A new report published today by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) has highlighted gaps in the legislation that protects the environment post-EU exit. Specifically, hedgerows, ponds, water courses and soil are all at risk under the new agriculture bill, which is being discussed in the House of Commons today (03/02/2020).

The report produced by IEEP, which has been commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), claims that Britain’s exit from the EU will reduce the protection of some environmental features. This is because regulations that previously protected these features are based in EU law and are not currently being transferred across to the new domestic legislation that is being discussed today.

Such gaps that have arisen during this transition period include legislation relating to:

  • Buffer strips next to water courses, which have impacts on pesticide pollution
  • Minimum soil cover and soil erosion
  • Hedgerows, most notably, the hedge cutting ban period and buffer strips adjacent to hedgerows
  • Other landscape features such as ponds

The impacts of the above are potentially very large, particularly on small mammals such as hedgehogs, breeding birds and amphibians. According to the RSPB, half of all British mammals and 80% of our woodland birds are dependent on hedgerows for food, shelter and nesting sites. Any change in legislation which reduces the protection on British hedgerows is therefore likely to have serious implications. Furthermore, Britain’s hedgerow population has been declining since the Second World War after there was a push for agricultural intensification with the “Dig for Victory” campaign. Evidence from the 1950’s suggested Britain had one million kilometres of hedgerow compared to just 477,000 kilomtres in 2007, which highlights the need to protect these important ecological features.

Although there are gaps in this legislation, the bill will also see payment for the area of land farmed replaced with a “public money for public goods” system, which will provide financial incentives to farmers who protect wildlife, the environment and carbon storages.

Report reference: Baldock D and Hart K (2020), Risks and opportunities of a post-EU environmental regulatory regime for agriculture in England, Institute for European Environmental Policy.