Britain's getting better - Defra (Are you sure? - EA)

Secretary of State Margaret Beckett has claimed that Britain is transforming itself from an environmental laggard into an environmental leader - despite a recent report from the Environment Agency which suggests we are losing the battle for a sustainable nation.

Mrs Beckett makes the bold claim in Defra's annual report, released this week.

The report outlines targets set by the department over the past year and progress made in meeting them.

Perhaps encouraged by Tony Blair's success at taking center stage in the international debate on climate change, the targets include a new emphasis on environmental leadership as well as caring for rural England and delivering a sustainable future for farming.

In her foreword to the Departmental Report, Mrs Beckett said: "The strategy further clarifies the Department's purpose and priorities and sets out concrete measures to accelerate Britain's transformation from environmental laggard to environmental leader: globally, nationally and, most importantly, locally."

The report, published on Friday, June 17 also highlights the UK Sustainable Development Strategy, published in March, which demands action from across Government departments.

Mrs Beckett said: "These are challenging times for the Department.

Although more needs to be done, with businesses, the public sector, voluntary and community organisations, communities and families needing to make more sustainable choices, it is clear to me that we have achieved a lot since Defra was created.

"And I am confident that with the real progress we have made so far we will deliver our ambitious agenda."

Defra's back-slapping may be at odds with evidence in the Environment Agency's A better Place? report issued earlier this month, looking at how the state of the environment has changed over the past five years (see related story ).

The EA report, based on 'a mountain range of research' according to the agency's chairman Sir John Harman, claims the environment is actually not in the best of shape and overall in Britain it is getting worse rather than better.

While industrial waste and pollution are down, for example, these gains have been swamped by increases in emissions from traffic and little progress on domestic rubbish.

It says that the prognosis for climate change, highlighted by Mrs Beckett as the 'greatest environmental threat', is getting worse, with the UK set to miss its self-imposed targets of cutting CO2 emissions by 20% by 2010.

The report also paints a less rosy picture of the countryside, saying modern farming practices are the main cause of continuing loss of habitats and increasing soil erosion and also pollute rivers with pesticides, fertilisers and suspended solids.

It also lays the blame for soil and silt clogging up spawning beds of fish such as trout and salmon at farming's door.

By Sam Bond



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