The case for continued cooperation across Europe

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Martin Harper's blog

I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

The case for continued cooperation across Europe

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We don't yet know the future of our relationship with the European Union - the Brexit negotiations still have a long way to go.  But whatever happens, we do know that the UK and its wildlife will remain inextricably linked with the European continent and many of the threats (such as climate change) require responses beyond natural boundaries.

I had a great reminder of this as I joined the BirdLife European partners last weekend on the Dutch island of Texel in the Wadden Sea – an important site for millions of shorebirds which migrate from northern breeding grounds to wintering areas in the south - many travelling more than 10,000km.

While I was experiencing Artic blasts and sub-zero temperatures, we toured the island and stayed next to the aptly named Utopia (below) which is a wetland that has been created to provide nesting habitat for a range of species especially waders and terns.

Utopia influenced the design of the lagoon at our own Hollesley reserve in Suffolk (below), which has inevitably been nick-named 'Holltopia' or 'Holl-utopia'.  Our ecologists have also visited Dutch sites to increase our understanding of the breeding habitat requirements of potential colonists/re-colonists in the UK, especially spoonbills, great white egrets, purple herons and bluethroats.  These are species that are on the move because of climate change and so we need to do what we can to give them a warm welcome by creating suitable habitats here in the UK.

Alongside the work we have done with BirdLife partners to influence EU law and policy (on agriculture and fisheries) over the past 40 years, the movement of staff and volunteers to work, learn and birdwatch around the European Union and beyond has been very important in our success.

Clearly the triggering of Article 50 could result in significant changes to that freedom of movement, and most immediately impact on those citizens from around the EU currently working at the RSPB, along with their families.

As there are events to highlight this issue today it seems appropriate to record my appreciation of the work of our diverse and multinational staff and volunteers.  I am acutely aware of the uncertain situation some of them are currently facing.

Addressing environmental issues across Europe benefits enormously from shared research and cooperation across borders, and the RSPB hugely values the contribution made by all of our staff and volunteers.  We could not do what we do without them.

And the same applies to saving nature.  Irrespective of the future formal relationship the UK develops with the UK, we need sustained cooperation across Europe and internationally if we are to save our shared home.  This will be a core part of the message we send to politicians on Wednesday when the Greener UK coalition outlines how we must make Brexit work for nature.

  • Well done RSPB. and  Birdlife partners across Europe. Continued cooperation with all our European partners on all important conservation issues is absolutely vital and you demonstrate here, Martin, a very good example of working together. While the conservation movement cannot entirely ignore Brexit, nevertheless cooperative work must continue "full steam" across Europe with the UK firmly involved, as though the shambles of Brexit does not exist.