What Will Brexit Mean For UK's Conservation & Nature Protection Regulations?

There is much concern about what leaving the EU (Brexit) will mean for pesticide and conservation regulations.  Will the UK have weaker pesticide regulations once we leave?

Many are afraid about what will happen.  At this moment in time, we do not know for certain what will happen, but I do agree with Prof Dave Goulson:

"Like Brexit or not, it provides a golden opportunity, freeing British farming from the Common Agricultural Policy, and making it possible to steer it away from industrial, chemical farming towards more sustainable methods. If we do not, we will lose bees and much else of our wildlife for ever. "   - Professor Dave Goulson, author of A Buzz In the Meadow and Bumblebee Behaviour and Ecology

It's a practical statement of both hope and warning!

Do most of our environmental protections come from the EU? 

In actual fact, EU environmental legislation stems from the Bern Convention, which is an initiative which is separate from the EU, and which the EU signed up to.  The UK is also individually signed up to the Bern Convention, as are other European countries who are not EU members, (and some African countries).  The UK was one of the earliest countries to sign up, having signed the same year the convention was open to signatures in 1979.

The convention has three main aims, which are stated in Article 1:

  • to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural habitats
  • to promote cooperation between states
  • to give particular attention to endangered and vulnerable species including endangered and vulnerable migratory species

As a signatory, the European Union meets its obligations under the Convention by means of the Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds (the Birds Directive) (the codified version of Council Directive 79/409/EEC as amended) and the Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (the Habitats Directive).

Will we lose the conservation  protections we currently have?

I think this is where we need to lobby, to keep and improve upon the laws already in place.  For example, EU pesticide regulations allowed the approval of neonicotinoids int he first place - and 3 next-generation systemic insecticides have been approved despite the EFSA investigation and report of 2012. 

Neonicotinoids have now been banned, but regulation needs to be much improved.

Conservation groups and members of the public can and should aim to ensure a ban is in place, and should surely set out what is wanted in terms of improvements to pesticide regulations.

Efforts should be made to ensure the next generation neonicotinoids are not allowed onto the market.

British people care about wildlife and conservation

The UK has some of the oldest, largest (i.e. with large memberhsip base) and internationally active conservation organisations (especially relevant, for example, considering migratory species).

81% of those who voted to leave the EU want to keep the EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that have been found to pose a threat to bees - according to a You Gov opinion poll for Friends of the Earth. 

British people care about wildlife and the environment, and pressure can be put upon politicians for better protection.

But has EU membership resulted in better protection for UK wildlife?

Not necessarily!

  • Over the last 40 years, indicators used in the report show a decline in farmland birds of 56%, with turtle doves declining the most rapidly - down 96% since 1970.
  • Other species under pressure include skylarks - down 62% since 1970 - and lapwings which are down by 50%.
  • Much of this decline is blamed on the rapid change in farmland management in the late 1970s and early 1990s.

Source:  BBC

  • The EU has operated a lax and scandalous pesticide regulatory system, which allowed neonicotinoids to be licensed and sold without proper testing.  It has famously been under the heavy lobbying influence of the agrochemicals industry.
Who lobbies the most? - Source: Corporate Watch Europe
  • Thanks to a disasterous fishing policy, fish stocks are at a worrying low.  This receives surprisingly little mainstream media attention.  A once small-scale, sustainable local British fishing industry has being decimated, whilst industrial trawlers from other EU member states hoover up the ocean beds. 

It should be remembered that many of the beneficial EU conservation laws which have arisen, have been driven by action and lobbying by ordinary members of the public and conservation organisations.  The EU review of neonicotinoids was a case in point, and required substantial effort and information sharing between individuals across several countries.  However, there is no reason why information sharing cannot continue across countries - indeed, there are many charities which do this, and social media has connected ordinary people from across the planet.

Some good has come out of the EU

  • Primarily the Water Framework Directive 2000 springs to mind.  It seeks to counter issues such as water pollution, which could improve life and abundance of water dwelling invertebrates, bird life, fish and flora. 

    The key concern here is: will the UK government relax standards? 

  • Energy – this is a controversial area, but some people argue that without the EU, there would be less pressure to commit to lower CO2 targets. 

However, it is difficult to see how the UK is assisted in its aims to decrease CO2 emissions, when it is forced to accept an increase in population, with large numbers coming from the EU, or via the EU.

According to the United Nations, Population density in Europe is just 32 people/sq km. At 410 people/sq km, England is the most overcrowded large nation in the EU.(1)

It is no longer acceptable or reasonable to pretend that population increase has no impact on the environment.

To do so is folly and ostrich syndrome, yet it is astonishing and disappointing how few environmental and conservation organisations are prepared to speak about it for fear of backlash! 

Increase in population can only result in an increase in consumption, and pressure on wildlife habit for the building of infrastructure and housing to accommodate such an influx (not to mention population increase from UK birth rate and  immigration from other countries outside the EU).

Looking at these official figures, the UK has been required to accept a population from elsewhere within the EU equivalent to 3 cities about the size of Sheffield.

What next?

As I write, it's 29th June 2017. 

As yet, we don’t know! 

There is an opportunity to try and influence UK politicians for good.  If we sit on our hands and do nothing, then we can only blame ourselves if things do not go the way we want them to go.

We can make a difference

I think we really are at a cross roads.  We really can lobby to make it go one way or another.

For ideas of issues you can raise with your MP, please visit this page.


(1) https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/