Sea Bass shoal Georgie Bull

UK seas, worth billions, at risk from Retained EU Law Bill

2 minute read

The Retained EU Law Bill, which puts an expiry date on all EU-derived laws in the UK for the end of 2023, is being debated in the House of Commons today.

Key laws that may be affected include habitats and species protections, fisheries management, marine and freshwater water quality, marine impact assessments and chemicals regulations.

Not only are our marine habitats and the life within them under threat, but there may also be financial implications if the Retained EU Law Bill (REUL Bill) is passed and removes or weakens key, long-standing marine laws.

We’ve written a report highlighting the economic value of our seas that could be at risk if the REUL Bill is passed.

Fish boat heading out to sea Hastings Sue Ranger

Credit: Sue Ranger

Sandy Luk, CEO at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “The Retained EU Law Bill poses a huge threat to marine life and environmental protections. At a time of climate, nature and ocean crises, we need to invest in the ocean and the important role it fulfils for our very survival, not remove protections and undermine its functions.

“From supplying coastal flood defences and locking in carbon, to tourism and fishing, the economic value of our seas and coastal habitats is extraordinary – and we know that available calculations are underestimates. Weakening or scrapping laws that act to protect our seas, and some of the industries that depend on them, will cost us billions.”

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The Office for National Statistics values the UK’s marine natural capital assets at £211 billion. Under the proposed REUL Bill, retained EU laws must be rewritten into UK law by the end of this year, or else they will be scrapped.

Our report shows the potential economic threats the REUL Bill poses, including:

  • Weakening of Marine Protected Areas (MPA), which have been calculated to be worth billions of pounds, not taking account of their role in mitigating climate change. UK marine biodiversity can be worth up to £2,670 billion and, according to research by WWF, benefits from tourism and recreation services alone can equate to £10 million per MPA.
  • Carbon sequestration - seagrass, saltmarsh, sands and muds together could lock in 10.5 million tonnes of CO2e per year. This has an estimated value of £57.5 billion. However, if looked after well, the seabed could store over 60 million tonnes of CO2e per year which would raise this value beyond £328 billion.
  • Coastal habitats such as saltmarsh and seagrass provide up to £33.2 billion pounds of savings to the UK economy through provision of coastal defence against flooding and coastal erosion, compared to the cost of man-made alternatives
  • Mismanagement of our marine environment undermines the economic stability of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, whose fish produce from 2018 was valued at £2 billion, and the thousands of jobs that they support including an estimated 11,000 full-time employees.
  • The UK has a significant coastal economy with annual visits to the UK coast estimated at a value of £17 billion. Poor water quality and loss of valuable species such as whales and dolphins will impact on tourism and recreation industries that contribute significantly to the UK economy and particularly to local coastal communities.
  • The loss or weakening of key water quality legislation through the REUL Bill would put important natural functions such as nutrient cycling services (which were valued at £2 billion in 2008) at risk. Mismanagement of nutrients and waste, and reduction of nutrient cycling services, can increase risks to marine ecosystems and human health as well as impacting the carbon storage potential of coastal ecosystems.

You can read the full report, Marine Natural Capital At Risk –Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill here.

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