As some of the dust starts to settle (or not…) on the results of last week’s referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, I’m clearly not the only environmental writer who’s been thinking day and night about the implications.
Readers of my chapter in Chalk Stream Fly Fishing (2012) may recall that I’m very much in favour of a system of supranational checks and balances on issues as fundamental as the health of the environment which transcends national boundaries yet still supports every aspect of our lives. When properly implemented into national law, the EU’s environmental directives have proved an excellent mechanism for identifying objective benefits, turning short-term political footballs into helpful long-term strategies, and keeping national governments honest, on both sides of the political spectrum.
For instance, the Water Framework Directive has enabled the clear public benefit of healthy rivers (and bugs, and birds, and fish) to be enshrined in UK law, with deadlines for meeting measurable quality improvements, and fines for not achieving these. It also mandates active involvement of stakeholders, and has given interested NGOs the right to challenge government for not taking these requirements seriously enough in their River Basin Management Plans. This has already resulted in several rounds of small but significant government funding for third sector organisations, mainly Rivers Trusts and Wildlife Trusts, to deliver river-related improvements with very high cost efficiencies in every catchment in the UK.
In these new times of great uncertainty, almost the only sure bet is that environmental issues and ecosystem services won’t be at the top of most politicians’ to-do lists or budget spreadsheets. Yet, now more than ever, the natural world really does matter. It will underpin every part of our future national policies – on farming, flood defence, clean air and water supplies, even religious and cultural inspiration – for generations to come. And it’s our responsibility to make sure that this message is heard.
So, leaving personal shock aside, what can we do as calm environmental professionals to help a smoother transition into the brave new world of post-Brexit Britain? I’ve started compiling this short aide-memoire of my own, and hope to add to it as our situation becomes clearer and our national conversation develops…
Theo Pike is a freelance fishing and environment writer and Urban Trout enthusiast.