UK Wildlife is under threat from a review of essential wildlife protection laws in Europe.
Without wishing to go into Rant Mode, it is not an unbalanced assessment of our current Government to say they do very little to help Native Wildlife in the UK. Successive Environment Secretaries have demonstrated that they are more pro-farming than pro-environment, at a time when we should be trying to get farming and environmental protection on the same page and working together. Our current Chancellor has made no secret of the fact that he considers EU wildlife legislation to be a block on British Business and wishes to see the restrictions that have been put in place to protect it lifted.
For years, UK wildlife has had to rely on European legislation to get any real protection at all. The last wildlife-related Act passed in the UK was the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000, and that did very little to help wildlife in real terms, being more about access to land than anything else.
Prior to that you have to go back to 1981 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which drew up various schedules listing species that needed protection. Now 34 years old, it remains the only Act the UK has that is of any real significance to our wildlife, and although it makes certain wildlife-related crimes offences under law, the reality is that prosecutions under the Act are tiny in number.
You could argue with some justification that we are overdue a new and up to date Act that takes into account all the losses to habitats and species that have occurred since 1981. We also have a huge amount of scientific data now available on the status of UK wildlife, its habitat needs, it population trends, and what helps and undermines its survival that simply wasn't there 34 years ago, so the Act starts to look outdated from that perspective too.
It is generally agreed by conservationists that the UK has suffered a 60% decline of species over the last 50 years, and that downward trend has not yet been stopped to the extent that we can afford to lose even a small portion of the European protection offered to our species and wild places.
Filling the pitiful gap left by our politicians' failure to move themselves to understand and be real guardians to our wildlife is European legislation, namely the Birds Directive (1979) and Habitat Regulations (1994) which, together with the RAMSAR convention on wetlands (1971) and the Rio Earth Summit (1992), form the basis for all existing European wildlife protection. They cover the management of some of the best-loved sites in this country including Dartmoor and Snowdonia.
The Habitat regs and Birds directive together form Natura 2000, which is responsible for the establishment and maintenance of conservation sites around Europe. These are divided into SACs (Special Areas of Conservation, which are part of the Habitat regs and include UK sites such as Snowdonia) and SPAs (Specials Protection Areas, which come under the Birds directive and as such are focused on keeping wild birds safe).
Without the Habitat regs and the Birds directive, UK wildlife would only have the '81 Act to help it, and as most conservationists agree, that is largely out-dated and insufficient in its contents.
Guess what? The European Commission has decided to do a review of the Habitat regs and the Birds directive, called the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT). There is a very real danger here that all that precious wildlife legislation will be watered down and our wildlife left high and dry as a result, completely exposed to and at the mercy of development which is being promoted by our Government as good for business and the economy.
This Conservative Government elected last week is fully behind the watering down of these vital wildlife laws, essentially arguing that what's good for wildlife is bad for business. There is plenty of evidence that this view is wrong, but trying to help them see that is proving hard.
The European Commission has started a public consultation to glean public views on this proposed watering down of wildlife protection laws. Please do have your say. There are various petitions on line which have been filled in for you, so unless you are very familiar with the workings of the Directives these are ideal to sign and send. You can find one here which has been set up by Friends of the Earth. If you are familiar with the Directives, you can access a more in depth form where you answer all the questions yourself on the FoE website.
Please take a few minutes to do this if you feel strongly that UK Wildlife deserves to be protected to the best of our ability. I really do not believe that it's an either/ or choice when it comes to economic prosperity and wildlife protection- the two can co-exist, indeed they must, because if we keep trashing our ecosystems the way we have been over the last 100 years there isn't going to be much left for people to live on anyway. What we need to do is to put all our heads together and work harder to find the ways to make it so.