Andy Lester, A Rocha UK’s Head of Conservation, looks at what nature needs in the uncertainty ahead..
We may, or may not, leave the EU by 31 October, with a deal – or without a deal. It would seem that election time may soon be upon us again; though possibly not. With any election right now will come a series of deeply challenging decisions for each of us on who and what to vote for. Top of the pile for many of us will be what the main parties are contemplating around the environment – and how that might be affected by a no deal Brexit or Brexit with a deal or even, still, remaining.
Were we to combine a no deal departure from the European Union on the fast approaching 31 October deadline alongside a general election then all bets are off when it comes to issues of sustainability and conservation. Following quickly from a no-deal result, the new government (should it manage to even get a parliamentary majority) will be faced with fighting for competitive bi-lateral agreements. One of the likely first victims will be the natural environment. Other countries will be able to push for highly competitive imports; where the UK may well be forced to significantly compromise its environmental standards. And sitting outside the EU under WTO rules, we will no longer be subject to EU eco-legislation, which could further jeopardise high ecological standards.
For the farming community too, a no deal will lead to closures, bankruptcies and an upsurge in land-owners selling their assets to housing corporations. It could easily lead to the increased suburbanisation of our countryside.
On the other hand a strong Brexit deal with the EU is likely to provide some benefits. In a post agreement world there would be a new Agriculture Bill and a new Environmental Bill. The combined bills would offer farmers the chance to move from subsidies for over production (or under production) to subsidies for stronger and more resilient systems, where support is tied closely to sustainable food production and where income is more dependent on farmers seeking to diversify systems and support a greener and leaner farming sector. House builders too will be looking at “biodiversity net gain”: new developments will require the builders to prove that there are net benefits to wildlife after the development, when compared to what was on the land before. This could be an excellent incentive for changing the relationships between the built and natural landscapes.
Whatever the future relationship between the UK and EU there is nothing preventing UK nature-lovers urging UK policies that make killer air pollution a thing of the past, for policies that will return clouds of butterflies to our countryside and beavers to our rivers, for climate policies that shift us much faster towards climate-protecting renewable energy and land management, restoring carbon-absorbing wetlands and forests. Let us pray in the face of uncertain times ahead and make sure that the voice of Christians is heard on behalf of creation come what may.
Photo: Abernethy Barcaple, Dumfries in Scotland
Photo credit: Lydia Reese