Sharing Learning: Protecting the Environment after Brexit – a talk to the European Criminal Law Association

Sharing Learning: Protecting the Environment after Brexit – a talk to the European Criminal Law Association

BSG Ecology Director Peter Shepherd was recently invited for a second time to address the European Criminal Law Association – this time on the subject of Protecting the Environment after Brexit.

The nature of the subject matter obviously requires a degree of ‘crystal ball gazing,’ so the talk started with what we know; among a series of depressing statistics, the State of Nature Report 2019 highlighted declines in 41 % of UK species, identified that 15 % are threatened with extinction, that we have lost 133 species entirely since 1970 and that the rate of biodiversity loss in the UK has been greater than the global average. The report is one of many sources that identify how critical it is that we take action to reverse biodiversity declines.

Peter then went on to comment on the emerging policy, legislation and research that will shape the UK’s response to environmental protection post Brexit, including the Environment Bill, Agriculture Bill, natural capital accounting and biodiversity net gain. The talk also outlined Government commitments as set out in the 25 year Environment Plan and the EU Withdrawal Act, and highlighted the range of international biodiversity obligations the UK is subject to under conventions and treaties to which we are a signatory – biodiversity protection will not cease to exist if we leave the EU.

Some things will change, however. In the short to medium term we will see administrative changes, including the establishment of the Office for Environmental Protection. Changes to species protection and licencing are already taking place (such as the move to district licencing for great crested newts). Biodiversity net gain will embed itself in the development planning process. Changes to agricultural funding mechanisms will see farmers being paid for producing public goods and services as opposed to simply producing food. Nature Recovery Plans will be implemented. As UK Government decisions will not be subject to scrutiny by the European Court of Justice, our own Case Law will begin to emerge. Some political rhetoric and commitments will no doubt be watered down once a new government is in place, while the drive to reduce ‘red tape’ and demonstrate that we can get things done more efficiently outside Europe may move changes in habitat and species protection up the political agenda.

In the longer term there is more uncertainty regarding the pace at which environmental protection measures will be implemented, and how effective they will be. Changes of Government, the legacy of a potential no-deal Brexit (and the potential need for further austerity to contain economic debt), the effects of trade deals on environmental protection, climate disruption (including significant weather events and rapid changes to habitat quality and species distribution), the effectiveness and flexibility of retained and forthcoming legislative protection measures to respond to a rapidly changing ecological baseline, and the commitment of politicians to implementing the 25 year Environment Plan are among the factors that will influence this.

The talk concluded that there is a need to recognise that environmental protection is both an essential requirement for continued human development and for our wellbeing as individuals; we need to place nature at the heart of everything we do. To achieve this will require increased campaigning, vigilance and political will, and the collective efforts of ecologists, politicians and legal professionals.

Richard Atkins, Committee Member and Honorary Treasurer of the European Criminal Law Association said:  “Thank you so much for your talk, which was interesting, informative and brilliantly delivered. The feedback has been wholly positive. We are very grateful for your support to the ECLA.”

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