The Memo: Landmark High Court case enforces European conservation laws on English soil

Group 723.png

Landmark High Court case enforces European conservation laws on English soil

Isaac Hickford - 07 November 2022

One of the big questions arising from Britain’s exit from the EU was the extent to which European laws would continue to be enforceable on British soil. After all, the legal landscape of the UK has been heavily influenced by legislation from the continent since the early 1970s. In conservation, for example, EU law is perhaps the single largest voice in the way landowners and rural businesses are required to protect the natural spaces they operate in. 

In early September, a landmark case in the High Court brought to light a provision in Brexit legislation that ensures that EU laws recognised as enforceable by a court prior to Brexit, remain enforceable against public authorities in the UK. Campaigners and landowners had brought a case against the environment agency over the protection of rare wetland habitats in Norfolk, arguing that the provision ensured that the EU Habitat’s Directive remained recognisable in domestic law. The Environment Agency, an organisation funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was ordered by the High Court to tackle the damage to areas of the Norfolk Broads threatened by the removal of water for agriculture. 

Protected spaces in the UK remain a subject of contention however. Concerns were immediately raised by campaign groups and ecologists in recent weeks when the UK government announced that 570 EU-directed environmental laws - covering everything from habitat protection to the use of pesticides - would be scrapped. Aside from the risks associated with removing these regulations, critics argue that the window of time before alternatives are put in place would leave protected landscapes such as rivers unprotected.