Let’s make our nature laws worth the paper they’re written on

Regardless of the outcome of Brexit, we all want nature to be better protected.

Given that the wild species and habitats that we love, and the pressures they face, do not respect borders, we need a collaborative approach between the four governments of the UK to ensure the best possible outcomes for nature.

You have the power to hold them to account and make sure they’re working together to achieve more for our shared environment.

We need the environment to be placed at the heart of discussions with the other three governments on the new frameworks and institutions that will be needed if we leave the EU. A letter from you now could influence Ministers Roseanna Cunningham and Michael Russell, to ensure that our future system of environmental protections works across borders for all wildlife.

If there are gaps in the law, the environment will suffer

There are glaring gaps in UK Government's EU (Withdrawal) Bill that seeks to convert EU environmental law into domestic law. This means we risk losing the important legal principles stating, for example, that polluters should pay for the damage they cause and that the risks of serious environmental damage should be taken into account and acted on by decision-makers even in the absence of full scientific certainty.

Let’s make our nature laws worth the paper they’re written on We urgently need to secure new arrangements for governing our environmental laws

It is not enough to have strong laws to protect the environment on paper. We also need the tools to ensure they are being applied correctly on the ground. Currently, several EU institutions, including the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, largely fill that role for us, as they do for every EU country. Outside of the EU, we will need our own institutions to ensure that our environmental laws are implemented in full and that governments and public sector bodies can be held to account.

Strong independent institutions are arguably the most powerful asset we can secure to safeguard our environment for the future. These institutions should monitor and report on the state of the environment, regulate the implementation of environmental law and address breaches of law when they arise. Without a means of holding our governments and private organisations to account, we cannot ensure nature is protected.

It is essential that members of the public, like you, can trust that independent institutions are there to look out for their rights and give them a voice if they have a valid complaint that is not being listened to.

We urgently need our governments to collaborate

This is the first big opportunity for the governments of our four nations to begin to establish themselves collectively as global leaders on tackling nature’s recovery.  

We recognise and welcome the leadership that the Scottish Government has already shown on the ‘governance gap’ issue.

However, we also recognise the need for greater cooperation and collaboration between the four UK governments to effectively manage shared environmental challenges. From the conservation of migratory and wide-ranging species to the management of shared river basins and other natural habitats, few environmental issues can be effectively addressed without working together.

We currently rely on EU law to ensure a common set of minimum environmental standards across the four nations, which are otherwise responsible for their own environmental policies. The Scottish Government has promised to maintain EU level environmental standards regardless of the outcome of Brexit. However, in order to ensure that environmental outcomes are not undermined, it is vital that all four countries of the UK have similarly high standards and a means of holding one another to account in enforcing those standards.

Challenge Roseanna Cunningham and Michael Russell to lead the way

Any solution to the environmental governance gap needs to enable individual citizens to hold our governments to account. As campaigners, letter-writers and people who already speak up for nature, that means you!

You can influence the future of our nature laws and how we enforce them, by writing to the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, and Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, Michael Russell.

You can use the same letter or email for each of them by simply personalising the name:

Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform
The Scottish Government
St. Andrew's House
Regent Road

Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe
The Scottish Government
St. Andrew's House
Regent Road


Encourage them to continue working with the UK and devolved governments to address the governance gap and set out proposals for a set of joint or coordinated institutions capable of holding all four government to account on their environmental obligations and commitments.

Here are some of the key points you might want to include in your message:

  • We need new joint or coordinated institutions, established under primary legislation, with the power to hold all four governments to account for their environmental performance. A legislative underpinning is vital to ensure that the institutions have the independence they need and cannot be disbanded at the whim of any future government.
  • The new body (or bodies) established to address the governance gap should have a presence in each of the four nations and report to all four legislatures.
  • One of the functions of this body should be to ensure that the EU environmental principles continue to be used to: interpret the law, guide future decision-making, and if necessary give a basis for legal challenges when the law is broken.
  • Citizens and civil society organisations must have an easily accessible mechanism to raise potential breaches of environmental law in all four UK nations.

If you need some inspiration about how to write a strong letter, see page 7 of our Guide to Campaigning.

You can help us track the impact of the campaign – please let us know at campaigns.scotland@rspb.org.uk if you've sent an objection, and any replies you receive.

Thank you for your help in ensuring that Scotland’s amazing natural heritage will continue to be protected and enhanced.