“The Nation has a Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity to put Right this Damage” says RSPB CEO
Those are the words of RSPB Chief Executive Michael Clarke recently – an optimistic view considering the circumstances. In less than a year Britain is set to exit the EU, ad whilst there are many legislations that need to be put in place, the three that conservationists and animal groups are most concerned about are those concerning agriculture, fisheries and the environment. These three forthcoming bills will replace the EU legislation that current dictates our ways of farming and fishing, the quality of our air, water and wildlife, and will be huge in deciding the fate of wildlife here in the UK.
European wildlife have suffered devastating declines in the past 20 – 30 years. As Clarke said, “For years, we could see the lack of insects on our windscreens on summer evenings. It was a smoking gun but there was no hard data – until recent research in Germany showed there had been a 75% decline in its flying insects, figures since matched by Dutch and some UK data. The insects have gone – and so have 420 million birds.”
Whilst there are many contributing factors to this shocking decrease in wildlife, blame is often firmly placed on CAP – The EU common agricultural policy. CAP concerns itself mainly with agricultural output with very little care for the environmental concerns and as such has been cited as the main reason that the habitats of many birds, animals and insects have been destroyed, and along with them the wildlife itself.
“The nation has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put right this damage” Clarke stated, and many hope that the three UK legislations surrounding agriculture, fishing and the environment will bring vital and necessary changes to ensure the UK’s wildlife population is protected. However, with the bills to be published next year, no-one seems to have any idea yet what the proposals will be. In monetary terms, CAP costs the UK roughly 3 Billion per year – again, the majority of that money is spent increasing outputs, but Clarke and many other campaigners would like to see the forthcoming agriculture bill using some of that money to ensure that we are “maintaining the ecological quality of farms and the countryside…Dozens of critically endangered birds will be wiped out unless we change our ways.”
Clarke uses the Turtle Dove as an example of what the future could hold for many species of bird. The Turtle Dove feeds its young on the seeds of wildflowers, with many areas that once contained natural wildflowers having been turned over to farming, depriving these birds of their main food source. This bird used to be a common sight in the UK countryside but its numbers have declined by a staggering 90% since the 1980’s, and if something isn’t done to protect, encourage and nourish the habitats and good sources of birds such as these then “at the rate we are going, the only sight we might get of these birds in a few years is on a Christmas card.”
These measures don’t have to be huge – there have been examples of where the declines of species such as the cirl and stone curlews, have been stopped and in turn those populations have increased by making relatively small changes. However, there is the worry that, as with previous bills and legislation concerning wildlife and the environment, that the onus of these changes will be put solely on the farmers and common working people, with little support, input or incentive from the government – the people with the power and the money to really make the big changes necessary to save our rapidly depleting wildlife.
The remaining policies concerning fishing and the environment are also the chance to right some of the wrongs that many have lambasted the EU legislations for. A fisheries policy will need to be able to find a balance so that over-fishing is not the disastrous issue it has become under the EU fisheries policy, and could go a long way to fixing the damage that has been caused to marine biology by overfishing. The environmental policy is the third which campaigners will be watching closely; The 2016 ‘State of Nature’ report which includes an analyses of the loss of species over centuries found that the UK was the 29th worst out of 218 countries, and Clarke believes that as a part of this bill a watchdog is needed to ensure that government agencies are held to account over ecological issues.
As Clarke says, “These bills could be our last chance to stop this degradation and to start putting things right. We need to set strong targets for recovering our lost biodiversity as well as establishing standards for improving the quality of our soil, air, and water.” Whether they will or not remains to be seen, but these bills will play a crucial part in the future of UK wildlife and environment.
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