Brexit and Biodiversity

2017 onward poses likely challenges and opportunities for the UK and Europe, with potentially some interesting ramifications for biodiversity. Whilst France faces difficulties for new projects, what could wildlife legislation achieve in a post-Brexit environment?

In 2016, a legislation was passed in France which amended the legal regime governing environmental assessments. The consultation process is likely to be a determinative factor for new developments from 2017 onwards. The Increased recognition now given to biodiversity, will place an obligation on developers to not only prevent and offset harm to biodiversity, but also achieve a net biodiversity gain, where possible; assessed throughout the life-time of a project. Both these changes mean that environmental assessments will now have to account for this approach.

The UK has already adopted this biodiversity enhancement, in and around development, which are now led by a local understanding of ecological networks, that forms part of our own Biodiversity 2020 strategy.

As the outcome of the appeal of the Brexit judgment is set to be issued imminently by the Supreme Court, the status of environmental law in the UK remains uncertain. The government’s current plan to transpose EU environmental law into UK domestic law by the Great Repeal Bill, will not necessarily address all relevant environmental legislation and some areas are already subject to review. The UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee have launched a second inquiry into the future of the REACH regulation in the UK. It remains to be seen what legislation will come under scrutiny next.

In a recent report (4 January, 2017), the Environmental Audit Committee claims that European regulations designed to protect the countryside, wildlife and farming could end up as ‘zombie’ laws, unless the UK government acts now to enshrine them. It calls on the government to introduce a new Environmental Protection Act to protect the regulations currently in place, as it is believed that the Whitehall plans which are set to copy existing EU legislation onto the UK stature books, under the Great Repeal Bill, will not be enough.

EU membership has been a key factor in shaping environmental policy over the past 40 years. The regulations range from land management to directives on birds and habitats. The report also calls on the government to set out how it plans to honour its manifesto commitment to ‘be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it’, especially since leaving the EU.

When the environment secretary, Andrea Leadsom, appeared in front of the committee in October, she told MPs that approximately a third of the current 800+ pieces of EU environmental legislation would be difficult to transpose into UK law. The environment secretary said around two thirds of EU environmental legislation ‘will actually be able to rolled forward with just some technical changes’ into UK law.

‘It is absolutely our intention that in leaving the EU, we are better able to meet our own environmental objectives, and we will be able to focus what we do in future on what works for the UK, rather than what works for 28 member states,’ she told the committee.

Responding to the report, a government spokesperson said: ‘The UK has a long history of wildlife and environmental protection and we are committed to safeguarding and improving these, securing the best deal for Britain as we leave the EU.’