Wednesday, 16 March 2016
What Europe Means For Our Wildlife
British wildlife relies on Europe for its protection. There has been no new or updated home-grown wildlife legislation since 2000, and that act didn't add much to what was already in place from twenty years earlier.
The 1981 wildlife and countryside act covers listed species of plants, birds and animals and their habitats, making it an offence to take, disturb, sell or harm them and the 2000 countryside and rights of way act adds on a few extras. The 1981 act is generally acknowledged to be the more significant of the two, yet it is thirty years old, and in those intervening years we have lost more wildlife than at any other time in the last 8000. It's also rare for there to be prosecutions under the act and without that kind of enforcement how can it hope to be effective in what it sets out to do? You might say it is out of date and requires amendment or better still fresh legislation. But that is so clearly not on the agenda that our wildlife has had to rely instead on European legislation to protect it.
The 2010 habitat regulations amalgamated the birds and habitat directives of the 1990s and now forms the basis of all European member states wildlife policy. Its not perfect by any means but it is certainly better than anything our own governments have offered since 1981 (which amounts to more or less nothing). Yet, only last year, George Osborne added his voice to those who were calling for a watering down of the habitat regulations on the grounds they were anti economic growth and development. Fortunately, Europeans returned a resounding NO to that call when asked for their feelings by public consultation.
I won't insult your intelligence by going into great detail of the many, many ways wildlife supports our own lives, but think soil, water and air provision, nutrient and waste recycling, flood management, pollination, food, weather, temperature regulation, medicine, and that's without the considerable health and relaxation benefits a walk in the woods or by a river brings, and the simple undiluted joy of watching the birds and bees and butterflies visit flowers you've planted in your garden, or seeing dragonflies and damselflies visit a pond you've created that newts and frogs also call home. There is also nothing to touch the feeling you get when a rare or endangered species begins to visit your garden because of the things you've put there to help it. I know this to be true because we now have Silver Washed fritillary butterflies here and very rare Longhorn beetles and they weren't in the garden until we created the habitat for them.
That kind of food for the soul can't have a price tag put on it. There is also, of course, the moral and ethical responsibilities we have to what my wise friend Mel calls our Wild Cousins.
Although I personally think it wrong to talk about nature in terms of what it gives us economically, if that is the language that politicians understand then even they must acknowledge the benefits inherent in protecting our wildlife. BUT, the truth as demonstrated by successive governments since 1981 is that Whitehall does not consider wildlife to be significant enough to deserve updating old legislation to ensure its survival, let alone creating new. If we want that, it will only come from Europe, as it has been doing for the last twenty years and if we end up leaving Europe I really, really fear for the future of our wild friends and places.