The Wildlife Trusts call for major improvements to draft Environment Bill to put nature into recovery

Ross Hoddinott

The draft Environment Bill published by the Government on December 19th 2018 represents a weakening of existing environmental legislation. It will not tackle the serious environmental challenges we face or provide legal certainty for the future of our natural world.

The Wildlife Trusts fought hard to secure an Environment Bill to hold the Government to their promise that existing levels of environmental protection would be retained as Britain leaves the European Union. Wildlife is in freefall and the Government’s proposals for a new Environment Bill will weaken the existing protection.  

This is a watershed moment, if we are to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation. We must choose whether we are serious about nature’s recovery or continue down the path of declines and extinction. Without a strong Environment Bill, enforced by an independent and powerful watchdog that decision has been made for us.

With few consequences for destroying the environment and no targets for nature restoration the UK will continue to be one of the world’s most nature depleted countries.

Frome Banks (c) Jeremy Doe

Frome Banks (c) Jeremy Doe

The Bill and accompanying policy note fall short in a number of ways:

  1. The proposed green watchdog 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 must be independent of Defra 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 misses out 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, with measurable targets for nature restoration and the power to enforce and compliance with these. (See The Wildlife Trusts’ Wilder Britain proposals.)

  3. The environmental principles will not apply to government spending decision.

    If we are serious about leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation the environmental principles must be considered in funding decisions across government.

The Government has committed in its manifesto to being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it. Leaving the E.U. and then introducing a weak Environment Bill will not achieve this.  The Wildlife Trusts believe that this Bill, so far, is not good enough.

‘The EU and European Court of Justice ensures the UK sticks to promises to clean up its rivers and seas and protect key wildlife sites’. Unless we have a really powerful independent watchdog we will lose this level of protection.

Gareth Parry (c) Kevin Fern Photography

Gareth Parry (c) Kevin Fern Photography

Ministers and MPs must improve on the draft and create a bold visionary piece of legislation proportionate to the vast environmental challenge we face. The future for our wildlife and natural environment look bleak, unless the Environment Bill includes the following

  • A strong, independent environmental watchdog.
  • Legislation for the creation of Nature Recovery Networks to protect and join-up important places for wildlife
  • Legal targets for nature's recovery that politicians must ultimately achieve.
  • A requirement for Government to consider the environmental impact of their spending decisions.

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.