Monthly Archives: June 2016

What does Brexit mean for British biodiversity?

Friday 24th June 2016.  What a surreal day.  I spent it trying to understand why a small majority of the voting public had committed us to leaving the European Union, an organisation that has had a demonstrably positive impact upon our lives, our society, our economy, and our environment.  That dream-like state was not helped by the fact that I’d stayed up most of the night with my youngest son James, watching the results roll in.

Saturday 25th June 2016.  Twenty four hours later, after a good night’s sleep, I feel less dislocated but no less confused and disappointed.  It is what it is, let’s get on with it.

It’s much too early to properly answer the question of what this all means for British biodiversity, of course.  But as I pointed out in my post about the environmental arguments for remaining in the EU, there’s a whole raft of policies, legislation, agreements and initiatives that the government and NGOs need to consider.  Just to give a couple of examples, what will happen to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, or the Special Protected Area status of places such as the Upper Nene Valley?

What I really hope is that we can continue as before, building on the current situation rather than tearing up the whole thing.  To some extent I’m optimistic that we can for the near future, because the government will have (as it sees it) bigger things to worry about.  But I do worry that eventually we will get left behind as EU environmental legislation evolves.  That’s something we have to be mindful of in the coming years.

The ecological internet is already starting to discuss these issues; here are links to a few pieces that I’ve seen:

Adventuresinbeeland has discussed what leaving the EU means for British bees and beekeepers, pointing out that EU funding has enabled bee inspectors to carry out apiary inspections and work with beekeepers on issues such as bee pests and diseases.

The Wildlife Trusts are trying to look positively at the future, with Brian Eversham, Chief Executive for the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, summing it up very well:  “Many of those who disagreed over the Referendum agree strongly that wildlife, our countryside and the natural environment matter, now and for the future. We need their voices loud and clear in the coming months. As we are now responsible for our own, independent future, it is up to all of us to make sure that we keep the environment firmly on the national agenda.”

Mark Avery has also summed up the current situation very succinctly on his blog – one cartoon says an awful lot.

Finally, here’s Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth, writing on how can we make Brexit work for the environment?

No doubt there will be more coming soon and I’ll try to provide updates on the blog.

In terms of my day job as an academic at the University of Northampton, things will also change across the whole British Higher Education sector, of course.  On one level that’s a different set of issues to what I’ve been discussing, but there are also links: a great deal of ecological research activity is being funded by the European Union and involves cross-border collaborations.  Scientists across Europe have to continue to make that work.

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Birds, Nene Valley NIA, University of Northampton

If the environmental argument for remaining in the EU wasn’t enough for you, watch this!

My previous post on the environmental argument for the UK remaining in the European Union was widely shared on Twitter and via Facebook (where there was a lot of discussion in some of the groups) and to date has been viewed almost 1500 times.  This suggests to me that there’s a large appetite for accessible, informed opinion that cuts through the hype and rhetoric of both the leave and remain camps.

With that in mind, view and share the following video by Professor Michael Dougan, an expert in EU constitutional law at Liverpool Law School. This is one of the best and most balanced over views I’ve seen of the consequences of leaving the EU; EVERYBODY who has a vote on Thursday should watch it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USTypBKEd8Y

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Filed under Biodiversity

The environmental argument for the UK remaining in the European Union

Every week I receive an email bulletin called Science for Environment Policy, sent out by the Directorate-General for Environment, which is the European Commission department that sets and monitors European Union policies relating to the environment, for example pollution levels, conservation of biodiversity, etc.  Anyone can subscribe to these bulletins and they provide useful, lay-person summaries of recent research findings that have a direct or indirect bearing on how we manage and protect Europe’s environment.

A scan through the latest few bulletins reveals article titles such as:

  • Atlantic beaches of Europe reshaped in stormy winter of 2013–2014
  • Water management: five policy conditions to help overcome the challenges of an uncertain future
  • Climate change threatens early-flowering plants due to lack of snow
  • Black carbon emissions of individual cars measured under real conditions
  • Are endocrine disrupting chemicals responsible for downward trends in male fertility?
  • Environmental performance of construction and demolition waste management
  • Golden jackal should not be treated as an alien species in Europe
  • Environmental taxation in the right place can increase business productivity 

This set of topics is fairly typical, and demonstrates the complexity and breadth of the environmental issues facing the European Union.  All of these issues, however, share one feature: they do not respect political boundaries and are cross-border in scope.  Species, rivers, air masses, sea currents, economic resources, waste products: all of them can (and do) move through the different countries of Europe and beyond.

