Future environmental protections at risk

Future environmental protections at risk

Threecorner Grove bluebells credit Mathew Frith

The draft Environment Bill, just published by the Government, does not go far enough to tackle the serious environmental challenges we face or provide legal certainty for the future of our natural world.

The Government has committed in its manifesto to being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it. And yet its proposals would set up a system that is weaker than what is in operation today.

It published (through Defra) the draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill on 19th December. This part will be included in a more “ambitious, broader Environment Bill” set for introduction after the Queen’s Speech next year. To give an indication of the wider Bill, the Government also published a policy note alongside it, which mentions restoring and enhancing nature and exploring options for targets for environmental improvement.

However, we believe that the Bill and policy note are inadequate in a number of ways:

  1. The proposed green watchdog (an Office for Environmental Protection) is too weak. Much more is needed if it is to bear any comparison to the environmental enforcement powers currently held by the European Commission and Court. To do this the watchdog would need to be more independent and able to hold the whole Government to account, including through having powers to issue fines if the Government fails to implement environmental legislation properly.
  2. The Policy Note omits reference to nature recovery networks. We are disappointed that it fails to propose key measures needed to secure nature’s recovery; not least requiring the production of nature recovery network maps and compliance with these. (See The Wildlife Trusts’ Wilder Britain proposals)

Leaving the European Union and then introducing a weak Environment Bill will not achieve this. We have made strides to clean up our rivers and seas and protect key wildlife sites over the past 40 years as part of the EU and that must continue after Brexit. There is much more work to be done. A really powerful independent watchdog would make a big difference. And an ambitious Bill would put nature’s recovery on to a statutory footing by mapping out where wildlife must be protected and where habitats must be improved – a Nature Recovery Network on land and at sea.

Gordon Scorer, Chief Executive of London Wildlife Trust, says:
“We are concerned that the opportunities to address the worrying threats to the resilience of our natural world, critical here in London as elsewhere through the UK, are rapidly narrowing. We call for the Government to take a long hard look at its commitments and deliver real and robust measures to secure nature’s recovery for the wellbeing of wildlife and society."

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:
“We fought hard to secure this Environment Bill and recognise that Defra has worked hard to produce it, but the stark reality is that other Government Departments have weakened the draft substantially.
Wildlife is in freefall and the Government’s proposals for a new Environment Bill fall well short of what is needed to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation. Now Ministers and MPs must improve upon this draft Bill to create a bold visionary piece of legislation proportionate to the vast environmental challenge we face. Unless they do, we will regret losing still more wildlife and the health of our ecosystems for generations to come." 

We need the Environment Bill to give us:

  • Nature Targets: legal targets for nature's recovery that politicians must ultimately achieve and regularly report on progress towards critical environmental measures, e.g. air quality in our cities, habitat condition.
  • A Nature Recovery Network: a joined-up network of habitats that provide enough space for wildlife to recover and thrive.
  • Legislation is needed to drive the creation of Nature Recovery Networks, mapped and delivered locally, to protect and join-up important places for wildlife, to bring nature into every neighbourhood and to ensure everyone, whatever their background, has access to wildlife-rich natural green space.

Read about The Wildlife Trusts’ vision for a Nature Recovery Network here.
The Wildlife Trusts are asking people to meet their MP in person to discuss the need for a strong Environment Act – here. Over a thousand people have contacted MPs so far.