published: 09 Jun 2020

Minister of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs Edwin Poots has paused all routine Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) inspections of businesses, industry and utility services until 30 April 2020.

This follows on from an earlier decision to pause routine farm inspections and is a further response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim is to take pressure off businesses, industry and utility service providers, who are working extremely hard to ensure the economy and utility services keep going where possible. 

However, essential inspections will continue while any reports of incidents with the potential to cause a significant impact on public health, animal health and welfare, plant health or the environment, including the safety of food supplies, illegal waste disposal or impacts on drinking water will be investigated as normal.

This In Focus covers:

Inspections and investigations paused;
Inspections that will continue;
Waste sector works classified as key;
Temporary Regulatory Position Statements and Guidance.

Inspections and investigations paused

The inspections and investigations paused include:

General:

  • routine inspection programmes of major industrial installations;
  • reports concerning illegal waste disposal which have been assessed as low level and low risk;
  • routine compliance monitoring site inspections.

Water:

  • routine Water Regulation inspections;
  • planned routine audits of Northern Ireland Water sites;
  • routine monitoring of private water supplies;
  • routine oil and pesticide storage checks on industrial premises.

Marine:

  • routine inspections of Marine Protected Areas;
  • marine construction, dredging and disposal activities;
  • routine inspections of fishing vessels at sea.

Inland fisheries:

  • routine inspection of commercial and recreational licences;
  • routine inspections for work permitted under the Fisheries Act;
  • routine inspections relating to low severity fish kills;
  • investigations into low level reports of illegal fishing.

Plant Health:

  • non-essential plant health inspections;
  • all routine forestry grant scheme inspections.

Veterinary Service Animal Health Group:

  • routine Animal By-Products and Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies inspections, supervisions and feed sampling;
  • routine artificial reproduction inspections and audits;
  • routine agri-food non-farm inspections;
  • Food Business Operator routine compliance audits for all food business establishments with a "Good" or "Generally Satisfactory" status;
  • Third Country compliance audits in abattoirs;
  • routine zoo and wildlife licence inspections.

Inspections that will continue

The following will continue:

  • any reported incidents where there is a risk to human or animal health and welfare or serious risk to the environment, including:
    • high risk or high impact waste pollution, or
    • offending, or high or medium severity water pollution incidents;
  • incidents of fly tipping requiring use of DAERA’s fly tipping contract, including reports of dumped carcasses;
  • administrative inspections of waste movements;
  • regulation of Northern Ireland Water, with some relaxation of monitoring programmes;
  • regulation of private water supply sites;
  • targeted surveillance and inspections in identified higher risk locations with the potential to impact on drinking water supplies;
  • response to complaints and significant environmental incidents in marine areas;
  • satellite fishing vessel monitoring and vessel logging in harbours;
  • live fish movement certification scheme;
  • glass eel inspections;
  • reports of fish kills and illegal fishing;
  • incidents in relation to animal welfare;
  • port sanitary and phytosanitary inspections;
  • inspections necessary to maintain food supplies, protect public health and enable export trade facilitation and certification;
  • response to breaches of Animal By Products or Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies Regulations;
  • plant health inspections;
  • National Residue Control plan and sampling of C1 seed for certification;
  • serious incidents relating to dangerous wild animals, wildlife crime, wildfires and alien species.

Waste sector works classified as key

In addition, the Minister recognised waste sector works as key, during the COVID-19 crisis:

"During this pandemic we must do all we can not to intensify the burden on our public health services. By recycling correctly, putting your waste in the right bin and not dumping unwanted waste we can all play our part - it’s that simple.

"These easy, sensible and practical steps will stop any additional risks to public health and support our waste sector workers who are already under increasing pressure".

Those in the waste industry were also recognised as playing a vital role during the coronavirus outbreak, including those collecting, transporting, treating and disposing of waste.

"Maintaining these critical services is a priority of the Executive. These men and women not only help protect our environment and public health but play a vital role in keeping the supply chain functioning.

