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A backwards step for the UK in fighting the climate and nature crisis - nature campaigners hit out at plans to drop retained EU laws for protecting the environment

22 September 2022

  • Plans to drop or amend retained EU laws and to introduce deregulated investment zones would spell bad news for businesses, communities and the environment.
  • Rewriting or ditching retained EU laws, including Habitats Regulations, will make it harder to Government to meet its own targets on climate and nature & sustain its global environmental leadership role.
  • Removal of protections for nature within new investment zones risks instability and harm for businesses.

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, laid in Parliament today, poses a major risk to nature, people and the economy. Nature charities have today (22 September) issued the warning that ditching or rewriting retained EU laws on environmental protection could remove safeguards for the UK’s treasured wildlife and lead to the country taking a backwards step in restoring nature and curbing the climate crisis.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said:

“Hundreds of environmental laws are at stake, including rules that protect wildlife, prevent harmful pollution, and create a level-playing field for green businesses. Simply scrapping the body of EU-retained environmental law would be legal and environmental folly. Spending time rewriting the rules would be a waste of time and public money.

“Meddling with bedrock environmental laws like the Habitats Regulations will create doubt, uncertainty and instability for businesses at a time when they need stability the most. It would also jeopardise the Government’s central green promises of hitting net zero and halting the decline of nature by 2030.

“The Government has talked the talk on the international stage about restoring nature and curbing climate change. If it weakens protection for nature at home the Government could set back global green efforts as well as harming nature at home. With crucial nature talks being held in Montreal later this year the UK needs to be leading the way for nature.”

Defra has more EU retained law than any other Government department, with 570 retained laws. Some of the key environmental laws at stake include:

The Habitats Regulations, which the Government is proposing to 'fundamentally reform’, currently protect a combined 7.9 million hectares across England and 18.8 million hectares across the UK. [1] Some examples of species that are directly protected under the Habitats Regulations include hazel dormice, harbour porpoise, otters and bats. Indirectly, by protecting their vital habitats, the protections also cover vulnerable species such as curlews and puffins.

Continuing along the deregulation agenda, the Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng is expected to announce 40 new investment zone in tomorrow’s mini-budget. Designed to accelerate building and growth, environmental campaigners are concerned that the ripping up of environmental protections within these zones would in fact harm local business as well as posing serious risks to the environment.

Commenting further on the new investment zones Dr Benwell said:

“If they unshackle unsustainable development and throw environmental rules aside, new investment zones will harm wildlife, communities and business alike. Protected green and blue spaces help communities to flourish, boost health and wellbeing, and make for local pride of place.

“The Treasury’s own reports make clear that a healthy natural environment makes for economic stability and that protection rules provide certainty for business. The Prime Minister has spoken about a growth agenda and sound economic management, but opening up swathes of the country to unregulated development would be completely at odds with sound economic and environmental management.’’

Notes to editors:

  • Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link) is the largest environment and wildlife coalition in England, bringing together 65 organisations to use their strong joint voice for the protection of nature. Our members campaign to conserve, enhance and access our landscapes, animals, plants, habitats, rivers and seas. Together we have the support of over eight million people in the UK and directly protect over 750,000 hectares of land and 800 miles of coastline.

  1. The Habitats Regulations protect 256 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and 90 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) in England covering over 7.9 million hectares. 
    1. List of English SACs and SPAs (sites protected by Habitats Regulations) available online by downloading the list of designated sites spreadsheet.
    2. Across the UK this figure rises to 284 SPAs and 658 SACs, covering 18.8 million hectares

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