Brexit And Our Environment: An Ecologists’ View

I am one of those people that voted to remain in the EU, not only because I believe that our countryside and wildlife will fare better under EU environmental legislation but because although there are many things wrong with the EU, it also has many benefits. The challenge should have been to work alongside other EU countries to find solutions to those problems, not abandoning ship in the hopes that Britain will be a greater country without it (which I doubt, as I don’t think we have any political leader right now who is capable of providing strong leadership when independent).

Anyway, I digress.

This article is written from my own concerns about how Brexit will affect our wildlife, habitats, and our environment – particularly from a legislative perspective as I am an ecologist.

EU environmental legislation is often the only thing protecting our environment from over-development, and our species and habitats being destroyed on a large scale for the sake of ‘economic growth’. The role of an ecologist is primarily to aid developers, large or small, throughout the planning process to ensure they do not commit wildlife related offences; we make sure that UK and EU legislation is adhered to in terms of protected species and habitats.

For example: blanket bogs in Scotland are a very rare and special habitat within the EU and are protected under the European Habitats Directive. This directive is transposed into UK law by the Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations 2010. Say that a large renewable energy company comes along and wants to build 30 large wind turbines on a pristine area of blanket bog. On a basic level ecological consultants will carry out habitat and species-specific surveys to advise the best scheme design, that will enable the project to proceed (we recognise the need for renewable energy) with minimal destruction or loss of said habitat and its’ associated species. However, this habitat is not protected to the same level under UK legislation alone, and so could potentially suffer greater loss and degradation without the back-up of the Habitats Directive.

From an ecologists’ point of view, and I am not the only one by any means to think this, by leaving the EU we leave the majority of our environmental protection behind too. Over the last few years our government has been doing all it can to soften environmental laws to promote development and benefit business and developers; the environment is often seen as a commodity rather than an intrinsic and special part of our lives. If we no longer have EU legislation then what is left to protect our current European Protected Species? The hazel dormouse, bats, great crested newts? They certainly don’t receive the same level of protection within the UK alone.

I do like to be optimistic.

If the UK does end up staying within the single market, of which compliance with EU environmental legislation is likely one of the conditions, then all is well and good. Or if the UK government surprises the hell out of us and actually incorporates EU-level legislation into our own existing Wildlife and Countryside Act.


At the time of writing the government still hasn’t triggered article 50 but we have the added worry of a PM who has gotten rid of the climate change department, an environment secretary who doesn’t believe in climate change, or indeed seem to know what it is, and there is the possibility of many wildlife and conservation charities that work so hard to protect our countryside and its inhabitants may suffer financially without EU funding, thus limiting the good work they can do. Oh, and we have a government body whose aim is to “secure a healthy natural environment for people to enjoy, where wildlife is protected and England’s landscapes are safeguarded for future generations“, who has begun handing out licences to kill buzzards to protect hand-reared, introduced pheasants.

Interesting times ahead.

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Rachel is an ecologist and keen traveller who likes to share her wildlife-related adventures from the job or on the road. Alongside her work she enjoys conservation volunteering, regularly taking part in bat research projects at home or abroad.

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1 Response

  1. Avatar Sam says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Great article. Have you heard about our new grassroots, wildlife specific campaign NGO ?

    We are about to launch a campaign focused on lobbying for a new law to replace the habs regs (2010) with broader protection of species and habitats.

    It would be great to have you on board, sharing your expertise and views on how to best campaign for stronger wildlife law.

    Look forward to hearing from you!


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