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Environmental weekly news round up – 24 May 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. 



The Cost of Clean-Up: Is £1million Enough to Combat Fly-Tipping

DEFRA announced on 18th May that it will award a share of £1million to local authorities to help combat fly-tipping. It has been hailed as a crucial step towards safeguarding communities and protecting agricultural land from illegal waste disposal.

It has been particularly welcomed by the NGU whose Vice President Rachel Hallios stated “[…] it plagues the lives of so many of us living and working in the countryside […] our farms are being strewn with kitchen appliances, sofas and increasingly industrial scale amounts of rubbish such as builders’ rubble and hazardous material […] it takes a huge toll emotionally and financially as the onus is on the landowner to remove the fly-tip from their land”.

The NFU have long campaigned for rural crime to be given a higher priority and as a result of the NFU’s campaigning 19,060 people signed an open letter calling on elected Police and Crime Commissioners to prioritise rural crime. The NFU has also advocated for better promotion of household duty of care to ensure that the public is aware of their responsibilities for waste disposal.

It is well known that fly-tipping disproportionately affects the countryside with waste criminals often choosing remote rural areas to dump their rubbish in order to avoid detection. The new grants offering up to £50,000 per Council are seen as a vital resource in on-going efforts to address this issue. The funding will go to support a variety of measures including the installation of CCTV cameras, AI-assisted technology and public awareness campaigns all aimed at deterring fly-tipping and catching offenders.

Some of the 26 Councils nominated to receive a grant have already outlined plans to enhance their anti-fly-tipping strategies such as expanding CCTV network, utilisation of AI-enabled SMART cameras, equipping street enforcement officers with handheld devices to increase efficiency and community engagement as well as educating residents on proper waste disposal.

DEFRA have said that the enhanced penalties and funding are part of broader efforts to ensure these crimes do not go unpunished.

However, whilst the £1million funding boost is undoubtedly a welcome step is it really sufficient given the persistent and widespread nature of fly-tipping, the cost of its removal and enforcement and the use of prevention measures such as installing CCTV and AI technology? The grant provides each Council with £50,000 but when considering the extent of the problem this may only scratch the surface. According to recent government statistics local authorities dealt with 1.08 million fly-tipping incidents in the year to March 2023 a slight decrease of 1% from the previous year but still one of the highest figures on record.

Long term solutions to fly-tipping should include continuous and increased funding to support the long-term strategies and infrastructure improvements, a strengthening of policies related to waste disposal including digital waste tracking and stringent checks for waste operators. Encouraging greater community involvement through educational programs and public participation in reporting and preventing fly-tipping should also form part of any long-term solutions.

Continuous support from DEFRA together with collaboration between local authorities, communities and stakeholders will be crucial in effectively combatting fly-tipping and protecting our rural and urban environments.


National Nature Reserves Week celebrated with new designations 

As part of National Nature Reserves Week, Natural England have announced two new National Nature Reserves (“NNRs”) and an extension to an existing NNR. As part of their Environmental Improvement Plan, the government is set to announce five-year NNRs each year from 2023 to 2027. Those newly designated or expanded this week are as follows: 

  • The Moccas Park NNR in Herefordshire has been extended by 100 hectares so it now covers to 239 hectares in total, protecting a number of ancient trees. 
  • The Borrowdale Rainforest in Cumbria has been designated as a new NNR. The site is currently owned by the National Trust and is said to be part of one of the largest remaining pieces of temperate rainforest in England. Borrowdale is the wettest inhabited place in England 
  • And, in Leicestershire, the 721 hectare Bradgate Park Withland Wood NNR has been newly created. The site contains some of the rarest fossils in the UK and the world, which will now be better protected through the designation. 

NNRs are designated under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 due to their national natural interest. The sites are also designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and as such have strong legal protection. It is an offence for a person to intentionally or recklessly destroy or damage any of the flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features on such sites without reasonable excuse, and for a public authority to carry out an operation which damages any of the same features without first giving notice to Natural England without reasonable excuse. 

A full list of NNRs in England can be accessed here.


Government announces plans to change the Habitat Regulation Assessment Guidance 

The Government has recently published an update on its ‘Smarter Regulation’ programme outlining changes to the Habitat Regulation Assessment guidance will be coming this summer. 

The Smarter Regulation programme was launched a year ago, following the UK’s departure from the EU, with the purpose of making regulatory changes aiming to reduce burdens on businesses and promote economic growth.

Habitat Regulation Assessments are required to be carried out by a competent authority to test if a plan or project proposal is likely to have a significant effect on the sites designated within the Habitat Regulations for protection. The regulations cover hundreds of wildlife sites across land, freshwater and sea along with rare or vulnerable animals, birds and plant species. 

Although the detail of the changes has yet to be announced, the Government has commented that the updated guidance will improve clarity on the requirements of the assessment in order to improve efficiency of the overall process along with considering ways in which the availability of evidence and data that is used within the assessments can be improved. 


Legal challenge against Teesside carbon capture project

The UK’s Net Zero Teesside (“NZT”) project, a gas-fired power station with carbon capture and storage (“CCS”) technology, has come under legal scrutiny. Environmental scientist Dr. Andrew Boswell has initiated a judicial review against the UK Energy Secretary’s approval of the project, citing significant discrepancies in projected greenhouse gas emissions.

Boswell’s analysis suggests that the NZT project would produce approximately 20.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) over 25 years, a stark contrast to the government’s estimate of 5.9 million tCO2e. The legal challenge argues that the project’s approval contradicts the UK’s net zero commitments and climate change policies, and questions the decision-making process’s transparency and accountability.

The government and NZT project spokespersons defend the project, stating it is crucial for meeting the UK’s net zero targets. They highlight the Climate Change Committee’s assertion that CCS technology is essential for decarbonizing the UK’s energy sector and point to a commitment of up to £20 billion in CCS.

However, the judicial review underscores the need for rigorous scrutiny of such projects’ environmental impact, particularly in light of the UK’s ambitious climate goals. The outcome of this legal challenge could influence future energy policy in the UK, reminding us of the complexities and controversies in achieving a carbon-neutral future. As the case unfolds, it will continue to provoke debate about the best path to net zero emissions in the UK. This controversy surrounding the NZT project highlights the challenges on the path to a sustainable future.