Could Brexit be good for Dorset’s nature and environment?

Dr Simon Cripps at Brooklands Farm - Dorset Wildlife Trust's HQ

Dr Simon Cripps at Brooklands Farm - Dorset Wildlife Trust's HQ - Credit: Archant

Dr Simon Cripps, Chief Executive of Dorset Wildlife Trust, puts forward his viewpoint on the impact our exit of EU policies could have on our countryside

We live in interesting times or the world has gone mad, depending on your viewpoint. Three voting decisions would never have been predicted even last year: Brexit, Trump and Ed Balls on Strictly. Two of these are likely to have profound implications for Dorset’s environment and therefore for much of what we value in this fabulous part of the world. Our own vote for leaving the EU is both a worry and has the potential to be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Brexit gives us the chance to reform EU farming subsidies so that they better support what our country and countryside needs, which is a healthy, productive natural environment rich in wildlife that supports a viable, sustainable farming industry and secure and appropriate food production. We have re-learnt in recent years what our grandfathers knew well, that you don’t get the latter without the former. New UK-based subsidies should then be focussed on producing a public benefit such as wildlife, soil health and water stewardship.

When Britain joined the EU we were the dirty country of Europe with smog, water pollution and filthy seas. In a national poll this year 83% of people wanted the same or greater protection for wildlife and the environment. This was largely irrespective of whether they voted to remain or leave. It is a clear message to government that you and I, especially in Dorset, want a clean, healthy environment to live and play in - whether that be the countryside, at sea, or in the conurbation. We need to ensure that regulations such as the Habitats, Birds and Bathing Water Directives to name just three are carried across to British equivalents and make them even more effective and relevant to the UK.

Protected areas are also important to people and nature. There are several types of designation that come from European regulations on land and at sea that we need to ensure are transferred over to whatever British system is devised.

Finally, something that is often overlooked is the question of who will be the ultimate arbitrator of environmental law and how do we ensure access to justice, as required by the Aarhus Convention. Currently if there is a problem, for example interpreting the duty of government, we can go to The European Court of Justice. We must ensure that such protection is not lost in the transfer.

Government is producing 25 year plans for the environment and for food and farming. We have an opportunity to determine what is important and to set up a framework for achieving it. Brexit, whilst a potential threat to our nature and environment can also present some benefits, but we must ensure that laws which protect us are not watered down or lost, special places that make Dorset what it is continue to be protected, the risk of climate change is diminished, and that tax-payer funding goes towards public benefit by making the land and seas more sustainably and sensitively managed – for people and nature.

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Views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the policy of Dorset Wildlife Trust.

About Simon

Simon is an oceanographer by profession and has worked in environmental protection on many issues including commercial fishing, oil and gas, the UN and nature conservation. He has lived abroad in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland for over 20 years and returned to his native Dorset after being WWF-International’s Global Marine Director.

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