What this means is that the policies, laws and regulations that govern the behaviour of individuals and organisations towards the environment, and ultimately protect it, must also be cross-border in scope.  That’s where the European Union comes in, because it is largely EU directives that currently protect our environment.  Some examples of these directives, and some of their achievements, include:

  • Birds Directive which has helped to coordinate action plans for endangered resident and migratory birds.
  • Habitats Directive that relates to the conservation of natural habitats and the fauna and flora they contain, including setting up the Natura 2000 network that currently covers more that 18% of the EU’s land area and almost 6% of its marine territory, making it the world’s largest coordinated network of protected areas.
  • Water Framework Directive that determines action in the area of water policy.
  • Waste Framework Directive likewise determines action in the area of wastes policy and which, together with the Landfill Directive and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, has been responsible for significantly reducing the amount of waste going into landfill, increased the amount being recycled, and placed pressure on manufacturers to take responsibility for packaging and end-of-life goods and materials.

There are many others, and you can find a list here.  It’s worth pointing out that these directives were not “imposed” on the UK by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels: the UK took an active role in their development and drafting.  In fact Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley Johnson, was one of the original authors of the Habitats Directive and is a prominent advocate of remaining in the EU.

Of course, no one is arguing that these directives are the only mechanism for protecting the environment, there are local regulations too, plus the work of NGOs such as the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts.  Nor am I arguing that they have been wholly effective: there’s still a long way to go in many of these areas.  But they have had a demonstrably positive impact on the quality and protection of the UK’s environment that could be halted, or even reversed, if the UK was to leave the EU.

This last point is an important one to make and it’s not an example of the fear-mongering that has marked the EU Referendum debate on both sides.  Here is how I see it:  we cannot trust the UK government (whatever its political flavour) to safeguard our environment.

This is because, despite the best efforts of genuinely committed and environmentally savvy politicians, the political parties to which they belong are too focused on short-term goals of winning the next election to really consider the 20, 50, or 100 year perspectives that are required for environmental legislation.  This inevitably means that the environment is low on the list of priorities for most ministers, and environmental policy is subject to undue influence by special interest groups.  For example look at how easily Defra was persuaded to allow exceptions to the EU moratorium on neonicotinoid pesticides.  Likewise the HS2 project which ministers seem determined to keep going despite serious concerns about the environmental impact of the project (see my post “Ordinary by Choice“).

When considering whether or not to vote to remain in the EU, most people (understandably) are focused on the social and economic arguments: the impacts on jobs, standards of living, resources for health, etc.  But in part the environmental argument is a social and economic argument, because the natural environment underpins many jobs, our standards of living (who doesn’t want to live near unpolluted green space that is protected for future generations?), and plays an important part in the nation’s health and wellbeing.  The provision of these “ecosystem services” were clearly spelled out last year in Tony Juniper’s book What Nature Does for Britain, which I reviewed on this blog.

I’m not arguing that everything in the European Union is perfect, or even that the environment of the UK and the rest of the EU is as good as it ought to be, or could be.  But for every statistic about declining species and poor environments, it’s possible to quote figures for the success of other species and improvements in quality.  For example our major rivers such as the Thames, Tees, Mersey and Avon are now swimming with fish where once they were swimming with excrement, as I’ve previously discussed in relation to the River Wear.  Our membership of the European Union is, at least in part, responsible for these positive trends and I hope that they continue.  Please consider this when you’re deciding how to vote on 23rd June.

 

Postscript: much of what I’ve discussed above is being widely talked about amongst environmentalists, and I don’t know of any major environmental organisation that is in favour of the UK leaving the EU.  In fact a large number have publicly come out in favour of staying, including:

Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management

The Wildlife Trusts

Greenpeace

The RSPB and WWF-UK, who have produced a joint statement.

Friends of the Earth

Buglife

There is also a group called Environmentalists For Europe

So don’t just take my word for it.

 

 

 

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Ecosystem services, RSPB