RSPB Scotland anger as UK Government seeks to remove nature protections in Scotland

The UK Government made a series of announcements last week that, together, represent one of the most significant attacks on nature we’ve seen. Some of these announcements apply only to England, but some have direct and indirect implications for the devolved countries. Aedan Smith, Head of Policy and Advocacy for RSPB Scotland, explains what this could mean for Scotland’s nature and why we will not stand for this.

Last week the UK Government launched a full-scale attack on the laws that protect nature.

Over the coming weeks, we will examine these proposals in more detail to fully understand the implications for nature in Scotland, but our initial sense is that they create an unacceptable threat to the future of nature here and across the UK.

The new Retained EU Law Bill seeks to ‘sunset’ (revoke) thousands of laws that originally came from the EU by the end of 2023 – unless they are specifically taken through a process to keep them. This places a huge range of important environmental laws at risk of being ripped up, most worryingly the Habitats Regulations that safeguard our most important wildlife and wild places.

Although environmental matters are largely devolved, our understanding is that the Westminster Habitats Regulations do apply directly in Scotland under some circumstances. For example, removing these vital nature laws will weaken the systems for consenting major energy projects and many marine activities in Scotland, placing our amazing nature here at risk.

gannet in flight

Gannets have been severely affected by bird flu this year and are also significantly at risk from poorly placed offshore wind developments

The Habitats Regulations have shown time and time again that they can effectively protect nature. They have steered development away from our most important wildlife sites and they protect some of our most vulnerable species. They provide much needed clarity and certainty for landowners and business. We urgently need all the UK governments to accept that these laws are vital and then invest in the additional restoration measures that nature needs to recover.

The Scottish Government has made strong and repeated commitments to maintain or exceed EU environmental standards, which is hugely welcome. We call on the Scottish Government to do all it can to ensure Scotland’s nature remains strongly protected.

However, if the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament need to go through a process of making sure all EU-retained laws stay on Scotland’s statute books because of this Bill, that threatens to derail Scotland’s existing legislative programme. This could waste huge amounts of time and resources; time and resources that should be spent tackling the climate and nature emergency, through scheduled forthcoming Bills on agriculture, grouse moors, and the natural environment.

A farm field with a hedgerow and trees in the distant and field margin full of bright red poppies

The forthcoming Agricultural Bill is a key moment for Scotland to make changes and get nature on the path to recovery

We are also alarmed by the proposals for new ‘Investment Zones’, announced by the Chancellor in the Growth Plan on Friday. These are areas where regulations – including environmental protections – would be removed or streamlined to facilitate faster development. So far, these Investment Zones have only been announced for England, but the UK Government has specifically said it intends to create these zones in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with devolved governments. Any attempts to create Investment Zones in Scotland would potentially tear up the most fundamental legal protections our remaining wildlife has in areas across the country.

And we are outraged by the proposals to fast-track infrastructure projects such as offshore windfarms and new and redeveloped oil and gas fields in the North Sea. The RSPB supports decarbonisation of our energy supplies, including through offshore wind, but without proper scrutiny and without consideration of appropriate mitigation and compensation for nature, such developments could undermine our net zero ambitions and be catastrophic for our wildlife, particularly Scotland’s already struggling seabirds.

The UK Government’s moves to deregulate, even just in England, will have ramifications for nature across the UK. We live in a shared environment; nature knows no borders. There is no hope of securing nature’s recovery if we see a race to the bottom on environmental standards.

A graph showing that nature loss has stopped and nature has started to recover by 2030. Illustrations of Scottish wildlife depict recovery

A Nature Positive Scotland by 2030, adapted from the Global Goal for Nature. For more information please visit Recent announcements put the aim to recover nature at risk.

Finally, the UK Government represents all the UK countries on the international stage when it comes to environmental matters. These announcements send a clear message to global leaders that the UK Government is not serious in its intentions for nature at home in the UK. This is happening right ahead of the major international gathering of COP15 in Montreal, in December, which will set the next round of global nature targets and could be hugely damaging for the UK’s international standing on nature.

We are facing a nature and climate emergency. We need strong leadership, ambition and, most importantly, action if we are to halt the loss of nature in Scotland and the rest of the UK and put us on a path to nature’s recovery. Our health, wellbeing and our very survival depend on this, and we must make it clear to the UK Government that we won’t stand for anything else.

Now more than ever nature needs you. The very first thing we need to do is ensure MPs in all countries of the UK are in no doubt that we will not stand for this #AttackonNature. Please click this link and follow the instructions to take part in our e-action:

  • I hate seeing attacks on nature. Hopefully this gets figured out. leaf guards

  • Growth for whom? Ordinary people don't benefit from this growth-centric brand of capitalism. It doesn't work. Is destroying the habitability of the planet and leading to more inequality. It just funnels money up to their billionaire donors. The se types of policies lead to boom and bust and ever increasingly desperate measures that lead to more destruction. I recommend reading Less is More by Jason Hickel to learn of a more hopeful direction one that would lead to a sustainable future.

  • Although there is an understandable interest in fiscal growth after the pandemic in particular governments need to consider long term consequences as well as their short period in office. If we do not protect nature and diversity, we further erode the delicate balance of our ecosystems, where does this leave our pollinators, our food chains and our marine environments. We depend on the environment as much as it depends on us. Apart from altruistic approaches we truly need to think of survival for the planet [ including us]