The EU has created two key pieces of legislation to protect ecology and biodiversity: The 1979 EU Birds Directive and The 1992 EU Habitats Directive. A recent ‘fitness check’ of the effectiveness of the Directives concluded that they remain highly relevant and fit for purpose. Where properly implemented, the directives have reduced pressures on biodiversity and led to the recovery of protected habitats and species. Furthermore, whilst the Directives only legally protect the species and habitats listed on the Annexes, in practice they provide benefits for a wide range of other species.

The UK will probably leave the EU legal jurisdiction by March 2019 and The Birds Directive and The Habitats Directive will no longer apply. In its recent review, The Environmental Audit Committee recommended that the government provides an equivalent or better level of protection for nature as the EU. The government has pledged to ensure continuity of the current environmental legislation through the Great Repeal Bill which will convert all existing EU legislation into UK law; however, around a third of the laws will require some technical amendments and the UK government may use the Henry VIII Act to make such changes without parliamentary scrutiny. There is also a risk that these laws will no longer be enforced and that they could be further eroded through statutory instruments. This had led some stakeholders to be concerned that environmental protection may be weakened to boost economic growth and to seek a competitive advantage when trading with countries outside of the EU trading block.

Defra is currently drafting a plan on how EU Environmental Legislation will be transposed into UK law.