"The materials they collect and process, such as cardboard, plastic and glass, are vital resources in package production across our food and retail sectors, so a drop in recycling can impact on the supply chain functioning effectively.

"For these reasons all those working in the waste sector are key workers. I have also established a Covid-19 Waste Group to provide support, guidance and regulatory direction to the waste sector. So please, do what you can to help by putting the right waste in the right place".

Temporary Regulatory Position Statements and Guidance

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) have published a series of temporary COVID-19 guidance and Regulatory Position Statements which deal with specific circumstances where they are relaxing normal regulatory requirements to avoid increasing risks to the environment or human health during the particular circumstances of COVID-19.

If you comply with their requirements, and all of your other environmental regulatory requirements, they will not normally take enforcement action against you.

The RPS and guidance published so far include:

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) stated they are aware there could be a disruption for those trying to re-qualify for first aid certificates which they require for work.

Back in March, the HSE announced that certificates for:

  • Offshore Medic (OM);
  • Offshore First Aid (OFA);
  • First Aid at Work (FAW); or
  • Emergency First Aid at Work (EFAW),

expiring on or after 16 March 2020 may have the validity of their current certificate extended by up to three months.

This has now been extended further due to disruption caused by COVID-19 still persisting.

Those who wish to qualify for a further extension to their qualification must be able to explain why they haven't been able to requalify and demonstrate what steps they have taken to access the training.

In England the HSE has now agreed a final deadline for requalification of certificates by 30 September 2020. This comes as the first aid training industry in England said they are confident enough courses will be available to meet demand.

There is no such deadline set yet for those in Wales and Scotland as training capacity there might take longer to build. The HSE will review the situation there in the coming months before setting a deadline.

The HSE has said they support the use of online annual refresher training for those unable to book face to face training because of the pandemic. However the HSE strongly recommends the importance of face to face delivery of the practical elements of requalification courses so competency can be properly assessed.

There was also an announcement by the HSE in relation to diver's certificates of medical fitness, saying that any diver with a 12-month certificate of medical fitness to dive which expires on or after 16 March 2020 may be accepted until 1 June 2020, where they can't obtain a medical re-examination with an approved doctor due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Arrangements are now in place which allow for interim telephone assessments for divers who can't book a face-to-face medical examination due to COVID-19. These assessments allow the approved medical examiner to issue a three month medical certificate. After this three month certificate they must book in for a face-to-face medical examination.

Divers can only qualify for this interim telephone assessment providing they:

  • have had no symptoms of COVID-19;
  • did not need to self-isolate;
  • have had similar symptoms but tested negative.

The HSE has stipulated the minimum recovery time for divers based on their COVID-19 status and when a return to work assessment will be required. 

All other divers will need to have a full medical in accordance with the requirements of MA1, and in some circumstances a medical without the breathing (spirometry) test can be performed. If this is the case and the medical assessment is satisfactory, a 6-month medical certificate may be issued.

SEPA's COVID-19 response
Published: 08 Jun 2020

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) have clarified that their focus during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will be on "protecting our environment, our communities and our people."

Protecting Scotland's environment and communities

SEPA will help regulated businesses adjust to these extraordinary circumstances, which are constraining everyone's capacity and resources.

Efforts will be prioritised on those regulated sectors that are crucial to the functioning of society during this public health emergency, and will work with businesses from other sectors as much as possible.

Scotland's communities will be protected through vital flood forecasting and warning services.

Protecting people

SEPA are firmly focused on supporting the people of Scotland throughout the public health emergency and beyond.

The majority of their workforce have moved to working from home, but SEPA aim to continue to protect and enhance Scotland’s environment by:

  • attending significant environmental incidents;
  • focusing restricted field work on issues of highest environmental risk;
  • maintaining a gauging network to support the flood forecasting and warning system;
  • use new channels and means to support regulated businesses and monitor compliance.

