The Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum Contents


1.Our report on the EU and UK Environmental Policy, published prior to the EU referendum, found that the UK’s membership of the EU had been crucial in shaping environmental policy over the past 40 years. We also noted that the overwhelming view of witnesses was that EU membership has been positive for the UK environment.1

2.This report arises from the first in a series of inquiries that the Committee intends to undertake in relation to leaving the EU. It considers the implications of the end of CAP in the UK and the changing status domestically of European environmental law for the future of land management in the UK and environmental protections. We make seven recommendations to Government, which can be found in chapter 6. These are the actions that must be taken by Defra and other government departments at the start of the process of exiting the EU, either before the UK begins negotiations by triggering Article 50 or immediately afterwards. Failure to do so risks weaker protections for the environment once the UK has left the EU, leading to further degradation of the UK’s natural capital and higher costs of subsequent intervention.

3.Although our previous report did not directly examine EU farming policy the possible replacement or withdrawal of funding to the agricultural sector is an issue which could have a significant impact on UK biodiversity once we leave the EU. Over 70% of the land area of the United Kingdom is in some form of agricultural use, and it is probable that the UK will no longer be a party to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) once we leave. CAP provides subsidies to farmers on a per hectare basis for land actively farmed (referred to as Pillar 1) and for rural development activities, including those intended to have an environmental benefit (Pillar 2). The UK countryside has been shaped by agriculture over centuries and many wildlife habitats depend on some level of agricultural use for their maintenance. However, the 2016 State of Nature report indicated that modern agriculture has been a significant contributor to the long term decline in British biodiversity, concluding that:

The intensification of agriculture has had the biggest impact on wildlife, and this has been overwhelmingly negative. Over the period of our study (c40 years), farming has changed dramatically, with new technologies boosting yields often at the expense of nature2.

A more detailed discussion of the context of this report: the state of the UK environment, development of UK environmental policy and the influence of agriculture on the environment, can be found in the Annex to this report.

4.The Government has committed to introduce a ‘Great Repeal Bill’ - which is, in reality, a ‘Great Incorporation Bill’ - to retain European legislation when the UK ceases to be an EU member, with Parliament subsequently deciding whether to retain, amend or repeal these laws. The Conservative Party’s manifesto for the 2015 General Election included a commitment to “be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it”; achieving this commitment will require an assessment of the extent to which EU legislation is sufficient to meet the Government’s ambitions, and where there is scope to strengthen protections.

Terms of reference

5.The terms of reference for the inquiry can be found on our website.3 This inquiry has focussed on terrestrial biodiversity and environmental issues primarily linked to land management and agriculture. These are not the only environmental issues which will be affected by leaving the EU: European policy has directed the UK approach on air and water quality, on waste, on the marine environment and many other areas besides. Future Committee inquiries may examine these areas and the issues to be managed in more detail.

6.We held four public hearings with academics, farming bodies, conservation groups and Ministers from the Departments for Exiting the European Union and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). In addition, we received 162 submissions of written evidence which are published on our website.4 A full list of witnesses can be found at the end of this report. We are grateful to all those who gave evidence to this inquiry. We would also like to thank our specialist adviser, Geoffrey Radley OBE, former Head of Profession for Land Management at Natural England and now an independent environmental consultant, for his assistance.

7.The written evidence received by this inquiry included some submissions on issues which we have not covered in this inquiry, most notably fracking,5 the impact of leaving the EU on the marine environment,6 and pesticides, including neonicotinoids.7 We recognise the importance of these issues, have reported on them in previous inquiries and may do so in the future. However this inquiry is focussed on the future of environmental land management.

1 Environmental Audit Committee, Third Report of Session 2015–16, EU and UK Environmental Policy, HC537

2 Hayhow DB, Burns F, Eaton MA, Al Fulaij N, August TA, Babey L, Bacon L, Bingham C, Boswell J, Boughey KL, Brereton T, Brookman E, Brooks DR, Bullock DJ, Burke O, Collis M, Corbet L, Cornish N, De Massimi S, Densham J, Dunn E, Elliott S, Gent T, Godber J, Hamilton S, Havery S, Hawkins S, Henney J, Holmes K, Hutchinson N, Isaac NJB, Johns D, Macadam CR, Mathews F, Nicolet P, Noble DG, Outhwaite CL, Powney GD, Richardson P, Roy DB, Sims D, Smart S, Stevenson K, Stroud RA, Walker KJ, Webb JR, Webb TJ, Wynde R and Gregory RD (2016), State of Nature 2016. The State of Nature partnership

5 Including evidence from Dr and Mrs Michala and David Pearson (BRX0216), Frack Free Ryedale and others (BRX0222), and Mr Adrian Parker (BRX0231)

6 Including evidence from the Marine Conservation Society (BRX0241), the Institution of Environmental Sciences (BRX0174), and Wildlife and Countryside Link (BRX0147)

7 Including evidence from Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland (BRX0125), Buglife - The Invertebrate Conservation Trust (BRX0180), and the UK Pesticides Campaign (BRX0242)

21 December 2016