OEP response to Government on Nature Recovery Green Paper and advice on proposals to reform the Habitats Regulations Assessment

We have published here our response to the Government’s Nature Recovery Green Paper consultation.

This includes our advice on its proposals for reform of the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA). 

OEP Chair Dame Glenys Stacey said: “We welcome the focus the Green Paper gives to nature recovery, which is fundamental to Government's 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP) ambitions. 

“We note the Green Paper is high-level, exploratory, and discursive and we understand intentionally so, with specific evidence, assessment of impacts and detailed proposals to follow. 

“We understand Government sees the opportunity to replace a mix of EU-derived and domestic laws with new national legislation to reap potential benefits of greater clarity and coherence. Yet there are risks. Reform should be approached cautiously so as not to undermine existing high levels of environmental protection. 

“Whatever pathway is chosen, any change should, in our view, represent a considerable step up on what we already have, to justify the risks, and what is more to deliver the significant action required to protect and restore nature in line with the 25YEP mission and the pressing timeframe.

"With that timeframe in mind, we have also made some recommendations for improvements to existing arrangements, which we think should be made regardless of the longer term approach to bring about some more immediate benefits."

Within our response, we identify five key attributes of an effective framework for nature protection and recovery: 

  • Legal framework underpinned by independent scientific understanding and advice
  • An ambitious, coherent vision which applies across all relevant government policy areas, aligned to the timeframe and approach of the 25YEP
  • The vision to deliver nature recovery should be strengthened by a coherent set of ambitious and measurable targets.
  • Actions should be tested against a demonstrable ability to halt nature's decline and bring about substantive recovery at scale and pace
  • Good governance, resourcing, evaluation, and continuous improvement to ensure the necessary oversight, accountability and communications

We make 13 recommendations to Government to strengthen the proposals. These include: 

  • Government should develop and publish analyses and evidence on how proposed reforms will maintain and improve on current protection
  • Government should resolve the practical issues to improve the existing HRA process identified stakeholders
  • Any new process for selecting and designating protected sites should be clear, transparent, evidence-led and based on scientific factors. Primary responsibility for designating sites should remain with the statutory nature conservation body
  • Any future legislation in includes provisions to enshrine 30 by 30 in law as a key supporting target to halt species decline
  • Any reform of Defra’s Arm’s Length Bodies should be aligned around delivery of Environmental Improvement Plan goals and associated targets

Dame Glenys added: “We believe the crucial test of any new framework is its capacity to achieve better environmental outcomes and to do so at pace, noting there are only eight years to meet the 30 by 30 commitment and the species abundance target. 

“While there may be other drivers for reform, we advise that, to achieve Government's stated objectives, reforms should only be pursued that will clearly improve on current protections and support nature's recovery at pace.”