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Turning Brexit into an environmental opportunity

The outcome of the referendum left many environmentalists feeling doubtful and demoralised. The implications for science, for law, and for investing in nature are serious.

July 2016

There’s a lot that we simply don’t know: it will depend on the priorities of Ministers and the wrangling of international negotiations.

There’s a lot we do know too: the UK’s wildlife and wetland laws won’t simply disappear overnight. Many are reflected in UK regulations that will stand up even after Brexit. However, there will definitely be serious gaps: policies like CAP will cease to be funded and we will no longer be able to rely on the European Courts to bring infraction proceedings when the UK breaks the rules.

So, if we do nothing, the UK’s conservation rules will survive, but in a seriously weakened state.

If we want to turn round wildlife decline, protect precious places, clean up our water, and have air fit to breathe, then that’s simply not good enough.

It will be an uphill haul, but we can turn the upheaval of Brexit into a kind of creative destruction. With the right political will, we can use the chance for change to set out ambitious national targets for nature and to improve the way we spend our money to deliver ecological benefits.

For that, environmental organisations must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with each other, with progressive businesses, visionary politicians and the nature-loving public. We’ll need to speak with one voice like never before and we’ll need to be clear about what we want.

The Government’s manifesto promised a 25 year environment plan. It’s now been delayed and there are no plans for public consultation. Yet, in the wake of Brexit, that plan could be a crucial vehicle for setting out how the UK can lead the world in conservation action.

That’s why WWT is launching a report in Parliament today, in association with Wildlife and Countryside Link. In the report, Rich in Nature, we put forward our ideas for new legally-binding environment targets (including 100,000 hectares of new wetlands!), a Natural Wealth Statement, and “Catchment Commissioners” to direct funding for nature.

We’ll be joined in Parliament by Caroline Lucas MP, Professor Mace (Director of the UCL Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research), Stanley Johnson (Co-Chair of Environmentalists for Europe) and Rachael Maskell MP (Shadow Secretary of State).

We’ll challenge Government to make the UK a world-leader in environmental protection.

In the report, Tony Juniper argues that “this year, we’re on the cusp of [a] unique opportunity. Nature is on a knife-edge and the Government has promised to adopt a 25 Year Environment Plan to help restore the balance. Turning the environmental jeopardy of Brexit into an environmental opportunity will be a huge challenge, but it’s not impossible”.

Steve Backshall agrees, saying “we need to make sure that people in government are seeing, feeling, tasting and touching those changes for themselves, understanding potential impacts on an experiential level – and that they use those experiences to inform decisions on everything from economics to planning and healthcare”.

So, best foot forward, everyone, and let’s make the best of Brexit we possibly can; and – if you’re able – please do join the conversation about #planfornature and help us make sure our voice is heard. Together, we can ensure that we leave the next generation Rich in Nature.

Richard Benwell

Head of Government Affairs, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Find me on Twitter @RSBenwell

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.