Sunday, 3 July 2016

Brexit - What now for nature conservation?

Unless you have been under a rock the EU referendum result has been one of the most important national votes in a lifetime and will have a major impact on the world as we know it living in Britain.
There are multiple policy areas that need consideration and the environment and nature conservation whilst not necessarily high on everyone's agenda is vital.

The vote has been held and we are on our way out, whether it be full exit or just a Norway-like retention of the European Economic Area (EEA) lying in the future one clear fact is that nature conservation needs to be considered.

There is considerable doom surrounding the result of the referendum but I try to remain optimistic. Perhaps now is an opportunity to build a nature conservation policy to be a flagship of the world.

Many organisations including large NGO's like the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts alongside think tanks and policy review boards have already began to address this issue. What will the environment be like post Brexit. In some cases things may look slightly worse, definitely in the short term but so much of it unfortunately hangs on the fate of our economy. Money conquers all even where wildlife is concerned.

So what do the experts of see? The UK and EU group at Kings College London have produced a Expert Review report  to examine some of the impacts and options. This hefty tome is a dense and thorough report and well worth a read in and of itself. I will distill some of its findings here before making some suggestions of my own.

Environmental Policy
The EU had a preventative approach to environmental policy and forced the UK to adopt many directives that have in no doubt aided the conservation movement. The following table taken from the report shows how the various laws would be affected if we entered into an EEA agreement. As you can see most of the important policy areas will be covered unfortunately the Birds and Habitats Directives are vital to nature conservation and will not be applicable regardless of the routes forward we take.
Climate Policy
The UK was a leader within the Union on emissions reductions and so it would make sense that this would not change in an independent Britain.

Energy Policy
Energy policy is closely linked to Climate policy. EU policy still allowed the development of individual policies in home nations which has led to the UK  being one of the few to develop shale as as an energy resource, however the UK led the way in market liberalisation of renewable energy in Europe.

Agricultural Policy
The biggest part of European agricultural policy is the Common Agricultural Policy which was more of an economic measure than an environmental one. In fact since its inception it has had an overall negative environmental impact, increasing water and air pollution and accelerating the decline of farmland birds. The inevitable economic troubles as a result of Brexit could increase intensification and thereby worsen the situation.

Fisheries Policy
Fishing is a key area of environmental policy in the UK and the Common Fisheries Policy has improved the UK's sustainability and Brexit will necessitate renegotiation of fishing rights.

So what do  I think we need and bear in mind that this may well be 'pie in the sky'

1. Retention of Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Impact Assessment. The UK has had good Town and Country Planning legislation since 1949 and there is no reason for this to relaxed.

2. Abandon CAP and replace it with a system that marries nature conservation techniques with sustainable production. A stewardship scheme that rewards landowners for protecting wildlife whilst still allowing them to make a living.

3. Continue to lead the way in Climate Change policy and drive technology to combat it.

4. Maintain species protection with the Wildlife and Countryside Act

5. Honor the designations and species protection outlined in Natura 2000 including SPA and SAC sites.

6. Maintain and strengthen existing UK designations such as SSSI's and plan wildlife sites on a landscape level as well as the local - expanding the living landscape efforts of the Wildlife Trusts. Link site protection with local interests and people to connect people with nature.

7. Maintain existing Marine Protection Areas and expand them to partner with maintaining Fishing stocks for a buoyant and sustainable fishing fleet.

8. Take a sensible look at Re-wilding as a means of restoring ecological balance. A prime example is of how Pine Marten recovery has helped curtail Grey Squirrels and aid Red Squirrels or how Beavers act as ecosystem engineers.

9. Readdress the idea of using vaccination to control TB in the Cattle population.

Instead of Brexit being a disaster I see this as an opportunity. The various members of the NGO's such as the RSPB have huge memberships and currently the various political parties are in such throes of indecision that they will need all the support they can get to gain or retain power. The vote was just as much as challenge to the government and the political elite as it was to the EU and now is a chance for us to hold them to account.

This will not be easy. Money has always out fought conservation and it will be hard to persuade the city that the environment is an important asset.

Prepare for battle my friends for now we have the chance to remake environmental policy or see it destroyed in front of us.