Temporary Regulatory Position Statements

SEPA have published a series of temporary COVID-19 Regulatory Position Statements which deal with specific circumstances where they are relaxing normal regulatory requirements to avoid increasing risks to the environment or human health during the particular circumstances of COVID-19.

If you comply with their requirements, and all of your other environmental regulatory requirements, they will not normally take enforcement action against you.

The Statements published so far include:

Contact details

Any environmental incidents can still be reported by visiting: sepa.org.uk/report

SEPA's online enquiries form also remains operational: sepa.org.uk/contact/contact-us-by-email

A review led by former Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon is calling for the introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) in English waters.

The review was commissioned in 2019 on World Ocean Day by then Environment Secretary Michael Gove, as part of the Government's strategy to protect country's waters. The Highly Protected Marine Areas would allow greater recovery of the marine ecosystem, improve biodiversity and support the development of new habitats.

The "Blue Belt" already protects an area of 92,000 km2 of English seas, and the introduction of new Highly Protected Marine Areas would provide for greater protection through a "whole site approach" and only permitting certain activities within their boundaries, such as scuba diving, kayaking and vessel transit.

Activities, such as fishing, construction and dredging would be prohibited in those areas as they can have a damaging effect on habitats or wildlife. The review claims that introduction of those areas would lead to a significant improvement of biodiversity by giving the marine life the best chance to recover and thrive.

The review suggests that these measures could provide many social and economic benefits, such as increased tourism and recreational activities as well as opportunities for scientific research and education. Any potential fishing restrictions in these areas could be counterbalanced by a stronger and more diverse marine life, which could benefit the fishing industry in long-term, by providing areas where sea life can develop and breed undisturbed.

The key recommendations by the review include:

  • introduction of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) within the existing network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to allow for the full protection and recovery of marine ecosystems;
  • a "whole site approach" to protect all species and habitats within the HPMA boundaries;
  • potential sites should be identified on the basis of ecological principles; and
  • "blue carbon" habitats are identified for protection during the HPMA site selection process to help combat climate change.

Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper said: "I welcome the recommendations put forward by the Panel. This review is an important marker of how we can use highly protected areas to mitigate the impact of human activities on the ocean, and support its recovery to a more natural state.

"I thank the panel for their work and look forward to working with Defra as they consider how best to take forward the recommendations."

Friday 5 June is World Environment Day. This annual event is the United Nation's flagship day for raising awareness and promoting action for the environment.

The theme for this year is "Time for Nature", and is one that is believed to be particularly poignant in light of the current coronavirus pandemic.

Biodiversity is the cornerstone of all life on Earth, and this current pandemic has further highlighted the rate at which we are destroying biodiversity. It is estimated that around one billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur globally every year from diseases caused by coronaviruses. Further still around 75% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans have been transmitted to people by animals. With many scientists and environmentalists telling us that nature is sending us a clear message.

The actions of humans from intensified agriculture, encroachment on wildlife habitats, deforestation, and climate change, are all pushing nature beyond its limit. Scientists claim we need 1.6 Earths to meet the demands on nature humans inflict every year.

This unsustainable path we are on will lead to further damage to nature and biodiversity loss. In turn this will have a severe impact on the human race, leading to the collapse of food systems as well as an impact on health.

So this World Environment Day, the United Nation's wants to engage all of us, individuals, businesses and Governments, to come together and make real changes to protect nature and promote biodiversity worldwide.

This years event has been moved predominantly online due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there are plenty of ways for everyone to get involved and make a real difference.

The UN's World Environment Day website, provides links on everything you need to get started. Here you can find a schedule of events happening around the world, as well as hearing from different organisations, Governments and individuals sharing what action they have taken to promote this important cause. #ForNature is the main Twitter handle being used to promote this years event.

There is a Practical Guide to World Environment Day 2020 that gives an overview of the importance of biodiversity and what you can do as an individual, group, business, city and Government can do to take action. 

