Comment and analysis by Leicester Green Party, and its fellow-travellers
Following on from Hannah Wakley’s recent post on what the EU means for our air quality, a note on how the EU has improved the UK’s ecosystems is worth a brief discussion as well, since the environmental impacts as a whole are likely to be overlooked by many in the referendum. A recent report prepared by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), with support from The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB & WWF UK, looked at the consequences of the referendum outcomes on air quality, climate change, ecosystems, agriculture & fisheries policy, and noted that European wildlife directives had a key role in implementing the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 in the UK, one of our biggest chunks of wildlife law. This law protects bird nests, bat roosts & many species from harm & disturbance; since I know wild mammals a bit better than other species groups, I’ll look at a few protected under this legislation to see how this has worked for our wildlife:
Otters – Protected under Schedule 5, the otter population suffered greatly in the UK in the past from organochloride pollution exacerbated by hunting with dogs (in Mike Huskisson’s ‘Outfoxed’, staff at the British Field Sports Society were quoted as saying they would not stop hunting until every otter head was nailed to a wall during a sit-in protest of their HQ). Fortunately, the findings of the Fifth National Otter Survey continued to show positive news through a comparison to the previous national surveys; the first showed 6% presence in the grids surveyed, then 10%, 23%, 36% & finally 59% in the 2009-10 survey. It’s fair to say they’ve bounced back well, but still have got some ground to regain…
Water voles – Also protected under Schedule 5, the recently released update on the National Water Vole Monitoring Programme stated that whilst it’s too early to be certain (pending more data on the population trend), the water vole’s hefty decline may be abating. Hurrah!
Polecats – Partially protected under Schedule 6, which prohibits killing by certain methods, the findings of the 2014-15 National Polecat Survey were released just a few days ago and found that they are now more widespread than at any point in the last 100 years. As the reason for their contraction in range was excessive persecution from gamekeepers, this is welcome news, though in the report the authors state this persecution may still be a threat to recovery.
The protections afforded by this legislation are not the sole reason for their changes in fortune – there’s a great deal of effort, paid & voluntary, behind it too – but doubtless they played important roles in helping these species on their way & hopefully will continue to do so for a long while to come. For that, whilst the post is not claiming the EU is perfect, the EU should gain some recognition.
There are many other positive examples of wildlife benefiting from EU-wide protection, not just in the UK but across Europe (think wolves & lynx elsewhere). However, as with air pollution, where 40,000 people still die prematurely, there is a great deal to be desired. The damning State of Nature Report proved this clearly. And as with air quality (remember DEFRA pushing for less action on harmful air pollution?) we cannot trust the current government to do the right thing for the environment, and require the additional protection granted by the EU. The IEEP, Wildlife Trusts, RSPB & WWF UK concur with this and conclude their wildlife section with this statement:
“The risks of withdrawing from the EU are significant for nature. Although, in theory, a highly committed future UK government could adopt effective national measures if it chose, it would be much harder to coordinate action to address the cross-border threats faced by many UK species and there is very little to indicate that this is likely to happen.”