RSPB backs Environmental Audit Committee’s calls for new Environmental Protection Act
- Credit: Matthew Usher
East Anglian conservationists have backed MPs' calls for new laws to be drafted to prevent key environmental safeguards becoming 'zombie legislation' after Britain leaves the EU.
A report by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) suggests protection for wildlife and habitats could be weakened by Brexit unless the government introduces a new Environmental Protection Act in the early stages of the Article 50 negotiation process.
It says merely copying EU legislation such as the Birds and Habitats Directives into UK law creates of risk of 'zombie legislation', where transposed laws are no longer updated, has no body enforcing it and can be eroded through statutory instruments with minimal parliamentary scrutiny.
The report warns this could have potentially far-reaching negative consequences for the UK's biodiversity.
Committee chairman Mary Creagh said: 'Changes from Brexit could put our countryside, farming and wildlife at risk. Protections for Britain's wildlife and special places currently guaranteed under European law could end up as 'zombie legislation' even with the Great Repeal Bill.
'The government should safeguard protections for Britain's wildlife and special places in a new Environmental Protection Act.
'UK farming faces significant risks – from a loss of subsidies and tariffs on farm exports to increased competition from countries with weaker food, animal welfare and environmental standards. The government must not trade away these key protections as we leave the EU.'
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Dr James Robinson, RSPB director for Eastern England, agreed with the EAC's conclusion, and said: 'It is paramount not only that we retain existing laws that protect nature – including the vital Birds and Habitats Directives highlighted in the report – but also that we continue to support and strengthen their enforcement and monitoring with new UK laws to replace the EU mechanisms that have played such a crucial role in their effective implementation to date, and will be lost as a result of Brexit.
'For more than three decades, since the creation of the Birds Directive in 1979, the EU Nature Directives have played a vital role in helping European countries, including our own, protect our most threatened species and the precious and increasingly threatened natural places they depend on.
'Here in the East of England we have as much reason as anywhere to appreciate what the Nature Directives have done for our natural environment, and therefore for us.
'Leaving the EU presents great opportunities for nature conservation in the UK, but also great risks if we are not careful to ensure that the current levels of legal protection and the mechanisms for funding and delivering work to manage and restore habitats and meet the UK's targets for recovering biodiversity are not lost in the transition.'
The EAC report says leaving the EU's Common Agricultural Policy could threaten the viability of some farms.
New trading relationships with states outside the EU could lead to increased competition from countries with lower food standards, animal welfare standards and environmental protection, it says.
It suggests the UK farm subsidies should be linked to the delivery of 'public goods', like the promotion of biodiversity, preventing flooding and storing carbon, rather than simply providing income support to farmers.
But Guy Smith, vice president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) said food security and food production should also be regarded as strategically important for the country and good for the public.
Mr Smith, who will chair the Norfolk Farming Conference on February 2, said: 'British farmers work to a very high standard for animal welfare, food safety and environmental protection. We believe strongly that any standards are not watered down if we are forced to compete against agricultures in other parts of the world that clearly do not have such high standards as ours. Clearly we must not be put at a competitive disadvantage.
'The EAC has rightly recognised that farming and the environment go hand-in-hand and that producing quality, home-grown food is critical to the future of the country. Viable farming businesses will be best placed to contribute to the environment.'