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Environmental weekly news round up - 29th March 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. 


Environment Agency’s whistleblowing portal unveiled

In an innovative move aimed at enhancing environmental protection the Environment Agency (EA) has introduced a whistleblowing portal. Launched on 26th March 2024 the platform is described as being designed to empower industry insiders to report serious environmental malpractices within their organisations, with a particular focus on sectors such as water, waste, nuclear, fishing, agriculture and chemicals.

The initiative seeks to address and mitigate sewage pollution amongst other environmental violations, and provide a safe and confidential avenue for employees to report wrongdoing directly to the EA. The portal is launched at a critical time, as public concern over environmental degradation and pollution is at an all-time high.

Alan Lovell, Chair of the EA emphasised the portal’s role in the Agency’s broader efforts to protect the UK’s waterway and natural environment – “our commitment to combating sewage pollution and other forms of environmental harm is unwavering” Alan Lovell stated. He further encouraged individuals within the industry to leverage the portal, assuring the of confidentiality and the Agency’s sensitive handling of their reports.

The initiative is hailed as not only a testament to the EA’s dedication to environmental stewardship but according to the UK government also reflects the government’s firm stance on environmental protection with the Environment Secretary Steve Barclay reiterating the government’s zero tolerance policy towards pollution and highlighting the portal as a critical tool in enforcing environmental laws and regulations.

The whistleblowing portal is part of a broader suite of measures aimed at bolstering the EA’s regulatory and enforcement capabilities. Recent announcements have detailed plans to significantly increase the number of water company inspections with a target of 4000 inspections by the end of March 2025, escalating to over 10,000 from April 2025. This includes a rise in unannounced inspections to ensure companies remain compliant with environmental standards.

However, the EA have faced long-standing challenges in monitoring and enforcing environmental laws particularly in the context of water pollution. Critics have pointed to the EA’s limited success in curbing water pollution and enforcement of environmental laws. Factors such as budget cuts, staffing issues and limited regulatory reach have contributed to these challenges. Public trust has been affected as well by perceptions of inadequate action on water pollution and environmental protection. The whistleblowing portal could serve as a tangible demonstration of the EA’s commitment to strengthening its regulatory and enforcement frameworks. Whilst the new whistleblowing portal alone may not address all criticisms of the EA’s record in tackling water pollution and enforcing environmental laws it represents a positive and proactive step toward improving the Agency’s operational effectiveness.


Updated list of BNG designated bodies 

The “designated bodies” are the entities with whom developers are allowed to enter into conservation covenants to secure BNG.

The initial list was published on 2 February 2024, but it only included one responsible body: Natural England. Although, Natural England later declared that it had no intentions to enter into any conservation covenants.

The list of designated responsible bodies was updated on 21 March 2024 and now includes 4 designated responsible bodies:

  1. Natural England
  2. Harry Ferguson Holdings Limited 
  3. Northumberland County Council 
  4. RSK Biocensus


Process for restricting PFAS in firefighting foams has started 

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has required the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to start preparing a restriction report proposal on PFAS in firefighting foams (FFF).

HSE will have a period of 12 months to prepare an Annex 15 restriction dossier on PFAS in FFF. This restriction dossier will be prepared in collaboration with the Environment Agency (EA).

This move was one of the recommendations of last year’s Regulatory Management Options Analysis (RMOA) in which the regulators said there was a case for limiting the use of PFAS-containing foams used by firefighters. The RMOA also provided that other restrictions in textiles, furniture, and cleaning products should be considered.

A call for evidence is also expected to be launched within the next few weeks to obtain opinions from the public and more specifically from industry members who import, distribute, supply, and use FFF. 

Once the restriction dossier is completed, it will be published for a six-month public consultation. After that, it will move an opinion development stage for consultation of a panel of independent experts from UK REACH Independent Scientific Expert Pool (RISEP), which should take around one year. Considering all the timings above, the opinion development stage should finish in late 2026.

Under the already existing Persistent Organic Pollutant Regulations, a type of PFAS (Perfluorooctanoic Acid – PFOA) is already expected to be banned from FFF starting from 5 July 2024. However, the restriction dossier will address other further PFAS in FFF.


Sampling guidance for materials facility operators 

DEFRA has published a new guidance on sampling methods and methodologies for Materials Facility (MF) operators: “Developing a suitable sampling methodology” 

The updated guidance covers the following:

  • Methods you can use and considerations to take when sampling,
  • How to set up your sampling area
  • How best to measure samples, including information about the measuring area and equipment
  • Offsite sampling options
  • Using new technologies for the automation of sorting and sampling
  • How monitoring and enforcement will work, including kinds of audit

On 1 October 2024, the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 will come in force and will extend the scope of MFs required to sample and report their waste. These new regulations will now include MFs managing source segregated or single waste streams, bulking stations, and waste transfer stations. The sampling guidance above will also be applicable to these new MFs starting from October.


New byelaw protects a further 13 Marine Protected Areas

Under the Marine Coastal Access Act 2009, a new byelaw was introduced that bans the use of towed fishing gear in specific areas within 13 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around the coastline of England. The byelaw hopes to protect valuable reef and rocky habitats. It adds almost a further 4000km² to the current total area protected. 

The byelaw came into force on 22 March 2024.

The newly protected MPAs are: Cape Bank, East of Haig Fras, Farnes East, Foreland, Haig Fras, Haisborough, Hammond and Winterton, Hartland Point to Tintagel, Goodwin Sands, Land’s End and Cape Bank, North Norfolk Sandbanks and Saturn Reef, Offshore Brighton, South of Celtic Deep, and Wight-Barfleur Reef.

The Marine Management Organisation has reported the byelaws are a proven effective way of protecting our waters; between the first byelaws coming into effect, in June 2022, and the end of 2023 there had only been 17 potential infringements detected. 

The government aims to have 54 English offshore MPAs protected from fishing activity by the end of this year. 


DEFRA and Forestry Commission increases payment rates in England Woodland Creation Offer to benefit farmers, land managers & trees 

The England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) is a Forestry Commission payment initiative introduced back in 2021 to permit landowners, land managers and public bodies to apply and be granting funding to create a small woodland at a minimum size of one hectare. 

The current maximum rate per hectare available from additional contributions will increase by 45% from £8,000 to £11,600. Where land is also eligible for the new Low Sensitivity Payment, stackable payments will also increase to £12,700. 

These changes to payment rates will take effect immediately.

This is a key part of the Government’s plans to achieve net zero by 2050 by incentivising farmers and landowners to plant more trees and create woodland. 

When introducing the new measures, the Environment Secretary noted the new measures are designed to support applicants as well as reward their efforts in helping the Government meet their ambitious climate change targets.