Our broken environmental laws

Dr Marnie Lovejoy

Dr Marnie Lovejoy

Dr Marnie Lovejoy is head of environment law research at BASC. Holding a PhD in law, Marnie has practiced and researched law in both the UK and Switzerland, and is the former associate head of Portsmouth Law School. Her work at BASC focuses on the regulatory frameworks governing wildfowling, wildlife licences, gamebird release, and habitat management, with the aim of promoting and strengthening sustainable shooting.
BASC’s Dr Marnie Lovejoy discusses how the consultation on the government’s Nature Recovery Green Paper provides the chance to fix environmental legislation and the opportunity this presents for shooting.

Our current environmental laws are failing to deliver for nature recovery. 

The situation is so dire, that at present only around 40% of England’s protected sites are in a favourable condition. Without an urgent overhaul of the legal framework it is increasingly unlikely that the government will reach its ambitious environmental targets by 2030Launched earlier this year, Defra’s Nature Recovery Green Paper looks to outline reform proposals that will address these legal issues.

BASC welcomed the paper and we responded to Defra’s consultation stressing that any proposals taken forward will have an impact on shooting and that this must be recognised.

Nearly a decade wasted

The fact that our environmental legal system is broken is not a recent discovery. Back in 2011, Defra commissioned the Law Commission to review England’s wildlife laws and propose law reform if necessary.

In their 2015 report, the Law Commission made it very clear that two centuries of law making in a piecemeal fashion had left us with an unworkable legal framework that is complex, highly inconsistent, and full of overlaps and loopholes.

Government failures to bring reform to date has left the door open to judicial activists such as Wild Justice to launch legal challenges. General licences are a prime example of this.

Instead of the current framework, the Law Commission suggested a single statute Wildlife Bill to render the law more effective, clear, and transparent.

So what happened? Well, Brexit hit, politics were in a tailspin and the proposal has been on ice for years.

New energy, new proposal

Now that Brexit has become a more settled reality, Defra is in the process of revisiting and re-energising their initial plans. We believe that now is the time for reform and restructure, and providing a legal framework that is delivering efficiently for nature recovery.

Many conservation groups are lobbying for the status quo, standing against change in order to reach our environmental targets by 2030. I cannot agree with this; without significant reform there is no hope that we will reach the targets.

Reforming the process

The latest reform process started with the creation of the Habitats Regulations Assessment Working Group, led by Lord Benyon. The group aimed to reform the formal impact assessment derived from the Habitats Directive  – the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA).

The goal was to reform the process so that it is consistent and led by science in its approach to nature recovery. BASC was invited to report as an expert to the working group. In doing so we drafted a white paper  that sets out the main areas requiring reform.

The white paper’s recommendations included:

  • a change in the restrictive application of the precautionary principle that currently leads to decisions that are so far removed from common sense that they create more environmental harm than benefit;
  • a redefinition of legal trigger terms such as ‘plan’ or ‘project’;
  • a reasonable decision-making process in general that ensures nature recovery.

We were pleased to see that many of our recommendations were taken into consideration within Defra’s Nature Recovery Green Paper, but there is work yet to be done.

Nature Recovery Green Paper

As well as reviewing the HRA process, the Green Paper follows the proposal of the Law Commission report. It suggests a disentanglement of the current legal layers and an implementation of a more streamlined, clear, efficient, and transparent legal framework.

With such top level proposals, any legislative changes taken forward will most likely affect shooting. Their reach would likely impact activities such as the release of gamebirds, pest and predator control, wildfowling and target shooting.

BASC responded to the consultation and recommended the implementation of a new legal framework that is simple, comprehensive, and effective to allow for a common sensical and practical approach that truly benefits nature recovery.

Shoot and land managers invest at present £250 million and 3.9 million working days every year on conservation work. A quarter of a billion pounds per year is invested on practical, real-life nature recovery, and all without burdening the taxpayer.

The shooting community offers the practical knowledge and expertise that is necessary to become a key partner in the achievement of our ambitious environmental targets by 2030. Defra must harness this invaluable resource.

Next steps

Defra will now go away to consider the responses to the consultation. In the meantime, we at BASC will continue to develop our vision of enhanced and future-proofed environmental laws that benefit nature recovery whilst ensuring a sustainable land-use for recreational and economic activities.

Over the next six months, BASC will continue to engage with Defra on all aspects of the Green Paper. The nature and design of our future environmental laws will shape our sport and our community and it is only right that BASC plays a central role in helping develop the chosen route.

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