Since the results of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU were announced, there has been much speculation on how this will affect our client’s projects and the ecology consultancy industry as a whole.
I am optimistic – my personal opinion is ‘not a lot’, at least not for some time.
Although much of the UK’s wildlife and environmental legislation is based on EU directives, these have been transposed into UK law, such as the Habitats Regulations. Leaving the EU will not automatically repeal these laws, but will leave them open to be unpicked, if there is a political will to do so. However, leaving the EU will not automatically remove protection from what we refer to as ‘European protected species’ or ‘European Sites’. Perhaps we will need a new term?
In the long-term it is likely that the wildlife legislation that protects our habitats and rarer species will be reformed and modernised, in fact there is a stalled draft Wildlife Bill in parliament which sets out to consolidate various pieces of wildlife law into one piece of legislation; this has gone through a period of consultation and so would seem to be an easy win (for Government and the environment) as it is ready to go.
We are also signatory to various international treaties on wildlife protection, such as the Ramsar Convention and Convention on Biodiversity, which we will still be obliged to follow on leaving the EU.
And so I think it is likely that we will not see significant change to wildlife legislation for at least three years. Even then, it may be that new legislation is better than the current situation. What you call better obviously depends on your perspective: personally I feel that protected species legislation currently focuses too strongly on protecting individual animals/plants than on populations and communities. Conservation efforts (and mitigation / compensation from development activities) should be better focused on maintaining local populations and habitats, rather than ensuring that every individual is ‘saved’ (for some species impacts to individuals may have a population scale effect, but for animals with high fecundity, such as great crested newts, this will not usually be the case).