THERESA May's Government wants to “co-design” with the Scottish Government a new system of environmental protections to maintain green standards across the whole of the UK after Brexit.

Today, Whitehall outlined its plans, which include creating a new, independent, statutory watchdog to hold UK ministers to account on the environment and maintain standards once the UK withdraws from the EU.

It said new legislation would ensure environmental protections were not weakened as the UK quit the European Union and the new body would hold Government departments to account for looking after landscapes and nature.

The plans being put out for consultation look at environmental governance in England and areas where Westminster has responsibility across the UK.

But the Department for the Environment said it was exploring with the devolved administrations to see if they wanted to take a similar approach, noting: “We would welcome the opportunity to co-design proposals with them to ensure they work across the whole UK, taking account of the different government and legal systems in the individual nations.”

Environmental measures from improving air and water quality and protecting endangered species are currently overseen by the European Commission and underpinned by green principles across the EU, such as "the polluter pays".

Wildlife and green groups have called for a watchdog "with teeth" to ensure protection of the natural world is not reduced after Brexit.

But they responded to the new plans with disappointment, warning that it could leave the UK with less environmental protection post Brexit.

Shaun Spiers, Chairman of Greener UK which is a coalition of 13 major environmental groups, said the consultation "proposes to give the environment and countryside less protection after Brexit than exists now".

He explained that the plans contained no commitment to give the new watchdog power to initiate legal action or to enshrine "vital" environmental principles such as "the polluter pays" in law.

"This is hugely disappointing and suggests that some ministers do not want to be held to account on laws that protect our beaches, habitats and air quality."

Peter Morris for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust also argued that unless the watchdog had powers like the European Commission to take the Government to court, green laws could be undermined.

"It's like creating a police force that can only give advice and feedback to people who commit crimes rather than having any power to arrest them," he said.

Under the Government plans, a new body could provide scrutiny and advice on environmental laws and policy and respond to complaints about the Government over green rules.

And the department said it could hold ministers publicly to account with the use of enforcement powers where necessary.

The consultation is looking at the most effective way for the new body to hold the Government to account.

At a minimum, it would have the power to issue "advisory notices", and the consultation is seeking views on what other enforcement mechanisms may be necessary, the Environment Department explained.

The Government is also consulting on plans to require ministers to produce and take into account a statutory and comprehensive policy statement setting out how they will apply environmental principles as they develop policy and take action.

Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, said: "As the Prime Minister has made clear, we will not weaken environmental protections when we leave the EU.

"A new Environmental Principles and Governance Bill will ensure core environmental principles remain central to government policy and decision-making.

"This will help us to deliver a Green Brexit and the vision set out in our 25-Year Environment Plan.”

Mr Gove said the new watchdog would hold governments to account for delivering their commitments to the natural world".

The Environmental Principles and Governance Bill will be published in the autumn.