Later today, we expect Defra’s long-awaited consultation on a new environmental watchdog to be published. As I’ve said in previous blogs, a robust watchdog is critical to ensure our environmental laws are properly enforced as we leave the EU. Indeed, the Prime Minister herself promised a ‘world leading independent statutory body’ when she launched the 25 Year Environment Plan back in January.

Goldeneye by Danny Green (

A few weeks ago, we set out our key tests for a ‘world-leading environmental watchdog’. They were (and remain) that a new watchdog should:

  • Be established through new legislation – such as a Westminster Environment Act and parallel devolved legislation or support.
  • Set out ambitious new targets for nature’s recovery, to allow it to hold current and future governments to account.
  • Be independent of government - by reporting to relevant Parliaments, rather than any government departments - with secure five yearly budgets and technically qualified staff.
  • Ensure proper implementation of environmental law and policy. This should include supervising plans that give effect to environmental law, overseeing permitting regimes (including responsibility for granting exemptions), and ensuring robust and consistent application of the law.
  • Check compliance with environmental law, policy and international agreements including trade deals by government, business and other actors. This should include reviewing progress against plans, assessing the legality of decisions and scrutinising whether environmental principles, targets, conditions, metrics and requirements are being adhered to.
  • Enforce environmental law by initiating investigations into possible breaches and responding to complaints from citizens and civil society organisations. Breaches must be identified and acted on, with the application of appropriate remedies and sanctions, including fines and the power to order environmental restoration.
  • Review and publicly report information regarding both the state of the natural world and performance against legally-binding targets. These reviews should include the ability to question the action (or inaction) of governments and public bodies, and the adequacy of existing laws.
  • Provide tailored advice on changes to or requirements for new targets, conditions, metrics and requirements, working with existing expert Committees such as the Climate Change Committee.

We’re concerned that the delays in publishing the consultation may mean that the government’s proposals have been weakened. We will be scrutinising the consultation document carefully and will report back with our initial reaction as soon as possible.

It won’t only be us NGOs scrutinising the plans. Both Peers and MPs with an interest in the environment will be too. If they’re not up to scratch, amendments to the Withdrawal Bill to put pressure on government to strengthen their proposals may well be passed.

The UK Government have expressed an aspiration to be world-leading in their environmental standards as we leave the EU. Whilst politicians bicker in at Westminster, nature around the world is in freefall. Environmental NGOs like the RSPB, and nature-lovers like you, cannot let that continue.