As you may know, there has never been much specifically British legislation enacted to protect our natural habitats; for a nation which has such a cultural fascination with the English landscape, we don’t have many national laws in place which protect our wildlife. Arguably we shouldn’t need to pass Acts of Parliament in order to make us respect our countryside, but there it is – in the current climate, bolstering conservation with legislation is more important than ever.
The few laws we do have were essentially put in place to enact EU legislation – the Habitats Directive and Birds Directive, specifically, known collective as the EU Nature Directives. Collectively, these pieces of legislation underpin the concepts of protected sites and species protection, and provide a framework for human interaction with European wildlife. Without those laws, British wildlife would be extremely vulnerable.
The EU is currently going through a 12 week review process of the EU Nature Directives, with a view to assessing whether the legislation works and/or whether it is still relevant. There is a very real risk that this REFIT will result in changes being made to those laws – perhaps even resulting in their removal. As commercial interests continue to take precedence over environmental concerns, conservationists throughout Europe fear that the review could lead to a weakening of the protective framework – which could in turn prove to be the thin end of the wedge, leading to the watering down of other key pieces of European legislation. (There are concerns, for example, that changes could have a negative impact on national emissions ceilings.)
The laws aren’t flawless – George Monbiot has recently written a fascinating piece in the Guardian about this (George Monbiot – Nature Directives), which mentions that the protection of upland heather moors is irrational, for example – but notwithstanding these issues, conservationists and wildlife charities all agree on the crucial point that the laws must be protected. If there is not enough public support for them, the REFIT could very well sound the death knell for all the benefits these Directives have to offer.
The Commission is currently running a public consultation on the proposed changes, and we have until 24 July to respond. The Woodland Trust have lots of really helpful information on their website about how and why to respond – it is incredibly easy, and only takes a few minutes: Woods need EU
Many stakeholders will be banking on the fact that the British people don’t care enough to have their say. Please take a look, and respond if you can.
“Me dad planted that tree,” she said absently, pointing out through the old cracked window.
The great beech filled at least half the sky and shook shadows all over the house.
Its roots clutched the slope like a giant hand, holding the hill in place. Its trunk writhed with power, threw off veils of green dust, rose towering into the air, branched into a thousand shaded alleys, became a city for owls and squirrels.
Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee, Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (1 Nov. 2002)