It’s great that pressure from the EU population has meant that the Birds Directive and Habitats Directive have been passed as fit for purpose. A staggering 520,000 people signed up across the EU to save these nature-saving pieces of legislation – more than have ever supported any similar EU petition in the past. I signed it – I expect you did too.
And that was the result of collaboration between the BirdLife International European network (of which the RSPB is the UK partner), the WWF network (of which WWF-UK is the UK partner), the Friends of the Earth network (guess what? Yes, FoE England, Wales and Northern Ireland and FoE Scotland are the partners) and the European Environmental Bureau. Over 120 environmental organisations across Europe played their part in mobilising that public response.
Of course, the irony of all this is that although the UK produced well over 100,000 of those half a million signatures we also produced over 17,400,000 votes to leave the EU. Our pro-nature signatures and our UK advocacy were not wasted if they help protect wildlife in the EU for decades after we have left, but it feels a bit like a parting gift from the UK to the rest of Europe.
As best as we know (because Brexit means Brexit, but what Brexit means nobody knows – or actually everyone seems to know it’s just that they don’t agree!) all EU legislation will simply be transposed into UK law (much of it is already but it’s a pretty complicated area) and so we will sail on with the same protection for our environment as it has ever had – in theory, and initially.
The problems will come later – but maybe not much later. Two main things may happen – first, that national governments (because it might be the Scots, or the Welsh, but I’d bet it’ll be those folks in London who will cause most trouble) may bend the rules, implement the laws badly (think Hen Harrier protection) and degrade their effectiveness through neglect. Once we are out of the EU we will have no ‘higher authority’ to go to, except perhaps the UK courts, to deal with such matters. Or, future national governments could actually change the laws and make them stronger (slim chance) or weaker (every chance). The details of the Brexit deal will determine which if either of these options occurs. And who we elect as future governments will determine their outlook on these matters.
So, and we may be getting used to this, the future is certainly uncertain, but also certainly worrying. It’s easier to see the future as being worse than the present than it is to see it being better. It’s all a bit sobering really. Not very ‘Ho, Ho, Ho! Happy Christmas!’ at all. Sorry.