The Environment Act 2021



Legislation to protect and enhance the UK’s environment has now been passed into law in The Environment Act 2021.

The Act aims to clean air, restore natural habitats, increase biodiversity, reduce waste, and make better use of resources. It will halt the decline in species by 2030 and requires new developments to improve or create habitats for nature.

People will be encouraged to recycle more and businesses will be encouraged to create more sustainable packaging.

All of this will be underpinned by new legally binding environmental targets enforced by a new independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).

Land owners will already be familiar with the provisions for biodiversity, natural capital, and conservation in the Agriculture Act. Further biodiversity gain measures within the Environment Act and with the structure of conservation covenants means landowners will be able to turn natural capital into income producing assets.

Specifically, The Environment Act will deliver:

  • Long-term targets to improve air quality, biodiversity, water, and waste reduction and resource efficiency
  • A target on ambient PM2.5 concentrations, the most harmful pollutant to human health
  • A target to halt the decline of nature by 2030
  • Environmental Improvement Plans, including interim targets
  • A cycle of environmental monitoring and reporting
  • Environmental Principles embedded in domestic policy making
  • Office for Environmental Protection to uphold environmental law


Waste & Recycling

  • Extend producer responsibility to make producers pay for 100% of cost of disposal of products, starting with plastic packaging
  • A deposit Return Scheme for single use drinks containers
  • Charges for single use plastics
  • Greater consistency in recycling collections in England
  • Electronic waste tracking to monitor waste movements and tackle fly-tipping
  • Tackle waste crime
  • Power to introduce new resource efficiency information (labelling on the recyclability and durability of products)
  • Regulate shipment of hazardous waste
  • Ban or restrict export of waste to non-OECD countries


Clean Air

  • Require Local Authorities to tackle air quality
  • Simplify enforcement within smoke control areas



  • Strengthened biodiversity duty
  • Biodiversity net gain to ensure developments deliver at least 10% increase in biodiversity (expected to become mandatory winter 2023)
  • Local Nature Recovery Strategies to support a Nature Recovery Network
  • Duty upon Local Authorities to consult on street tree felling
  • Strengthen woodland protection enforcement measures
  • Conservation Covenants
  • Protected Site Strategies and Species Conservation Strategies to support the design and delivery of strategic approaches to deliver better outcomes for nature
  • Prohibit larger UK businesses from using commodities associated with wide-scale deforestation
  • Requires regulated businesses to establish a system of due diligence for each regulated commodity used in their supply chain, requires regulated businesses to report on their due diligence, introduces a due diligence enforcement system



  • Effective collaboration between water companies through statutory water management plans
  • Drainage and sewerage management planning a statutory duty
  • Minimise damage water abstraction may cause on environment
  • Modernise the process for modifying water and sewerage company licence conditions


Biodiversity Net Gain

As the components of mandatory Biodiversity net gain will not become law until at least November 2023, it is just worth noting how this currently fits in. Defra are due to release another version of the Metric (the proxy biodiversity value developed by Natural England) version 3.1 in January 2022 likely to be followed by a further round of consultation before adoption. Net gain will not apply to Permitted Development prior approval. S73 applications will however be captured unless the Secretary of State amends the legislation. Those sites which have been obviously cleared before planning will be penalised and biodiversity net gain will be based on the sites previous condition, subject to evidence available. Those habitats created before a development begins will receive a greater weighting in the Metric.

Despite there being an inclusion of an allowance of a 70:30 split across development land for gardens, current advice is not to rely on this as it could be open to legal challenge. The consultation on Small Site Metric for schemes of less than nine dwellings and under one hectare has now finished, which is designed to reduce the burden on small sites.

Clearly there is a lot here that could impact on landowners and developers and it is important to understand how your land holding as a whole can benefit. To find out more please get in touch with our team.