On 15 October 2019, the Government introduced a ‘landmark’ Environment Bill[1]. In this article, we take a closer look at the Bill and its implications for ecology.

Background to the Bill
As a result of Brexit, the UK will no longer be accountable to the EU when it comes to issues of the environment. The Environment Bill is intended to provide a mechanism to ensure that when we leave the EU, environmental protections are upheld and maintained. In addition, legally-binding targets are proposed to support improvements to the natural world and its systems. The Environment Bill is only applicable to England, however, the Government states that more than half of the measures outlined in the Bill are intended to be applied across the UK.

A new Office for Environmental Protection will be established, which is intended to comprise an independent watchdog to hold the Government to account, making sure that environmental standards are upheld and to initiate enforcement action as necessary. There is also the intention to embed environmental principles into the heart of Government decision making.

The Bill and ecology
One of the key intentions of the Bill is to ‘restore and enhance nature’ through the implementation of Biodiversity Net Gain. The legislation will make net gain mandatory for new development (unless subject to an exemption) – 10% gains are suggested at present, but this may be amended.

As part of the Bill, there are three means by which to secure biodiversity gains:
1. enhancement of the development land relating to the planning permission;
2. registered offsite gain; and,
3. the purchase of biodiversity credits – there is specific guidance as to what the Secretary of State may use payments from biodiversity credits for.

The Secretary of State is also directed to publish a biodiversity metric and a biodiversity gains site register. Gains have to be maintained for at least thirty years after the development is completed.

A further aim of the Bill is to ‘improve protection for our natural habitats in supporting a Nature Recovery Network by establishing Local Nature Recovery Strategies and giving communities a greater say in the protection of local trees’[2]. This will place a duty on public authorities to enhance biodiversity, which goes beyond only seeking protection of the natural environment.

Air, water, resource and waste management are also key focus areas of the Bill. The Bill is heralded as placing ‘the bold ambition of [the Government’s] flagship 25 Year Environment Plan on a statutory footing’[2].

Closing thoughts
In terms of ecology, there is much to feel positive about in the new Environment Bill, not least the mandatory implementation of Biodiversity Net Gain. However, there remains a number of concerns relating to the implementation and enforcement of the Bill, including question marks as to how independent the Office for Environmental Protection will be in reality.

Resources and funding will be needed in order to implement the ambitions of the Environment Bil; there are concerns as to whether these will be adequately supported and provided.

If you have any queries relating to the Bill and your project, get in touch with our ecologists.

[1] Environment Bill https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2019-2020/0003/cbill_2019-20200003_en_1.htm
[2] Press release, 15 October 2019. ‘Government introduces ground-breaking Environment Bill’. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-introduces-ground-breaking-environment-bill