Froglife recognises that the outcome of the EU Referendum could have very significant consequences for the long term nature conservation in the UK, including amphibians and reptiles as well as their habitats, both terrestrial and aquatic.
Despite the fact that our species are not migratory in the sense that birds are, they are part of the same ecosystems in which nature does not stick to national borders. Equally, we live in a hyper-connected, globalised world where threats to nature, such as invasive species, international wildlife trade and crucially, climate change, are affecting species at scales which are much larger than national ones. Addressing enormous challenges such as biodiversity loss, water and air pollution, soil protection, pollinator protection and the condition of protected areas can only be achieved through cooperative work and adequate law and regulation. Legislation ensures a common approach to particular issues and also a level playing field so that standards are maintained without financial penalty for those that want to do the right thing. The EU has been responsible for some of the most important and arguably world-leading legislation covering nature conservation including the Habitats Directive, the Water Framework Directive, the Birds Directive as well as EU Red Listing which has assessed over 9700 species including amphibians and reptiles (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/species/redlist/ ). Equally, the EU has created the ambitious Natura 2000 network that incorporates hundreds of areas with important and protected biodiversity, over 18% of the total land surface and 6% of the marine area. These pieces of legislation have been created over decades and with the full input from the UK. Also, the EU funded Life projects have supported over 4000 projects on nature conservation since 1992 and has a budget of 3.4 billion euros for the period of 2014-2020. Life projects have become vital instruments for supporting species conservation in Europe, from protection of beaches for marine turtles in Greece and removal of invasive Californian kingsnakes in The Canary Islands to moorland protection and restoration in the Peak District (http://www.moorsforthefuture.org.uk/node/793 ).
At the same time however, there are significant concerns with how some of the EU regulations and subsidies, in particular for agriculture and fisheries have impacted biodiversity as well as the slow development of robust evidence-based standards for the extremely important agri-environment schemes, the largest single tool for addressing biodiversity conservation in EU farmland.
Although there is considerable uncertainty on this given the lack of negotiated details, there are risks that a potential exit of the UK from the European Union will result in very complex, expensive and prolonged legislative changes looking at replacing the EU Directives, including the so called Nature Directives (Habitats Directive, Water Directive and Bird Directive), with national legislation which might result in greater flexibility or downgrading of hard fought protection for our species and habitats. This risk has been repeatedly highlighted in some of the recent EU referendum debates, where aspects relating to species and habitats conservation have sometimes been referred to as “red tape” and costly barriers to developments.
We strongly believe that biodiversity conservation, while sometimes costly and complex, is fundamental for the long term sustainability of our country and our planet. While Froglife will not be telling anyone how to vote in the upcoming referendum we believe it is important to highlight the positive role that the EU legislation has had for the conservation of our species and the potential risks and considerable uncertainty associated with leaving the EU.
For a more detailed discussion about the changes and environmental consequences associated with leaving the EU, the Institute for European Environmental Policy has prepared a very useful report http://www.ieep.eu/assets/2000/IEEP_Brexit_2016.pdf
Also, Buglife, the invertebrate charity has created a document that lists the risks for invertebrate conservation and most of those apply also for the conservation of our species https://www.buglife.org.uk/sites/default/files/How%20will%20Brexit%20affect%20bugs%20across%20the%20continent.pdf