Thursday 22 May is Election Day for the European Parliament. What has this to do with nature conservation? Quite a lot. Successive UK Governments have consistently put economic policy and development ahead of environmental policy in general, and nature conservation policy in particular. Without European laws and regulations, weak and badly implemented as some of these are, our wildlife would be even worse off than it is.
Often criticised for being 'undemocratic' (strange description for an institution holding elections in which hundreds of millions are able to vote) and 'imposing' unwelcome laws on Britain, there is every reason why the European Union (EU) should legislate on wildlife protection and enhancement. For one thing political boundaries are invisible and irrelevant to animals, birds and plants. One of the 18 EU laws (the Bonn Convention) relating to wildlife deals with the conservation of migratory species. It is obvious that such legislation needs to be international rather than national.
Another EU provision concerns natural habitats (the Habitats Directive). This defines a common framework for action and requires every member state to draw up lists of the best nature conservation sites. These now form Natura 2000, the largest ecological network in the world. Within this, Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas are designated. Threatened and endangered species, such as great crested newts, otters, bats and birds of prey are also protected.
In and around the West Midlands EU designated sites include Cannock Chase, Fenn's, Whixall and other mosses in Shropshire and Staffordshire, the Cannock Extension Canal in Walsall, Fens Pools in Dudley, Lyppard Grange Ponds in Worcestershire, Mottey Meadows and Pasturefields Saltmarsh in Staffordshire, the rivers Wye and Clun, and the Stiperstones in Shropshire.
The EU provisions go far beyond anything our Governments would have done, and many will be reviewed and updated in the near future. They have a local dimension, and provide a platform for dialogue, a framework for action, and a yardstick to measure progress. Together with other legislation about air and water quality, climate change, the seas, forestry and biodiversity, they make the EU very important in a world increasingly hostile to nature. A vote in the European elections maintains the democratic element of this crucial framework of protection.