27 June-1 July 2023: UKELA Conference 2023: Environmental law matters


Back in person for the first time in four years, UKELA conference 2023 arrived at a time when environmental law has never been more prominent, or more important.  From corporate reporting in the boardroom to environmental defenders in the criminal courts to holding governments to account, environmental law matters, and our conference explores the myriad ways in which UK environmental law is being developed, tested, scrutinised, used, abused and ignored. Throughout our two days together at the University of Reading, we covered many of the multiple faces of environmental law, but the thread that ran through the conference is this: how is environmental law addressing the big environmental issues facing society, and how do we, UKELA members active in environmental law, use this knowledge in our own professions.

Delegates joined us for a mix of online and in person sessions throughout the week. We were delighted to be at the University of Reading, on their Whiteknights campus, which is set in 130 hectares of beautiful parkland. The campus has won 11 consecutive Green Flag awards, recognising it as one of Britain’s top green spaces. Famous for the climate stripes, created by Prof Ed Hawkins at the university in 2018, which show how the planet is heating, stripe by stripe, in one striking image, Reading University was surely the perfect place for UKELA members to meet and debate once again.


Day 1 Tuesday 27th June – online


Working Party sessions

9am - Water: The mass die off of marine animals in the Tees - what has happened here?

In the autumn of 2021, a large number of dying and distressed crabs were washed ashore along the coastlines of County Durham and Teesside. Initially dismissed as a toxic algal bloom, a re-investigation suggested more complex causes. At the time of writing, it remains unclear whether the deaths were the result of legacy pollution from Teesside, a novel shellfish disease, or some as-yet-unknown factor. We will hear from Joe Redfern, a local intimately affected by the events, one of the academics involved in the re-investigation, John Bothwell from Durham University who will look at the science behind the event and Kavita Modi, a senior associate at Leigh Day who will discuss the common law remedies available to those who may be affected by pollution in water.

Chair: Nicholas Ostrowski, Barrister, Six Pump Court Chambers


  • Dr John Bothwell, Associate Professor in Bioenergy, Durham University
  • Joe Redfern, leader of the Whitby Lobster Hatchery
  • Kavita Modi, Senior Associate Solicitor, Leigh Day


12pm - Climate Change and Energy / Nature Conservation combined session: Will nature-based solutions solve the climate and biodiversity crises or will they cause double trouble?

The Climate Change & Energy Working Party and the Nature Conservation Working Party joint session will explore the need for interlinkages between climate and biodiversity targets and actions. Chaired by Richard Barlow, Partner at Browne Jacobson, the first session will set the scene with an update on the latest climate and biodiversity science. An expert panel of Rachel Warren, Professor of Global Change and Environmental Biology at the University of East Anglia, Professor James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science at the British Trust for Ornithology and Huub Den Rooijen, Marine advisor for the Crown Estate will discuss the impact of global habitat loss on GHG emissions and the sequestration capacity of natural systems. They will give practical examples of what needs to be done to restore habitats and biodiversity and set out a vision for the level of societal change that is needed for us to get to a biodiversity rich and a net zero future. After a short break, Becky Clissmann, Counsel at Ashurst, will chair a stellar line up of Dr Renée Kerkvliet-Hermans, Peatland Code Coordinator at the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, Nigel Brooke, Head of Clyde & Co's Global Resilience and Climate Change Risk practice and Katie de Kauwe, Lawyer at Friends of the Earth. This session will consider the role of the carbon market and nature-based solutions in financing the climate transition and restoring biodiversity. It will consider the rise of climate litigation, key trends and whether biodiversity litigation is following a similar trajectory. The panel will also consider the impact of climate and biodiversity risks on the availability of insurance.

Panel 1 Chair: Richard Barlow, Partner, Browne Jacobson


  • Rachel Warren, Professor of Global Change and Environmental Biology, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
  • Professor James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science, British Trust of Ornithology
  • Huub Den Rooijen, Marine Advisor for Crown Estate

Panel 2 Chair: Becky Clissmann, Counsel, Ashurst LLP


  • Dr Renee Kerkvliet-Hermans, Peatland Code Coordinator, IUCN UK Peatland Programme
  • Nigel Brook, Partner, Clyde & Co
  • Katie de Kauwe, Lawyer, Friends of the Earth


5pm - Environmental law in Wales

This UKELA event is an unusual opportunity to hear first hand from the Interim Environmental Protection Assessor for Wales, Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones. We hope to cover what the IEPAW office is, how it was set up and how it works at present, so that those attending are better informed about how to engage with the IEPAW and to raise submissions. We will be looking at current plans for Welsh legislation to address the post-Brexit environmental law landscape, and some of the current challenges and main concerns for Welsh environmental law. These include the issue of Retained EU Law, enforcement, water pollution and biodiversity. We also hope to cover some of the areas where Welsh law and regulation may have ideas to offer its counterparts in the rest of the UK.

Chair: William Wilson, Wyeside Consulting

Speaker: Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones, Interim Environmental Protection Assessor for Wales


Evening - Film club:SEVERN - The Poisoning of Britain’s Amazon”. Environment Agency whistleblowers, experts and people who live by and work with the river give their testimonials to how the river has been allowed to deteriorate and the dire consequences for people and wildlife, followed by panel discussion.

