Brexit backlash: New row at ‘coach and horses’ bid to overhaul environment law

Brexit: George Eustice admits there are 'teething issues'

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A coalition of conservation and marine industry lobby groups have argued the plans will add “cost and uncertainty” to protecting habitats, denying they are in the best interests of the environment. This came after the Government launched a consultation on a target aimed at halting the decline in the number of animal and plant species in the UK by 2030. George Eustice, environment secretary, said the Government is looking to overhaul and simplify existing conservation laws inherited from the EU’s “habitats directive”.

The UK Government has argued that the current environmental regulatory landscape in the UK has become “too complex”.

The latest plans, DEFRA has said, are a stepping stone to reaching a 2023 “environmental improvement plan”.

Mr Eustice previously described the EU’s legislation as “spirit-crushing”, during the Brexit campaign promising that the laws “would go” if the UK left the EU.

But lobby groups have hit out at the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) plans.

Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said the plans would “shake the foundations of environmental law”.

He claimed there is “no evidence that it would improve the state of our struggling wildlife sites”.

Mr Benwell added: “These proposals would strip away a layer of legal protection that prevents existing sites from being harmed and would lead to more cost and uncertainty by chucking out decades of case law that’s helped businesses and courts interpret the law properly”.

The lobby group represents 60 wildlife organisations, including the National Trust and Wildlife Trust.

Kate Jennings, the RSPB’s head of site conservation and species policy, said the new rules would be “wasting a decade” of work.

She told the Financial Times: “We are really concerned that the best way to waste a decade would be to rip up the existing conservation framework and start again.”

And Charles Clover, executive director of the Blue Marine Foundation, said the public would be “horrified” by the proposals if they fully understood their implications.

He explained: “He is proposing to rename all our current nature protections and, in the process, remove duties on ministers and change them to mere aspirations which cannot be legally enforced.

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“Far from simplifying the system, this drives a coach and horses through existing regulations.”

One insider from the marine industry told the FT that the changes were perceived as being “ideologically driven”, and were not being met with enthusiasm from those on the conservation frontline.

Meanwhile, the Seabed Users and Developer Groups, an umbrella group for marine industries, said the plans were not “in the best interest” of the environment.

Jennifer Godwin, the group’s executive director, said: “We’ve spent many years working together — Government, conservationists and industries — to understand how…to deliver these regulations most effectively.

“We don’t think abandoning EU legislation would be in the best interest of the industry or the environment.”

But DEFRA defended its plans, saying that the EU legislation it was seeking to replace had done “nothing to halt the decline of nature”.

It added: “Our nature recovery green paper sets out ambitious proposals to deliver a system that better reflects science rather than legal process, and actually delivers the protection that we all want to see.”

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