I wonder what, if it were able, would wildlife make of our leaving the European Union? About 80% of the laws which currently protect species and habitats is set and regulated through Europe. These vital protection measures are, of course, the ‘red-tape’ of the leave campaigners, of whom the Environment Minister, Andrea Leadsom was one. She is on record as saying ‘We can reduce burdensome EU red-tape, saving farmers time and making food cheaper.’
As her new brief includes support to farmers, currently delivered through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), wildlife should perhaps be worried. How much better would it be if she had said ‘We need to find mechanisms to help wildlife to thrive and farmers to prosper, by keeping the best elements of the CAP, and introducing new safeguards and incentives’. (Mind you, if her fellow leave campaigners are to be believed, both farmers and wildlife will lose out because the liberated money will go to the NHS. Maybe not.)
We must, however, reserve judgement until we know what the new Minister’s policies are. What, for example will happen to the UK’s many Natura 2000 sites, currently part of the world’s largest protected sites network covering all 28 countries in the EU? Whispering in the woods and elsewhere may be a number of European protected species such as dormouse, all 17 species of our bats, and smooth snake. What will Leadsom do for them?
The message emerging from the nations’ conservation organisations is that any replacement laws must, at a minimum, maintain current levels of protection. Ideally the opportunity should be taken to improve and strengthen environmental and wildlife legislation. The situation is ably and simply summarised in a petition started by 11-year-old Zach Haynes of Yorkshire, you can see the details here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/140238
The bottom line is that there is going to be change, the question is whether it will, from wildlife’s point of view, be change for better or worse. We do not necessarily need fewer laws, but we do need better laws. Laws that, for example, require farmers and other landowners to protect species and habitats but also reward them for so doing. Laws that ensure our most precious places are safe for generations to come, laws that reflect the importance of the natural environment to all our lives.
Over to you Mrs. Leadsom.