Chair: Nicholas Ostrowski, Barrister, Six Pump Court Chambers


  • Jamie Carpenter, Editor, ENDS Report & ENDS Europe, Haymarket Media Group
  • Simon Tilling, Legal Manager – Environmental, Pennon Group
  • Rachel Salvidge, Environmental Journalist, Watershed Investigations
  • Hugo Tagholm, Executive Director and Vice President of Oceana in the UK


Day 2 Wednesday 28th June – online


Working Party sessions

9am -EDI Forum: UKELA's next steps discussion


12pm - Environmental Litigation:  Is there a Human Right to Healthy Water - Potential Liability for Persistent Water Polluters in Human Rights Law 

In the UK and around the world, water offers a wide range of essential benefits to both the environment and human communities. Rivers, waterways and bodies of water are vital sources of freshwater for human consumption, agriculture and industry, flood risk control, cultural and historical significance, valuable recreational space and are home to diverse ecosystems supporting an array of plant and animal species. These aquatic ecosystems also contribute to biodiversity conservation and help maintain healthy land and marine functioning. The right to water itself is acknowledged as a fundamental human right and implies access to water and sanitation that is free from harmful pollutants, contaminants and substances that could pose risks to human health.  Ensuring the safety and quality of water is an integral part of fulfilling the right to water. Water ecosystems are currently under threat not only globally but here in the UK through pollution from sewage, intensive industrial farming amongst others. The Council of Europe has proposed an amendment to the European Convention on Human Rights to add a right to the healthy environment. How would this affect water? Our seminar will bring together experts to look at the potential remedies for water pollution from a human rights and rights of nature perspective and what if any are the solutions.

Chair: Sue Willman, Assistant Director and Supervising solicitor in King's Legal Clinic


  • Dr Inga Winkler, Associate Professor in International Human Rights Law
  • Darragh Coffey, Barrister, 1 Crown Office Row
  • Crispin Agnew, KC, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Dundee (Law School) 


2.30pm - Waste: The role of legislation in creating an effective Deposit Return Scheme 

Our three speakers will be discussing the current state of play with respect to the hot (and contentious) topic of the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). Hear from TOMRA, Biffa and Ecosurety on how DRS has worked overseas, plans for the roll out in Scotland, and lessons learnt for the future.

Chair: Dr Anna Willetts, Partner at Gunnercooke


  • Louisa Goodfellow, Policy Adviser, Ecosurety
  • Ryan Buzzell , Managing Director,TOMRA Collection UK
  • Carla Brian, Senior Commercial Development Manager, Biffa


5pm - Noise: Life amidst Quiet and Noise - A Planner's view 

Roger Kirkham will be delivering a paper on the implications of the National Planning Policy Framework in relation to noise control.

Chair: Frank McManus, Honorary Professor of Law at the University of Stirling

Speaker: Roger Kirkham MRTPI(Ret), Dip Management


Thursday 29th June – no formal activity 

Delegates have the option to arrive at the venue on Thursday evening, see booking form.

Day 3 Friday 30th June – in person 

Breakfast 7.30am-9am for those who stayed Thursday evening

9.30am-10.45am Registration with tea/coffee, networking with sponsors 

10.45 am Introduction and welcome

Simon Tilling, Legal Manager – Environmental, Pennon Group, Conference Chair

Gareth de Graaff, Executive Director UKELA

Liv Torc, Hot Poets

Professor Ed Hawkins MBE, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading


11.00 am Opening Address

Rt Hon Lord Justice Lindblom, President of UKELA, Court of Appeal Supervising Lord Justice for Planning and Environmental law and Senior President of Tribunals

11.20am PLENARY 1 

Law in an era of environmental crises: What’s the role of professionals?

As a nation, and as a world, we are in the midst of a climate and biodiversity emergency. How, if at all, does the urgency of this situation affect our role as practitioners? Is there now a duty for “climate conscious lawyering” (and what does that really mean)? Do any existing ethical duties – whether for lawyers or other professionals - need to adapt? Join Becky Clissmann, Professor Steven Vaughan, Estelle Dehon KC and Professor Tom Oliver for an insightful debate on these very pressing issues with a call to arms from Farhana Yamin.

Chair: Becky Clissmann, Counsel, Ashurst LLP


  • Prof Steven Vaughan, Vice-Dean (Strategy) & Professor of Law and Professional Ethics, University College London
  • Prof Tom Oliver, Professor of Applied Ecology, University of Reading
  • Estelle Dehon KC, UKELA trustee and barrister at Cornerstone Barristers
  • Farhana Yamin, environmental lawyer, climate change and development policy expert (pre-recorded)


12.45pm Speaker’s Corner – Andrew Lees essay prize winner, Garima Thakur, a first-year undergraduate law student at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata (pre-recorded)

1pm AGM

1.15pm Lunch and networking with sponsors

2.15pm PLENARY 2

Chemical regulation – an opportunity to develop your practice in the face of a changing landscape

An expert panel of representatives have been brought together from industry, trade association, legal sector and government in this session for a lively debate on the issues affecting the chemical sector from a regulatory perspective, e.g. REACH / UK REACH, and what environmental lawyers and consultants need to consider in terms of adapting their practice to meet the needs of both industry and regulation. This panel will provide an opportunity to hear varying perspectives on this ever changing subject along with the chance for questions from the audience to our expert panellists. 

