Who is liable to pay for environmental damage suffered in the UK?

The Environmental Damage Regulations

The Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations 2009 came into force on the 1 March 2009 to implement the provisions of the European Commission’s Environmental Liability Directive into the laws of England and Wales.

What is the aim of the Environmental Damage regulations?

The aim of the Environmental Damage Regulations is to prevent and remedy damage to land, water and biodiversity. They reinforce the “polluter pays” principle by making businesses financially liable for threats or damage or actual damage caused.

Environmental Damage

What is meant by the term environmental damage?

The term environmental damage is defined by the regulations as damage to:

  • Protected species or natural habitats or a site of special scientific interest

  • Surface water or ground water

  • Land

To which land do the regulations apply to?

The Regulations apply on land in England and Wales, on the seabed around the UK up to the limits set out by the Continental Shelf Act 1964, and to waters in the Renewable Energy Zone which extends approximately 200 miles out to sea.

Who is affected by the Environmental Damage Regulations?

The following individuals are affected by and should understand the regulations fully:

  • Private businesses

  • Individuals involved in farming

  • Individuals involved in manufacturing

  • Individuals involved in construction and demolition

  • Individuals involved in waste management

  • Individuals involved in the forestry industry

  • Charitable and voluntary organisations

  • Public sector bodies such as schools, hospitals and government departments or agencies

The Polluter Pays Principle

The Environmental Damage Regulations are based on the “polluter pays principle” so those individuals who are responsible for an environmental damage are required to prevent and if needs be remedy damage.

The new regulations have therefore removed the cost of preventing and remedying the damage from the UK Government Environmental agencies and thus the taxpayer.

Obligations are placed on the above operators to put in place precautionary measures to avoid environmental damage and to take remedial action if it occurs.


The aim of the Regulations is to create an incentive to operators of activities that are likely to cause environmental damage to take steps to avoid this environmental damage and to possess adequate funds in the form of insurance to pay for the clean-up of any environmental damage caused.

According to the Regulations what should the above bodies do?

In order to comply with the Regulations if your activities threaten to cause, or have caused, environmental damage you must:

  • Take steps to prevent the damage (or further damage) occurring

  • Inform the Environment Agency or other authorities who will provide information on what must be done to prevent the damage and or remedy the damage

What happens if the Environment Agency has to remedy the damage themselves?

If the Environment Agency has to remedy the damage themselves then the body which has caused the damage will be liable to pay the costs incurred by the Environment Agency.

Who enforces the Environmental Damage Regulations?

In England and Wales the Environmental Damage Regulations are enforced by the Environment Agency, Natural England, local councils and the Secretary of State. Which body administers and enforces the regulations depends on the scale of the damage involved.