You can’t go a day without hearing or reading the word ‘Brexit’. Whether you are for it or against it, it is (at the moment) happening. With over 80% of environmental laws being EU legislations once we leave the European Union our environment will not be protected by these. This is an incredibly important moment, as at a time where whole new laws will need to be drawn up and implemented, there has never been a better chance for us to stand up and give a voice to nature.
The EU gave us several directives, but let’s be honest; how well did our government do at meeting those? How well did these serve our countryside and the wildlife that resides within it? More and more species are becoming endangered year on year with numbers of once abundant wildife dwindling across the country. The number of hedgehogs has more than halved since 2000. 95% of turtle doves have disappeared over the past 20 years. The barn owl has been wiped out by two thirds since the 1930’s. The causes most often attributed to this decline are more aggressive agricultural practices and the (resulting) loss of habitats.
Talking of loss of habitats, it was recently reported that planned housing development between Cambridge University and Oxford University will wipe out a patch of countryside the same size as Birmingham. Undoubtably there is a housing problem in this country, but as The Housing and Communities Secretary, James Brokenshire, said “building the homes our country needs does not mean tearing up vast tracts of our countryside.”
This project is estimated to cost at least £5.5bn in public money, yet there has been no formal public consultation held, and the legality of pushing ahead with such a project without such has been pushed into question. Whether it is legally required or not, it is certainly troubling that local communities or conservational bodies have not had a chance to formally make their positions heard on the matter considering the consequences.
It was also reported recently that the government was failing in their requirement as set out by EU law to monitor SSSI’s (sites of special scientifc interest). Of the 4,126 sites in the UK 47% of them have not been assessed in the past 6 years, as is the requirement. As such these areas have been put at risk of dangers such as invasive species, the impact of climate change, water contamination, pollution and even fly tipping. To put it simply, we just do not know the state of these sites and habitats anymore.
Pesticides is another huge issue. The EU has banned the use of certain pesticides and without new laws we could see the reintroduction of highly dangerous pesticides which could very quickly undo the work that has been done to protect the wildlife and countryside affected by the use of these.
There is worry that the responsibility for controlling certain environmental issues could fall down to local councils, with the government effectively ‘passing the buck’ and denying any formal responsibility for issues such as pollution. With councils struggling with funding the responsibilities they are already expected to shoulder without much government support, this does not bode well. A cross party group of 74 MP’s and peers have already outlined their concerns in a letter to Environment Secretary Michael Gove, organised by Geraint Davies, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. As cynical as I am about the governments want or real committment to protect our wildlife and enforce meaningful environmental changes, this is the best opportunity that we may get in our lifetime to influence what will come next and shape the future of our local environment. Visit https://www.wwf.org.uk/fight-for-nature to send a letter to your MP showing your support for producing an Environment Act that restores UK nature and protects our dwindling countryside and make your voice heard before it’s too late.
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