Latest reports show that one million plant and animal species are facing extinction due to human actions. Every species plays a vital role within our ecosystem and the loss of species can have a devastating knock-on effect that throughout the ecosystem. There is also an intrinsic link to the global economy and biodiversity, with biodiversity services (including food, soil formation, air quality, climate change), are worth over $125 trillion a year.

However we can reverse the trends of biodiversity loss that we are spiralling towards, if we take action now to change our relationship with nature and become accountable in protecting it.

So make sure this year that you take action. You could make changes at home such as promoting wildlife in your garden through certain plants. You can talk to family and friends to raise awareness of the issue and let them know how they can get involved.

Tell your colleagues and management at work about World Environment Day and why change is needed. You could ask colleagues to propose initiatives that the company could back such as creating green spaces in the local community. You can choose to have those discussions with management to get the company to pledge an environmental objective to address the organisations impact on biodiversity, and come up with targets and an action plan to achieve them.

Whatever you do this World Environment Day, make it count.

How Cedrec is working to promote nature

Many of our staff will be engaging with various online sessions running on World Environment Day to increase knowledge and learn from what others are doing to make positive changes.

As a company one of the main impacts we have on the environment is emissions from travel, both to and from the office and travel to client's sites for consultancy work. Although travel emissions have disappeared entirely due to staff working from home and plans are afoot for consultancy site visits to be undertaken virtually in light of the coronavirus pandemic, we still have a commitment as a company to address our impacts.

Efforts are always being made to reduce our emissions in the first instance, from avoiding unnecessary travel, to taking more sustainable travel options, e.g. train journeys over car. But for those emissions we still generate across the year Cedrec offset these through a carbon offset programme.

Cedrec are a business member of a fellow North-East firm, Forest Carbon, who lead the way in voluntary carbon woodland creation in the UK. Last year we offset 25 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (over 100% of our emissions) through purchasing carbon credits to enable Forest Carbon to create woodlands, certified through the Woodland Carbon Code, across the UK. That equated to us offsetting over 100% of our emissions.

As well as offsetting our emissions, the creation of woodland helps to promote biodiversity, help to regulate water quality and supply in the area, and improves air quality.

Our Senior Consultant, Richard Clarke commented: ''Forest Carbon’s planting and offset scheme is a perfect match for Cedrec, helping us mitigate our unavoidable carbon emissions whilst at the same time positively investing, year on year, in high quality reforestation schemes here in the UK, delivering significant biodiversity gain. Carbon offsetting has a role to play in our long term plan to reduce our carbon emissions and we are delighted to be working with Forest Carbon to deliver these benefits.''

There are of course other organisations who offer carbon offsetting through woodland creation or other schemes, and they're a great way to help companies and individuals offset their emissions. However the importance of reducing and where possible eliminating the damage we undertake to biodiveristy or the emissions we are responsible for is always the best course of action to adopt where possible.

Homes England are undertaking research into how the country's housing targets could be met by modern methods of construction. The Government housing agency has an objective to improve construction productivity and encourage the uptake of modern construction methods.

They will monitor construction of around 1,500 homes across different sites in England over the course of several years. The study will look at the performance of different methods of construction over the long term to help provide in-depth data that can help inform decisions about emerging construction technologies.

A range of themes will be considered in the study, including:

  • build cost;
  • pace of build;
  • required skills;
  • safety performance;
  • snagging and defects;
  • construction wastage;
  • energy efficiency performance; and
  • performance post-occupancy.

Chief Executive of Homes England, Nick Walkley, commented: ''If we are to deliver homes at the scale, pace and quality the country needs, we have to seriously shake up how we build homes in England. This is at the very heart of our mission and it means embracing new technologies like modern methods of construction. Despite the impact of coronavirus being felt across the housebuilding sector, Homes England is open for business.''

''We can be certain that the demand for high-quality homes will remain and concerns about labour supply or quality will not go away. “Now more than ever, we recognise that more needs to be done to share learning and build confidence in modern methods of construction. This large-scale, long-term and in-depth research project will provide the sector with the critical evidence it needs to make informed decisions about modern methods of construction and deliver better homes faster.''


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