Chair: Simon Tilling, Legal Manager – Environmental, Pennon Group


  • Darren Abrahams, Partner, Steptoe & Johnson
  • Silvia Segna, Senior Chemicals Policy Executive, Chemical Industries Association 
  • Neil Hollis, Regulatory Affairs Manager, BASF

3.45pm Case law update - Esther Drabkin-Reiter, Francis Taylor Building

4pm Keynote address - Mike Berners-Lee consults, thinks, writes and researches on sustainability and responses to 21st century problems. Author of acclaimed books including: There is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years and How Bad Are Bananas? The carbon footprint of everything, Mike is a professor at Lancaster University, where his research includes supply chain carbon modelling, sustainable food systems and the environmental impact of ICT.

4.30pm Break, networking with sponsors

5pm PLENARY 3 

Corporate diligence and reporting: will the markets save the environment?  

ESG reporting is important for transparency, but what does good ESG reporting look like? The panel will discuss the challenges faced by businesses, consumers and regulators alike, including the knowledge gap, data collection barriers and greenwashing. The largely voluntary nature of ESG reporting is becoming increasingly mandatory with the advent of regulations including the EU Taxonomy, SFDR, CSRD, SDR and the UK Taxonomy. Will this ensure better sustainability outcomes?

Chair: Anne Johnstone, Head of ESG, Northtree Investment Management Ltd.


  • Melissa Darby, Sustainability Corporate Counsel for Cummins
  • Rebecca Kowalski FPFS, Sustainable Finance specialist, Overstory Finance
  • George Richards, Partner KPMG


6.30pm Close and time for delegates to check into rooms

7.30pm until late buffet dinner and networking in Meadow Suite

Day 4 Saturday 1st July – in person


7am - 8.30am Breakfast and checkout

8.45am PLENARY 4 

Nature-based solutions – threats and opportunities

The importance of ecosystem services, nature-based solutions and ‘natural capital’ are becoming widely recognised for the role that they play in enhancing resilience of ecosystems and societies that depend on them, in supporting adaptation to climate hazards, and in delivering significant biodiversity benefits. Recent international agreements have drawn heavily on nature-based solutions in seeking an approach both to the climate and nature emergencies. Nature-based solutions are already front and centre of the UK’s environmental policy as a means of addressing and mitigating impacts from development. In addition, the marine environment is being increasingly recognised for the many ecosystem services that it provides. Our expert panel will provide an international, national, marine and practical focus to this rapidly evolving and innovative area of environmental work. 

Chair: Richard Broadbent, Director, Freeths LLP


  • Patricia Kameri-Mbote , Director of the Law Division, of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
  • Dr Sam Sinclair,  Director, Biodiversify
  • Rachel Fisher, Deputy Director Land Use Policy, Defra


10.15am Case law update - Stephanie David, 39 Essex Chambers

10.35am Break, networking with sponsors

11.10am The North American perspective: hot topics in environmental law in the US and Canada

Jonathan will provide his perspective on the emerging issues and key developments within environmental law in the US and Canada. In particular, he will pick out two key themes. Firstly, the role that ESG is playing in shaping the environmental agenda in North America, including the adoption of ESG reporting and metrics by North American businesses, the role of regulators, and the rising anti-ESG movement. Secondly, the rise of environmental justice in law and policy, and Jonathan will highlight some of the trends and developments in the US and Canada.

Speaker: Jonathan Kahn, Chair of the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy and Resources (ABA SEER) and Partner at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, Toronto, Canada

11.30am PLENARY 5 

Environmental governance in a changing political landscape

There is lots going on in the sphere of environmental governance across the UK at present and we will consider some of the key issues during this plenary.  We will hear from the recently established environmental governance bodies about the key themes they have been, and will be exploring, and will also hear their views on key issues facing environmental governance in the UK, both nationally and at a devolved level.    We will also take an academic look at current environmental governance issues, in particular the de-regulation agenda and UK regulatory divergence, considering amongst other things, the Retained EU Law (Revocation & Reform) Bill (which may have become law by the time of conference), the Internal Market Act and common frameworks.    We will also have plenty of time at the end for our expert panel to consider and respond to questions from the Chair and delegates.

Chair – Prof Colin Reid, Professor of Law, Dundee University


  • Mark Roberts (ESS)
  • Natalie Prosser (OEP, CEO)
  • Dr Nerys Llewelyn Jones (Interim Assessor)
  • Viviane Gravey, Senior Lecturer in European Politics, Queen's University Belfast


1.00pm Closing address, Farewell and thanks – Ned Westaway, Chair, UKELA 

1.15pm Close (lunch available)


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