MPs are championing a diverse range of species, from the tansy beetle to the Atlantic salmon, from the hen harrier to the Duke of Burgundy butterfly, and they are found in an equally diverse set of habitats, from ancient woodlands, farmland and city centres to the marine environment.
The Awards Event falls at a pivotal moment, with huge uncertainty about the future legal and policy landscape following the decision to leave the European Union.
Species, and the habitats they rely on, have been given a high degree of protection under the EU Birds and Habitats directives. Many of the MPs’ species rely on the Natura network of protected areas. For example, Special Protection Area designation has protected key sites for the bittern, helping to bring it back from the brink of extinction. Likewise, the most important sites for the marsh fritillary butterfly and the greater horseshoe bat have been designated as Special Areas of Conservation and the three locations where the Violet click beetle can be found in England have all been similarly protected. In addition, the availability of dedicated EU funding through LIFE has helped to improve the status of many of the championed species, including little tern, cirl bunting, marsh fritillary and natterjack toad.
The EU’s impact has been less positive for a number of our championed species. Those such as the skylark, the fen orchid, and the shrill carder bee have been victims of agricultural intensification, historically driven by a Common Agricultural Policy that still directs most of its subsidies to farmers with only limited environmental benefits. The poor status of Atlantic salmon in English rivers is linked, amongst other factors, to a decline in water quality and low river flows caused by agricultural intensification. And in the marine environment, where the UK was a leader within the EU in reforming the Common Fisheries Policy to put sustainable fisheries management at the heart of fisheries policy, nearly half of fish stocks in the NE Atlantic are still overfished. Measures to prevent puffins and other seabirds from being drowned offshore, in fishing nets and on hooked lines, are still only voluntary.
Future environmental policy has to be shaped to ensure that the EU’s robust protections are safeguarded. In fact, this should be the moment to use those EU protections as the foundations for a better policy that addresses the patchy enforcement and tackles the widely recognised need for improved implementation. Farming and fisheries policies need to focus on sustainability, with governments across the UK working together.
With the commitment of these MPs to use their political influence we hope to make a success of the government’s forthcoming plans for the environment and for food and farming. MPs have a vital role to play in helping to reverse the species declines that were highlighted by the 2016 State of Nature Report. The species champions are key to holding the government to its commitment to leaving the environment in a better state than they inherited it.
The Species Champions project is run by a group of seven of Link's member organisations: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and the RSPB. Additional support is provided by the Angling Trust and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species. Further information about the MPs and the species they are championing can be found on the Species Champions website: https://www.buglife.org.uk/specieschampions.
Parliamentary Officer, RSPB
The opinions expressed are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership
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