Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Birdwatch - latest editorial

June 2016 | Issue 288

This month voters in the UK get the chance to say whether or not the country should remain in the European Union. The environmental impact of a so-called ‘Brexit’ has received precious little attention in the mainstream media, but for wildlife and habitats in Britain it really is crunch time.

Why? For a start, the EU provides an essential counter-balance to a government whose leader is forever tainted by the words “We’ve got to get rid of all this green crap”. Environmental legislation is seen as a burden to business in the UK, not as a framework for the preservation of natural resources and for improving the quality of the countryside. It is the EU, not the Conservative government, whose directives now protect nature on more than 8,000 square miles of land in the UK – an area 13 times the size of Greater London. Through such initiatives our air is cleaner, too, and so are our beaches and seas.

When a consultation exercise was undertaken as part of a review which threatened such laws, a record 520,000 respondents in the EU took part, including more than 100,000 from Britain, and campaigning resulted in almost 80 per cent of MEPs voting to protect nature – that simply would not have happened in the House of Commons under the present government. There are also environmental policies with strict targets that can be legally enforced as a result of our membership of the EU – a far cry from the days when Britain was known as the ‘Dirty Man of Europe’, recklessly producing more sulphur dioxide – the principal cause of acid rain – than any other country in the Continent.

Birds do not recognise political boundaries, and the environment is a concern common to us all. Legislation from Brussels is needed to protect wildlife and habitats right across Europe and especially in Britain, and continued membership of the EU is the only way to maintain this important protective framework and stop it from being dismantled. Voting for Britain to remain within the EU is the only option for birds and the environment.

Postscript This editorial outlines in very general terms the importance of EU membership from an environmental perspective. For an unequivocal understanding of what a Brexit will mean for trade and the economy, this lecture by Professor Michael Dougan, an independent academic expert from the University of Liverpool's Law School, makes sobering viewing (for follow-up comments on immigration see here):

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