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Fight For Nature

The decision to leave the European Union could be a disaster for the natural environment in the UK with repercussions for the rest of the world.

We must fight to make sure that it’s not.

June 2016

Over recent decades, the pressures on nature have multiplied: industrialisation, urbanisation, agricultural intensification. Nevertheless, we have held the worst damages at bay.

However, many of the protections that we’ve relied on – that nature has relied on – have come from the European Union. It has protected our countryside, our air, our water, our wildlife, and even brought some species back from the brink of extinction.

Now, if we let it happen, our most important environmental protection could be dismantled along with our place in the Union.

Let’s not let this happen under our noses – let’s not assume that everything will be ok. The idea that stepping aside from the EU will automatically lead to a British countryside arcadia is fantasy.

Of course we can build world-class UK environmental protection (though we will almost certainly resign some of our effectiveness in protecting the environment around the world), but that will require a supreme effort. There is no status quo. Indeed, many of the deregulatory and business-first political motivations of recent years point in exactly the opposite direction.

Recently, hundreds of thousands of people campaigned in support of the Nature Directives. While important, those Directives are just a portion of the EU protection we’ve relied on.

Now it’s time that we all stand up and fight for nature.

The Government has promised a 25 year environment plan; that’s a Manifesto commitment. That plan has just leapt from side-show to centre stage. It is a rallying point for us all to say to Government that our natural environment is too important to put at risk.

We can no longer afford to let this be a Defra-led plan without public input – this needs to be an environmental plan owned and informed by us all.

In place of EU targets, we need UK environmental objectives, with clear milestones for delivery and firm accountability in place of EU scrutiny. In place of EU funding for nature-friendly farming, we need our own ways to reward land managers who contribute public goods and we need our own ways to make the polluter pay.

In place of international agreements brokered by EU cooperation, we may need to come up with our own ways of dealing with cross-border issues. The environment movement can be a paragon of cooperation, even as the political certainties we know are deconstructed.

Last night’s decision was a step into the unknown.

Let’s campaign together now to make sure that we make the best of Britain’s new place in the world. Let’s fight to make sure that the 25 year environment plan – and all of our environmental protections – are as strong as they possibly can be.

Let’s fight for a strong #planfornature.

Richard Benwell

Head of Government Affairs, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

Find me on twitter @RichardSBenwell

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