17 Nov 2023
Nature in the UK is in trouble, and many communities are feeling the brunt of environmental damage caused when public bodies and companies don’t play by the rules.
But in 2023, the government tried to make a law to delete hundreds of laws that protect people and the environment across the UK before the end of the year, and rewrite thousands more. We successfully campaigned to reverse the worst bits of this plan, but the Retained EU Law (REUL) Act still poses a huge threat to our environmental protections. And the government is still trying to reduce controls that prevent new developments harming nature, through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.
This could all lead to more polluted air, dirtier water and fewer protections for already hard-pressed species and habitats, and reduce the rights of communities to make their voices heard.
We need to persuade the government that people really value these protections, and they make our lives and our future better – so these plans are dropped or reimagined as a chance to improve, not weaken laws. We need to show the government that communities, and the sensible rules that protect them and the environment they depend on, can't be traded off against one another. And we need to make sure that the new planning system is high standard and democratic, supporting communities and nature everywhere, rather than prioritising pockets of biodiversity at the expense of a healthy environment for all.
So far in 2023, we:
Campaigned for the government to scrap the whole REUL bill and use proper democratic processes to change any existing legal protections that need improving.
This demand got huge support, both inside and outside parliament. Ultimately, we didn’t win. Ministers have been handed a free pass to rewrite or weaken these laws until 2026. But we did get the government to change the REUL bill so that the immediate threat of protections being deleted by the end of 2023 was removed.
We also worked with local authorities, planning groups and climate campaigners to show how the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill could weaken the rules the protect nature and habitats. We supported changes to the bill to make sure the planning system doesn’t undermine climate action.
What you can do
- Share our 4 minute overview of the threat to our protections.
- Arrange a meeting with your local MP to speak to them about your concerns about the weakening of legal safeguards for the environment.
- Sign and share our open letter, asking all government departments to stand up for the laws that protect people and the environment.
- Winter 2022 to spring 2023: over 90,000 of us demanded a government rethink its entire attack on nature protections by signing our petition. Over 8,000 people emailed their MPs ahead of the first big debates on the REUL bill. Lots of MPs voted for changes to these ridiculous plans.
- Spring 2023: after huge public pressure, the government removed the arbitrary December deletion deadline from its plans. This would’ve seen thousands of laws at risk in 2023. Instead, just over 600 protections have been listed for the chop.
- May 2023: the House of Lords fought back against the remaining threat: handing ministers power to decide which laws get weakened or unravelled. They asked the government to guarantee that ministers won’t be able to weaken or unravel environmental and food laws in carrying out this plan. We backed the Lords, and handed in our petition calling for stronger, not weaker, environmental protections. But hours later, our MPs voted against this change.
- June 2023: over 10,000 people emailed their MPs. And we sent animated, digital posters of unravelling puffins out all over the country to spread the word that government was launching a plan to unravel our laws. But when the Lords told MPs to think again in June, the government made the wrong decision again. The REUL Act became law on 29 June. You can read the final version here.
- Summer 2023: we supported amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneraton Bill, by briefing MPs and Lords on the need for changes and coordinating open letters to help over 100 other organisations get their message to decision makers.
The Levelling up and Regeneration Bill is still being debated in parliament and is expected to become law by the end of the year. We’ll keep working to make sure planning decisions don’t harm communities, nature or the climate. You can find out exactly where the bill is at on the parliament website .
The process of “reviewing” laws stemming from the UKs membership of the EU will continue until 2026. We’re already coordinating an open letter, asking government departments to stand up for our environment, and we’ll be watching out for any attempts to change the laws we all rely on over the coming months (and years).
Support and resources
- Read our 4 minute overview of the threat to our protections, or a more in-depth guide.
- Watch the recording of our webinar, "How to save our environmental laws from landfill," held in May 2023.
- Learn about the REUL plan by reading this quick outline of the ways government is downgrading protections.
- You can find more detail on our concerns regarding the REUL Bill in our written evidence to the Bill Committee.
- If you have a question, or want more information about anything above, please email [email protected]