Debates between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Randall of Uxbridge during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 21st Jun 2021
Environment Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage

Environment Bill

Debate between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Randall of Uxbridge
Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 10. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Carrington and Lord Taylor of Holbeach, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for signing it.

It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. We spent quite a long time on the Fisheries Act, as it now is. I think I would say “marine” rather than “maritime” as a concept—“maritime” has more connotations to do with ships and so forth. But “marine” and “terrestrial” also join together, and of course, there are the shores. This issue could be solved, quite frankly, by my noble friend the Minister making it quite clear exactly what is covered by this.

Amendment 10 deals with light pollution, which has increased from a variety of sources, including domestic residences, public infrastructure—particularly lighting along roads and motorways—and industrial activity, such as energy infrastructure. Much of the earth’s population is affected by light pollution. Some 80% of the world’s population now live under sky glow and nearly every European cannot experience a natural night sky from where they live. I have not seen the night sky properly where I live—except possibly in a power cut—but when I occasionally go up to Norfolk, along the coast I am blessed to be able to see the night sky in all its glory.

In recent years, evidence of the impact of light pollution on species and ecosystems has grown and consolidated. Increased artificial light at night is directly linked to measurable negative impacts on energy consumption, obviously, human health and wildlife such as bats, birds, insects and plants. Unnecessary artificial light increases financial costs and contributes to greenhouse emissions. Light pollution should be treated with the same disdain with which we treat all other forms of pollution.

Among other organisations that I belong to, I am a member of Buglife, a charity devoted to the protection of insects. I am pleased to say that this week is National Insect Week. Studies from Germany suggest that a third of insects attracted to street lights and other fixed light sources will die. This results in the death of an estimated 100 billion insects in Germany every summer. Light pollution is reducing nocturnal pollinator visits to flowers by 62%, in some areas. Again, to show my slightly nerdy side, from time to time I put out a moth trap, but mine is not as successful as those of some of my friends elsewhere, who do not have the same light amount of light coming in from other sources. We know that moths are attracted to light, but that it confuses some.

Glow-worms use luminescence to attract prey and mates. Artificial light can affect their ability to do both. Evidence shows a decline in the abundance of glow-worm populations with increased proximity to artificial light.

Birds that migrate or hunt at night navigate by moonlight and starlight. Artificial light can cause them to fly towards lit areas. Recent research shows more birds migrating over urban, rather than rural, areas. This deviation from traditional routes can have a significant impact on energy levels during migration and lead them to stop in suboptimal habitats.

The US recognises bird strikes against high-rise buildings as a real problem. In Texas, the former First Lady Laura Bush heads a lights-out campaign, twice a year, to encourage high-rise buildings to switch off their lights, so that they do not kill all these migratory birds. Some of the photographs you see of the carnage caused underneath these high-rise buildings are disturbing.

Artificial lighting can cause many problems for bats, including disrupting roosting and feeding behaviour and their movement through the landscape. In the worst cases, it can directly harm these protected species. As all bats in the UK feed on insects, loss of food sources is also a considerable threat.

For us humans, light pollution is negatively impacting astronomy and our ability to observe the stars. To look up on a cloudless night and see the stars is one of the more uplifting pleasures that we can have from childhood onwards.

Many marine species such as crabs and zooplankton are attracted to artificial lights near the shore, from ports or gas facilities, which can disrupt feeding and life cycles. Many noble Lords will have seen, in one of the more recent David Attenborough programmes, the disturbing sight of turtles coming to shore when they are hatched instead of going out to the sea. They are designed to be attracted to moonlight, but are going towards cafes and restaurants, with all their lights, crossing roads and perishing. This is a real problem.

The British Astronomical Association estimates that 90% of the population of the UK are unable to see the Milky Way from where they live. Evidence shows that light exposure at the wrong time has profound impacts on human circadian rhythm, affecting physical and mental functions. Artificial lighting has been linked to trees bursting their buds more than a week early, a magnitude similar to that predicted for 2 degrees centigrade of global warming.

My amendment aims to set a commitment to act on matters that relate to light pollution currently omitted from the Environment Bill. I hope it ensures that the Government produce targets to reduce levels of light pollution in England. The evidence is clear that light pollution has a significant impact on the normal activity of invertebrates, birds, bats and plants, and that these impacts are more than sufficient to require action. It would be a failure not to address this before we have long-term data and doing so would go against the Government’s draft environmental principles, in particular the precautionary principle, but also the prevention and rectification-at-source principles.

The UK does not yet report on light pollution levels. However, measuring light pollution is simple. Satellite images can be used to establish pollution levels and the CPRE has developed a nine-band classification system that could form the basis for monitoring change. Existing policy on light pollution does not provide sufficient guidance and is not strong enough to tackle its increasing impact. Several countries have introduced national policies on light pollution, such as Germany, France, Mexico, South Korea, Croatia and Slovenia. When I was last in France, I noticed that some villages have the designation “village étoile”, which they relish, because people go to them specifically to see the night sky.

The UK’s Environmental Protection Act 1990, as amended, provides local authorities with statutory nuisance powers to address light pollution, but only when harmful to humans or if it “unreasonably and substantially” interferes with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises. I am afraid this has not resulted in a reduction in general light pollution. The National Planning Policy Framework offers little consideration of light pollution. The only reference states:

“Planning policies and decisions should … limit the impact of light pollution from artificial light on local amenity, intrinsically dark landscapes and nature conservation.”

The last comprehensive consideration of the issue by the Government was the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s 2009 report, Artificial Light in the Environment. However, I am afraid that almost none of its recommendations has been implemented.

On national targets, Clause 1 of the Environment Bill provides power for the Secretary of State to “set long-term targets” by regulation, in relation to

“(a) the natural environment, or (b) people’s enjoyment of the natural environment.”

Subsection (2) requires the Secretary of State to set long-term targets in the four priority areas of air quality, water, biodiversity and resource efficiency and waste reduction.

I strongly believe that light pollution should be considered a priority area too, so that the Government are required to set a long-term target to reduce its impact on nature and people’s enjoyment of it. This amendment is designed to achieve that outcome. A national plan intended to prevent, limit and reduce light pollution must include a series of targets and a programme of monitoring. National targets should be set to include no net increase in light pollution and an ambition to increase the number of dark sky reserves.

Finally, I support Amendment 11 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I have my own amendment later in the Bill, Amendment 112, on soil quality, which is as fundamental as anything in the Bill.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I have two amendments in this group. The later one, Amendment 31, concerns the health of our trees and the first, Amendment 12, planting new trees. It requires the Government to put before Parliament an annual report on the progress made towards achieving the initial target of planting new trees.

The extent and health of what is left of our forests, woodland and trees is a matter of deep concern. We all know the essential role trees play in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby making a vital contribution to slowing down climate change. A mature tree absorbs carbon dioxide at the rate of 48 pounds per year. In one year, an acre of forest can absorb twice the CO2 produced by the average car’s annual mileage. We know in our personal lives how fundamental our trees are for physical health, aesthetic satisfaction and our spiritual well-being.

The Committee on Climate Change has said that we need to raise our current 13% forest cover to 17% by 2050 if we are to have any chance of meeting our climate goals. At the moment, the Government are missing their tree-planting targets by 40 years. If we continue at the current slow rate of tree planting, the Government’s own 2050 targets will not be met until 2091. As those figures show, the number of trees planted each year needs to be very significantly increased.