Environmental Audit Committee calls for a new Environmental Protection Act

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has today called for the Government to introduce a new Environmental Protection Act during Article 50 negotiations to maintain the UK’s strong environmental standards after leaving the European Union.

British Ecological Society image of a mouse on wheat

The proposal forms the headline recommendation of the newly released report of the Committee’s inquiry into the Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum.

The British Ecological Society submitted written evidence to the inquiry, and was also invited to give oral evidence, with our President, Professor Sue Hartley, appearing in front of the Committee on 18 October 2016. The report cites our evidence and supports our recommendations in a number of areas, and we welcome the Committee’s call for a clear route to ensure that environmental protections are maintained or enhanced following Brexit, with effective mechanisms for their enforcement.

Further recommendations include ensuring that Defra’s forthcoming 25 year plans for the natural environment, and food and farming, are fully co-ordinated and that there is a clear, fair approach to post-Brexit co-ordination between the four nations of the UK, with shared strategic objectives and minimum environmental standards in line with international obligations. The report also expresses concern over the capacity of Defra to meet the challenges of Brexit and highlights the need to assess the resources necessary to replace existing EU environmental funding.

Our evidence: agri-environment and rewilding

In our written evidence, we highlighted a number of principles for what a replacement for the Common Agricultural Policy, tailored to the needs of the UK, might look like. The Committee’s report aligns strongly with our recommendations, supporting a strategic approach to land management that integrates agriculture and environmental protection, is based on the principle of “public money for public goods”, and moves towards an evidence-based system of payment by results.

Our oral evidence session focused primarily on innovative land management techniques, including rewilding. The report cites our view that “rewilding is a contested term”, with a clear need to “develop an evidence base and a critical and rigorous scientific framework for its monitoring and evaluation”. The Committee recommends that government “should define its understanding of the techniques it wishes to support and consider how a suitable evidence base can be developed” and considered funding properly monitored pilot projects.” We welcome this emphasis on taking an evidence-based approach to innovative land management techniques.

Continuing the conversation

We have been working with three other organisations – the Landscape Institute, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management and the Institution of Environmental Sciences – to explore areas of common interest relating to this particular inquiry. Together we have identified a number of principles for future policy relating to land management and the natural environment, and have today issued a joint letter to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs setting out our ideas in greater detail as well as our support for some of the key recommendations from the Committee’s report.