What effect will Brexit have on the natural environment?

Ben McCarthy

Ben McCarthy

Director of Strategy

20th January 2017

Today, the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) published their report on the potential effect of leaving the EU on the natural environment. It is not a comfortable read, warning of a dystopian future of “zombie legislation”, a “triple jeopardy” in trade relations and unclear subsidy objectives all putting at risk the hard-won improvements to our natural environment.

Plantlife fully supports the call for a new Environment Protection Act to ensure our wildlife is effectively protected. Before Article 50 is triggered at the end of March, Ministers need to make a clear commitment to new legislation that will build on the environmental protection our EU membership has established and to avoid sleep-walking into an uncertain future that is bad for our wildlife, our farmers and the public. The government’s long awaited 25 year plan must go beyond warm words if the Conservatives are to realise their manifesto commitment ‘to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it’.

Intensive farming is the key issue impacting our wildlife, as the recent State of Nature report clearly demonstrated. In Plantlife’s recommendations to the EAC inquiry in September 2016, we called for a radical rethink of rural land management in Britain; leaving the EU presents us with an opportunity to do things very differently. But such reform takes time and, in the vacuum of uncertainty, much environmental damage can be done; in previous rounds of CAP reform some flower-rich grasslands and meadows were ploughed up to avoid a loss of flexibility in future farming practises.

In 2013, we published a series of “And on that farm he had...” reports looking at agriculture and wildlife in England, Scotland and Wales. It’s heartening that many of the core recommendations in these reports are included in the new EAC report, such as the need for detailed management options to be available as targeted landscape-scale packages that can deliver demonstrable outcomes for priority species and habitats.

The future environmental landscape must support an integrated and sustainable rural economy. As Dr Trevor Dines set out in his speech at the launch of the State of Nature report, we must work closely with farmers to support them in rebuilding nature for the clear benefits this provides to us all. To do this will mean a shift away from the current perverse flat subsidies for land owners to one where willing farmers are supported with well targeted advice to deliver the benefits the public wants. There are plenty of examples of where this occurs – such as our work to locate Important Arable Plant Areas in England and Wales and direct good agri-environment scheme management to these sites. No doubt we’ll hear others at the #RealFarmingConference later this week.

But in order to achieve this, the Secretary of State for the Environment, needs to set out her plan of a properly resourced approach to improving our natural environment.

Andrea Leadsom has until the end of March.