As soon as it was realised that Brexit was a reality, everyone started blaming everyone else. Politicians criticised each other, voters uttered pure disbelief and judgement on others and the well-known blond figurehead of the leave campaign Boris Johnson changed from being the leader of the revolution to the man who did this ‘terrible’ thing to our country. The reality became clear, no one really knew what they were voting for, lots of people had never even heard of the single market and just assumed that there were only two ‘simple’ options, to stay or to leave. Furthermore in the debates beforehand the environment was hardly mentioned, so a main question for conservationists now is ‘what will happen to our environment?’ In the uncertain future that is Brexit, key areas and conservation problems need to be addressed, as the goal of achieving healthy ecosystems where both business and wildlife can prosper is surely something everyone can agree on.
There is no doubt the EU committed Britain to much needed environmental laws. The Nature Directives, consisting of the Birds and Habitats Directives, made the UK take notice of important habitats, which needed safeguarding and restoring, as well as protecting sites where there were important bird populations. The EU also contributes to funding important conservation projects, such as the EU LIFE+ Nature Little Tern Recovery Project, a scheme which helps increase protection of nesting sites of this declining species as well as involving and educating members of the public. Brexit however raises questions about the future of laws protecting the environment and the funding received for important projects. The Chancellor Philip Hammond has guaranteed that certain EU funding will continue past the date that the UK exits the EU. Agricultural funding, CAP Pillar 1, will continue to 2020, when it is stated a “transition to new domestic arrangements” will occur. The CAP has been the subject of much debate in recent years. The National Trust, among others, has called for a change to farming subsidies, criticising a scheme which sees land rich farmers receiving large sums of money simply for land possession. Brexit could actually be an opportunity for payments to go to farmers who are protecting essential ecosystem services and wildlife.
The State of Nature Report 2016 also increases concern for the future of the environment in the UK as it states that “between 1970 and 2013, 56% of species declined, with 40% showing strong or moderate declines”. This highlights how important the decisions we make now are for the future, as the environment and wildlife is already struggling with our current level of demand and destruction. The report also stated that “many factors have resulted in changes to the UK’s wildlife over recent decades, but policy-driven agricultural change was by far the most significant driver of declines”. This further highlights the idea that if subsidies went to farmers who use wildlife friendly farming techniques then the financial pressure to produce high yields from their land could reduce, therefore reducing the risk of ecosystem degradation and preserving ecosystem services. Maintaining ecosystem function is so important, for example pollinators are estimated to provide around £430 million each year for crop production services. It is therefore vital that ecosystems continue to function efficiently so the natural services fundamental to our future can continue. By environmental organisations and farmers working together a healthy environment and productive farming landscape could be achieved.
Post Brexit much about the environment is uncertain. What level of protection will the environment receive? How will the funding be distributed? It is however certain that communication channels need to be utilised between all stakeholders for ecosystems and species to prosper across the UK and continue to provide essential ecosystem services.