My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
Several weeks ago, I highlighted here the concerns the RSPB and our partner organisations have about the ‘governance gap’ that will be created when the UK leaves the EU and leaves all of the governance mechanisms that have enforced our environmental laws during our time in the EU.
In January, the UK Government promised us a ‘world-leading environmental watchdog’ to help tackle this gap, but then proposed, in May this year, a ‘green poodle’ (see our initial response to the UK Government’s proposals here). Of course, these proposals only concern governance arrangements in England and for reserved matters. The governments of the four UK administrations will need to work together to ensure the governance gap is addressed through new arrangements that must be co-designed and co-owned if they are to be effective.
We have since had the chance to look in more detail at the proposals and issued our response to the consultation this week. The consultation has attracted a significant response from the public, with many joining RSPB in calling for a better deal for nature after Brexit. Over 33,000 had submitted their views to the consultation (which closed a midday today) via the link www.rspb.org.uk/environmentwatchdog.
Yet, we have not been the only ones looking closely at the UK Government’s proposals and expressing concern. Many of the businesses RSPB has been working with across the UK have also been paying close attention to the UK Government’s proposals and we have joined forces with our business partners (ANESCO www.anesco.co.uk; CEMEX UK www.cemex.co.uk; EnergyUK www.energy-uk.org.uk; Idverde www.idverde.co.uk) to issue this joint statement shown below.
Working together for nature
Civil society groups and private sector companies in the environmental sector share many years of working together to conserve and restore the natural environment. Through collaborative projects, shared best practice, and joint input to the development of policy and law we have helped to deliver benefits for people, nature and environmentally sustainable economic development.
Disused quarry pit now filled with water, Hodbarrow RSPB reserve by Andy Hay (rspb-imags.com)
Key to these successes has been the political commitment at UK and international level to environmental protection, coupled with sound, and well implemented legislation. Well-designed environmental regulations can not only protect and restore the environment but also deliver positive economic outcomes in the form of increased business investment in innovation and skills, greater business competitiveness and job creation.
Effective implementation and enforcement mechanisms have ensured respect for environmental laws, and given industry the certainty to invest, underpinning the delivery of key environmental and economic objectives. Ensuring that legislation is well implemented and enforced requires an effective and properly resourced regulator to support regulated industries and, where necessary, to take enforcement action.
Leaving the EU will create a significant challenge to the enforcement and implementation of environmental regulation. The UK may no longer be able to draw on the capacity and expertise of shared EU level agencies and institutions to support the implementation of environmental legislation and provide some of the key monitoring, scrutiny and enforcement functions expected of an effective regulator.
One of the successes of the European Union has been to develop, implement and enforce environmental regulations, and this impact has been enabled in a significant way by its transboundary nature, following the needs of wildlife or habitats rather than political boundaries. What has worked at EU level must not be neglected within the UK in any post-Brexit settlement. Unnecessary divergence from existing EU regulations and standards would not only impact trade between the UK and the EU27, but also put at risk these environmental gains. At the same time maintaining regulatory convergence between the UK and the EU-27 would not only concern regulations as such, but also their interpretation and implementation, which are dependent on a number of factors, including shared guidance and an adequate enforcement mechanism.
Both conservationists and business have a mutual interest not only in how these issues are addressed, but also in government action to address existing capacity gaps and failings in the UK’s existing environmental governance arrangements.
Joint Statement on a New Environmental Watchdog
We support the UK Government’s ambition for the UK to be a world leader in environmental legislation and governance.
We agree with the House of Lords Select Committee who concluded that achieving this will require a new, independent body to replicate some of the environmental protection functions currently carried out by the European Commission.
In our view the new environmental body must be established in line with the following objectives:
The Governance gap and loss of the full application of the environmental principles will occur across the whole of the UK. The governments of the four UK administrations must work together, in a transparent way, to develop new arrangements for environmental governance for the whole of the UK.
Fully agree with all these terms of reference. The EU is not great in respecting European conservation in some ways but regarding the EU laws for designating wildlife areas and there after protecting them, it is good and effective. It is so important that these EU laws are carried forward into UK laws should the UK leave the EU. However my confidence in this Government enacting this and including the bullet points you list above Martin I am afraid is around zero. I hope I am proved wrong but I think it unlikely.
I take “ my hat off” to the RSPB personnel and those in other conservation organisations who have to suffer the frustrations of trying to deal with the UK politicians and their puppets such as Natural England.