We can't have a bonfire of wildlife protections

Debbie Tann, the chief executive of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, says that after the EU referendum nature protection laws have been thrown into uncertainty

Friday, 1st July 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 8:25 pm
PROTECTED Oystercatchers, Farlington Marshes, Portsmouth Picture: Peter Emery/Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

Over the years the EU has provided a strong framework of nature protection laws and funding for environmental initiatives.

Nearly three-quarters of our environmental laws come from EU legislation and they were developed by countries working together for the common good.

Together they represent the strongest body of environmental legislation in the world.

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BETTER UNDER THE EU Ponies grazing alongside the Latchmore Brook at Latchmore Bottom, New Forest Picture: Jim Champion

They have begun to turn the tide of decline for some of our most endangered species and threatened habitats.

Our concern before the referendum that these vital wildlife protections would be thrown into uncertainty was well-founded, with Leave campaigners relishing freedom from the Nature Directives.

These laws protect millions of hectares of UK wild spaces, and more than 1,000 bird, animal and plant species.

This is despite evidence that they’ve been found to be effective at slowing the decline of protected species.

Gilbert White

Places such as the New Forest, the Solent and the River Itchen have been afforded far stronger protection under EU laws than similar habitats protected only nationally or locally.

Leave campaigners also talked of scrapping the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which has led to the establishment of a network of protected areas in our seas.

Some of our key local marine habitats such as seagrass beds and reefs are finally benefitting from some protections, and we can’t afford to lose them.

Marine wildlife doesn’t respect international borders, and the UK must continue to support an international network of marine protection to prevent the further decline of some of our marine species.

Gilbert White's The Natural History of Selborne

Now we know Britain will be leaving the EU we will need to raise our voices to ensure that decades of strong environmental protection are not weakened.

Britain has a proud heritage of nature conservation, not least having been a key architect of the very EU laws we now risk losing.

It was right here in Hampshire some 250 years ago in the village of Selborne that Gilbert White pioneered scientific study of our ecology and made a huge contribution to our understanding of and respect for nature.

We have some of the best naturalists and ecologists in the world.

BETTER UNDER THE EU Ponies grazing alongside the Latchmore Brook at Latchmore Bottom, New Forest Picture: Jim Champion

Millions of people care deeply about their local environment right across the UK.

Now is the time to campaign for nature, in the vein of our rich history of caring for the environment.

We need those in power to reassure us that protection for our wildlife and natural environment will not be weakened as a result of Britain’s exit from the EU.

While some pledges were made late in the day by Leave campaigners – including promises of strengthened wildlife protection legislation and funding for environmentally-friendly farming practices – unfortunately little detail or accountability has so far supported these comments.

The key principles laid down by the Nature Directives must now be brought into UK legislation, as a mature and well-tested set of rules and policies that everyone understands and can work with.

We cannot have a bonfire of wildlife protections, nor a race to the bottom on environmental regulations.

Gilbert White

It’s crucial that all who care about wildlife come together to lobby for clear commitments to at least maintain, or even better, improve the EU protections nature currently has.

Now is the time for us to take action.

If you care about wildlife, contact your local MP and ask them to safeguard our extremely hard-won nature protections.

Gilbert White's The Natural History of Selborne