Significant changes to environmental policy are proposed in England through the Environment Bill 2019-2021, which will establish a new domestic framework for environmental governance now that the UK has exited the European Union. This will help embed environmental principles into future policymaking and establish legally binding targets within statutory Environmental Improvement Plans – the first of which, the 25 Year Environment Plan, was published in 2018 (HM Government, 2018).
One specified aim is to establish a Nature Recovery Network, with corresponding targets for restoring protected sites to favourable condition, as well as habitat and woodland creation beyond protected sites. This will be delivered and built into existing (and planned) policies, such as the proposed new Environmental Land Management Scheme (Defra, 2020), new mandatory requirements for biodiversity net gain in spatial planning, enhanced duties on public authorities to conserve and enhance biodiversity, and supported through new Local Nature Recovery Strategies. This is part of the UK Government’s stated ambition ‘to leave our environment in a better state than we found it’ (HM Government, 2018) and address long-term declines in biodiversity and ecosystems observed in the UK’s National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA, 2014). However, despite the promise of transformative governance change, a number of potential weaknesses have been identified and success may be threatened by the pursuit of competing priorities (NCC, 2020).