Brexit and Nature: Where Next?

One of the EU’s most important aspects has been the measures jointly agreed by member states ,which have led to major improvements in how we approach environmental challenges. Through our membership we have adopted renewable energy targets, improved how we deal with waste, cleaned up our air and water and, of course, elevated the protection of many threatened species and habitats.
All this is fundamentally important to the quality and sustainability of life in the UK. So some real vision and leadership is needed in shaping how we go forward.
Our starting point must be to embrace the basic fact that healthy Nature is vital for our health, wealth and security. This is officially recognised, and is why the Government’s own Natural Capital Committee called for a 25-year plan to improve the state of our environment. That idea was included in the Conservative election manifesto.
Influencing that 25-year plan must be one focal point for The Wildlife Trusts. Whatever post-Brexit arrangements are put in place, it is vital that we don’t simply avoid going backwards, but actually secure improvements for wildlife and our environment. What might that look like though?
In terms of holding on to what we’ve got there are five strands. First are the Nature protection rules under the Birds and Habitats Directives. These protect some of our most cherished wildlife and special natural places on land and at sea. Second are the policies that govern everything from the state of rivers to the quality of the air we breathe. Third are the powerful rules of the Common Agricultural Policy, including those geared to meeting ecological goals in farmed landscapes. Fourth are the aims of the Common Fisheries Policy that requires the sustainable management of fish stocks. Fifth are EU agreements to combat climate change.
These policies, rules and laws guide much of how Britain approaches conservation and environmental challenges. The first objective for any post-Brexit situation is to adopt all of them directly into UK law. This will not be enough, however. We are still far from achieving a sustainable future for UK wildlife, and our place in a sustainable world. This is why it is so important for us to call for the full implementation of that manifesto promise to adopt a 25-year plan for the recovery of Nature. We have all the information and policy ideas needed to get on with that job, and could set out an approach comparable to the 2008 Climate Change Act. That piece of legislation was a rare example of how we went ahead of the EU on a key environmental challenge. It shows how we could similarly enshrine into law the recovery of Nature over 25 years.
As with climate change, long-term ambitions cannot be achieved during the term of one government: a legal framework is needed to make sure that the baton is passed between elections. The Climate Change Act does this by setting out a long-term goal, but not all the detail needed to reach it. That job is done by Ministers and Government departments, assisted by a powerful Committee advising successive Governments. This ensures that decisions taken across different policy areas meet the aim of cutting emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 (compared with 1990). Milestones are set in the form of five-year carbon budgets and policies are adopted to meet them.
We could do all that in relation to Nature too, setting long term goals for the state of habitats and the species of most concern, and ensuring that those presently doing well don’t suffer future declines. We have the tools to do this. For instance: revamped post-Brexit farm policies, Nature protection laws and how flood prevention strategies are blended with habitat restoration. We could also align Nature protection with climate change goals, by for example by restoring the degraded blanket bogs that are each year emitting millions of tonnes of CO2.
All the science as to why we need to do this is already collected, and we know many policy ideas can work. The final part is public support. The Wildlife Trusts will be at the  forefront of making the case and you can do the same. Please urge your MP to sign the Green Alliance pledge if they haven’t already. Nature matters, and that is why we should all be ambassadors, championing the value of the natural world to anyone who will listen. I very much hope you will join us in this, and help to create a future of which our children and grandchildren can be proud.