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Wildlife and Countryside Link News

Welcome to Link’s news - a roundup of what happened in the last month. For updates from our working groups, please go to the policy hub. If you would like to submit news items for our monthly e-bulletin, please contact Ellie Ward. To subscribe please enter your email here.

March 2024

In this late stage of the current Parliament, advocacy to speak up for the natural world is as important as ever. Positive legislation includes the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill, which will at long-last ban the export of live animals for slaughter. The Bill is now heading through Lords stages, at a fast pace which must be sustained to ban live exports before the General Election. A harmful Bill is also in its Lords stages; the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, opening the door to more damaging oil and gas exploration, including within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Watch out for renewed efforts over the coming weeks to reduce the climate and nature harms the Bill will cause.

Environmental Policy News

Growth Duty extended to Ofwat – a gift to river polluters?

In February, the Government confirmed plans to extend the Growth Duty (established by the Deregulation Act 2015) to Ofwat, requiring the water regulator to have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth. Confirmation of the decision was accompanied by the publication of draft guidance on how the duty would be applied. The guidance makes for uncomfortable reading for everyone keen to see Ofwat take a robust stance against water companies that pollute the environment.

It encourages the regulator to consider ‘relaxing or revoking’ rules in the name of economic growth and describes enforcement action on companies as potentially ‘damaging’ to growth. In light of that potential damage, the guidance instructs the regulator to closely consider the ‘likely impact of the proposed intervention on the business’ before taking enforcement action. Link has expressed concerns about the chilling effect this could have on enforcement action against polluting water companies, who could use the Growth Duty and guidance to push back against financial sanctions. The draft guidance, and Statutory Instrument to impose the Growth Duty to Ofwat, are due to be presented to Parliament in March. Link will continue to highlight how the imposition may hinder efforts to tackle freshwater pollution.

    Reports that Deposit Return Scheme to be delayed again

    Last week, press outlets reported that the implementation of the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) is to be delayed to 2028. This comes after earlier set-backs delayed implementation of the scheme, which had been initially promised for 2023, to 2026. The reports of further delay have frustrated environmental and recycling campaigners along with industry voices as DRS, whereby consumers received a small fee when returning bottles and cans for recycling, is a change that a range of other countries have been able to swiftly implement.

    The UK Government first proposed a DRS in 2018 and consulted on detailed proposals in Spring 2019. A commitment to introduce DRS was included in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto. Since then, further rounds of consultation have led to little appreciable progress, with a row between the UK and Scottish Governments on the scheme taking up much of last year. If the new press reports are confirmed, and implementation will now be delayed until 2028, this will stretch the time period between commitment and delivery to a decade. By way of contrast, the Republic of Ireland’s DRS scheme, announced in 2022, become fully operational this year.

    Campaign secures promise of new hedgerow protections

    On 1st March, the start of the breeding bird season, RSPB England launched a new campaign calling for a gap in hedgerow protections to be swiftly fixed. Regulations protecting hedgerows had been covered by the pre-Brexit cross compliance system, the rules which farmers and land managers had to follow on their land to claim farm support under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS). Cross compliance dropped out of UK law on 1st January, leaving widespread regulatory gaps, including for hedgerow protection.

    The RSPB hedgerow campaign elicited a swift response. On Monday the Government promised to introduce replacement regulations to Parliament, which would include restoration of crucial the hedge cutting ban between 1 March and 31 August to protect nesting birds. Timing remains a concern however, as the Defra press release stated that the regulation will be introduced ‘when parliamentary time allows’. In the words of RSPB England, ‘the longer the gap in protections lasts, the longer our much-loved hedgerow birds and wildlife are at threat’. The regulations need to be introduced, not when a convenient gap in the parliamentary schedule appears, but as soon as possible. Other regulatory gaps arising from the end of cross compliance, including on soil cover and freshwater quality, remain unfilled.

    Bulletin Board

    Link blogs you may have missed:

    What can we do about the impact of neonicotinoids?
    Ahead of a Westminster Hall debate on the afternoon on 5th March on the environmental impact of neonicotinoids, Link's Senior Policy Officer Dr Hannah Blitzer explores the risks they pose to wildlife.

    Make access to nature at school a statutory right

    Jen Davis, Cathriona Hickey and Suzanne Welch, co-chairs of Link’s Education and Learning Policy Group, explain the critical role formal education has in preparing children to adapt and mitigate to the nature and climate crises.

    Ambitions of the GB Non-Native Species Strategy are undermined by lack of clarity on delivery

    David Smith, Social Change and Advocacy Officer, at Buglife, and Lisa Manning, Nature 2030 Policy & Engagement Officer at Link, argue that the time is now to act on the threat of invasive species and protect our native wildlife.

    ‘Resilient Landscapes for People, Nature and Climate’ Conference to take place in June
    The British Ecological Society and other partners are hosting a Conference on 24-25 June in Birmingham, to share best practice around habitat restoration. You can register here.

    Open University competition on sustainability launches

    The Open University have launched a new competition to find exciting research ideas from charities to tackle sustainability, living well and inequalities. Winners will be assigned to an OU Research Team to take on the research idea and will receive a baseline of £25,000 in research funding. Charities can enter until 15 May, details here.

    Land Use Summit to be held

    On 16th April ZSL are hosting a one-day summit exploring how strategic land use prioritisation can contribute to nature recovery and net zero. You can register here.

    Sector job vacancies:
    A list of job opportunities across the Link network can be found here.
    Beaver Trust - Senior Education Officer
    League Against Cruel Sports - Fundraising & Legacy Manager

    Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link) is the largest environment and wildlife coalition in England, bringing together 83 organisations to use their strong joint voice for the protection of nature. You can learn more about Link’s policy work here.

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    The Wildlife and Countryside Link team

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