Last month’s vote to leave the European Union has left the British public, not to mention the political establishment, reeling. The question now is one of what we do next. The environment was largely isolated from the EU debate yet it is in one of the most the most perilous positions, post-referendum.
When, even if, Article 50 is invoked there will be two exit scenarios the UK could take. The first is the Norwegian Option, this would mean that the UK remains part of the European Economic Area (EEA) which means that we still have access to the Single Market and are still subject to a lot of EU legislation but with no ability to influence it. The second scenario is the Free Trade Option that means we are entirely removed from the EU.
The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) estimate that between 80-90% of environmental regulations applying in the UK originate from the EU. If we were to take the Norwegian Option the majority of these regulations would still apply, with a few notable exceptions including the Habitats Directive and the Wild Birds Directive. Completely outside of the EU, none of these regulations would apply. This has left conservationists with great cause for concern because the EU wildlife directives form the backbone of UK nature legislation. Although the Habitats and Wild Birds directives are transposed in to UK law through the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Habitats Regulations 2010, without the enforcement from the EU the UK government are free to repeal or weaken these pieces of UK legislation.
So the future of nature conservation in the UK rests on the willingness of our government to keep and maintain, or even strengthen, the current national nature legislation. This means that charities and campaigning organisations need to be on top of their game in the coming months and years to ensure nature conservation is safeguarded in the UK. This will involve lobbying parliament and working to make sure the general public are engaged with nature conservation and recognise how fundamentally important the natural world is to our everyday lives.
Source: The Environmentalist, 2016