Our natural world and the wildlife that depends on it is just as important now as it was on 22 June before referendum on whether we stay in or leave the European Union. It will be some time before the full implications of Brexit are clear – and that includes what it means for wildlife and the places that they call home. One thing is certain – at the moment nothing changes and the outcome of review of the laws that protect nature across the EU (the Nature Directives) matters just as much as it always has.

Dungeness - a protected landscape Photo Credit Bob Gomes

 Alistair Taylor, our Senior Policy Officer working on the Nature Directives, has the latest news:

A few weeks ago, on 20 June, we provided an update on the review of the Nature Directives on Martin Harper’s blog, here. A great deal has happened since then, but nature still needs our help and, as Mike Clarke set out in his blog on 24 June, RSPB will continue to act across Europe with our Birdlife International partners to tackle the many challenges facing nature.

The Nature Directives remain, therefore, vitally important for the wildlife the UK shares with our European neighbours.

On 20 June Martin reported here that a Freedom of Information request had been submitted to the Commission by WWF for access to the final report of the Fitness Check consultants. The consultants’ report sets out the evidence-based findings on which the Commission’s report will be based. At that time only a leaked copy of an early draft from January (still numbering some 580 pages) was available here.

The Commission has now responded to WWF, releasing the final consultants report, dated March 2016, and now numbering 668 pages. You can read the report here, on WWF’s website (Warning: 7.48MB Pdf document). We had expressed concerns here that the findings of the consultants might be watered down as a result of high level interventions by industry lobbyists. I’m delighted to say that at first sight this does not seem to be the case. The report states clearly, “The balance of the evidence shows that the Directives are fit for purpose, and clearly demonstrate EU added value.”

This is cause for some celebration, the evidence clearly shows that in the Nature Directives we have two laws that are delivering for nature. The report also points out that a compliance deficit remains, with better implementation, including enforcement action to address the compliance deficit, being required to ensure that the expected results of the Nature Directives are fully achieved. The consultants have also clearly identified the need for reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), highlighting that the status of many protected habitat types and species dependent on farming continues to decline, and suggesting the CAP could contribute more to the goals of the Nature Directives.

Indeed the consultants identify a list of actions to be taken, including better integration of nature conservation within key sectoral policies such as the CAP and Common Fisheries policy, the adoption of management plans for protected habitats and species, improving access to funding, better engagement of stakeholders, and improved monitoring. You can read these suggestions on page 580 of the report.

With this now in the public domain, there can be no further excuses for the Commission delaying action to improve implementation of these important laws. When questioned in the European Parliament’s Environment Committee on June 15 regarding the ongoing delays to publication of the Consultants report and the Commission’s response, Vice President Timmermans acknowledged the need for urgent action.

The consultants’ report also confirms the importance of the Nature Directives for delivering on international nature conservation commitments, reflecting the results of RSPB research as was reported here;

“The Directives are also intended to give effect to EU commitments under international conventions and agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Bern Convention on European Wildlife, the Convention on Migratory Species and the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement.”

While leaving the EU may mean the UK is no longer bound by EU environmental policy objectives, our international obligations under these and other international environmental treaties will remain.

It is vital that any emerging legal protection for our most special places for wildlife across the UK is consistent with international best practice, and at least equivalent to that currently provided by the EU Nature Directives. The consultants’ report confirms that the Nature Directives are delivering for nature, and the Prime Minster has confirmed that EU law remains in force. For now, the focus must be on better implementing the Nature Directives, for nature, for people, and for business.