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Environmental Weekly News Round Up – 23 February 2024

Welcome to the latest edition of our weekly Environment Law news update. As ever, we bring you developments, insights, and analysis in the world of environmental law.


New UK-based environmental science expert network for deep-sea mining 

As we previously reported (here) the UK announced that it will support the moratorium on the granting of exploitation licences for deep sea mining projects until sufficient scientific evidence is available to assess the potential impact of mining activities on marine ecosystems. During the duration of the moratorium, deep-sea mining licences will not be supported or sponsored by the UK.

For the purpose of collecting sufficient scientific evidence, the creation of a new UK-based environmental science expert network to collect further scientific data was also announced in late 2023. This network was officially launched by DEFRA on 19 February 2024.

A portal was also published with guidance on relevant dates, aims of the network, membership criteria, ways of working, and DEFRA’s contact details (available here).

Eligible applicants can now apply to join the network here. The deadline for the first round of applications is 8 April 2024. The first meeting of the Network is expected to be in May or June 2024.


Extension of National Nature Reserve in Devon announced

The Pebblebed Heaths National Nature Reserve (“NRR”) has been extended, as announced by Natural England and landowners, Clinton Devon Estates. The extension sees 90ha of wetland join the nature reserve, the equivalent of 128 football fields. 

Natural England announced in 2023 that to celebrate the coronation of the King Charles II, five major NNRs would be announced each year for the next five years to leave a lasting legacy for people and nature. This extension to the Pebblebed Heaths NNR represents the third in the King’s Series of NNRs, following the Lincolnshire Coronation Coast NNR and Mendip NNR. 

50ha of the extension to Pebblehead Heaths is an inter-tidal habitat created as part of a climate change adaptation project which reconnects the River Otter with its floodplain. This means the land is now tidal for the first time in 200 years and should help to protect local properties from flooding. 

NNRs seek to protect some of the most important habitats, species and geology in the country and it is estimated that the 135 NNRs currently managed by Natural England remove up to 185,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. 

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, said of the Devon NNR expansion: “This ambitious extension to the National Nature Reserve will not only enhance the natural environment, making it a better and more joined up place for wildlife to thrive, but also provide opportunities for locals and visitors alike to connect with the natural world, history and the local heritage.”


UK REACH: New work programme for 2023 to 2024

The UK regulation on the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (UK REACH) is part of the independent chemicals’ regulatory framework for Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). A yearly work programme sets out the operational activities to be undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to meet the objectives set in UK REACH regulations.

DEFRA has published the policy paper “Rationale for prioritising substances in the UK REACH work programme: 2023 to 2024”, which identified the following 5 priorities for the 2023 to 2024 work programme:

  1. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – (a) start preparing a restriction dossier on PFAS in fire-fighting foams (FFFs); and (b) assess potential additional restrictions on further wide dispersive uses of PFAS and PFAS likely to be released from consumer articles.
  2. Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers in articles – continue the RMOA initiated under the 2022 to 2023 work programme and consider its recommendations.
  3. Bisphenols in thermal paper – continue the RMOA initiated under the 2022 to 2023 work programme and consider its recommendations.
  4. Hazardous flame retardants – further develop the risk assessment on flame retardants and consider the recommendations on completion.
  5. Intentionally added microplastics – monitor progress of the evidence project initiated and commissioned under the 2022 to 2023 work programme.

The policy document explains the reasons for choosing these priorities and explains why other proposals were not selected for this period.


East Midlands International Airport to stand trial over river pollution

Derby Crown Court heard on Thursday 15th February; East Midlands International airport pleaded not guilty after being accused of polluting the river Trent with de-icer by the Environment Agency. 

The airport was first investigated in May 2022 after a fungus covered the riverbed downstream of its discharge point. This was reported by a local angling group. Fish Legal issued a statement which also said that for over a decade the Derby Railway Angling Club has been submitting reports of pollution in the river Trent. 

They stated that there was “strong evidence of aircraft de-icing chemicals finding their way into the river from nearby East Midlands airport.” These chemicals can cause ecological damage by reducing oxygen in the water. 

Many campaigners have put pressure on the Environment Agency to begin grappling with pollution from airports, which can include pollution from PFAS, labelled “forever chemicals” as they linger in the environment for thousands of years.

A spokesperson for the airport stated that they “take our environmental responsibilities and work closely with the Environment Agency on the operation of our water drainage system. We are unable to comment further due to ongoing proceedings.” 

The trial will take place in May 2025.  


Campaign group withdraw threat of legal challenge over nutrient neutrality rules 

Last week we reported that Wild Justice had sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regarding the government’s “Notice of designation of sensitive catchment areas 2024”. The letter alleged the notice was an unlawful attempt by the government to scrap current nutrient neutrality requirements.  

However, the campaign group have this week confirmed on X they will be withdrawing their threat of legal challenge. The thread posted said: 

“We received a response from DEFRA yesterday and having spoken to our legal team today we have decided there is no prospect of winning this challenge.  

We got this one wrong. But what DEFRA is doing is shockingly bad and if we were still in the EU we would be considering challenging this policy. As it is, we can’t see a legal route forward.

However there's work to be done by us & others to ensure that the promised upgrades are produced & that the relevant regulators do their jobs properly.


Invasive Non-Natural Species Update

DEFRA has recently released a new blog post on INNS:

Preventing the spread of invasive plants from your garden - Environment (

This explains how householders can prevent the spread of a wide range of INNS  - not just Japanese Knotweed from their gardens. INNS can be devastating to other natural species and property so it is important to treat these when they are identified even if this is on your business premises.