UK post-Brexit Environment Bill
Details of the UK’s post-Brexit Environment Bill were launched in January 2020. Further updates on the Bill were announced on August 19th, including the creation of legally binding targets on four key areas: biodiversity, air, water and waste. This means that future governments will be legally bound to meeting these targets, making commitments resilient to changes in parties and cabinet.
Progress on reaching these targets will be reported by a new watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection. This watchdog will take the role of the European Court of Justice, however, there are concerns that it will have weaker enforcement powers. There are therefore calls for the watchdog to be made independent to the government, reporting instead to Parliament, and to have better access to sanctions, in order to strengthen its enforcement powers.
Biodiversity elements of the Bill include:
– Laying the foundations for the Nature Recovery Network, which will expand, improve and connect natural habitats, including e.g. restoring 75% of terrestrial and freshwater protected sites to favourable condition
– Establishing spatial mapping and planning tools to inform nature recovery, such as placement of protected areas; these will help inform the establishment of the Nature Recovery Network
– Introducing a new Environmental Land Management Scheme, in which farmers will be rewarded for enhancing natural habitats for the public good, such as with tree or hedge planting, river management and habitat restoration
– Mandatory requirement for “biodiversity net gain” in development. This is in addition to existing measures protecting valuable natural habitats e.g. Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
– Development of Local Nature Recovery Strategies across England, which will be tools, including a map of existing natural assets, to identify key areas for protection and enhancement to maximise benefit for both nature and people. These will be produced locally, but with coordination between strategies in different areas
– Strengthening of the current duties of public authorities to enhance and conserve biodiversity, e.g. by mandating authorities to produce a five-yearly report on actions taken
– Creation of voluntary agreements between landowners and conservation NGOs or a public body to provide conservation benefits for the public good. This will better enable landowners to make long-term commitments to biodiversity conservation and enhancement
– Introduction of the ‘Duty to Consult’ which gives the public the opportunity to discuss and express concerns over the felling of urban trees
Read the most recent government policy statement on the UK Environment Bill here, and the RSPB’s critiques here and here.