The EU Referendum and the Environment

You’d have to have been living under a rock the past few months to fail to notice that Brits are facing possibly the most important decision of our lives – to Brexit or to Bremain?

I still don’t know, and I don’t have long to make up my mind. Facts and statistics are constantly being presented, but most of them are contradictory or misleading. And anyway, it’s more of an abstract question we’re being asked: is this undemocratic institution worthwhile?

Given the focus of this blog on wildlife and the environment, I’m going to examine the EU as an organisation that serves to protect the environment and how effectively it functions. Perhaps this will help me decide!

Friends of the Earth have produced this helpful document that outlines some of the main reasons to stay:

  • EU rules forced Britain to clean up its sewage-filled beaches in the 70s and 80s
  • Restrictions on the use of bee-harming pesticides
  • EU laws prevent industries from gaining profit through reducing environmental standards.

However, (there is always a ‘However’): FoE also point out that the EU’s focus on economic growth and free trade jeopardizes its protection of the environment, and believes that the negotiations for TTIP should be abandoned.

What about the much-maligned agricultural and fisheries policies of the EU that lead to massive produce waste and over-fishing? Well, there have been some reforms recently, I guess. Absolutely NO ONE on either side is saying the EU is entirely perfect (or even remotely efficient.)

But what is the point of subsidizing a dying rural industry – subsidies, which, by the way go mostly to the landed gentry and agro-business rather than struggling rural communities? Then again, the alternative is to import more and more food and export less. Furthermore, the CAP gives more money to farmers who maintain boundaries as hedgerows and use fewer harmful chemicals.

Despite over forty years of the Common Fisheries Policy, designed to manage fish stocks and support fishing communities, three out of the four main commercial fish stocks are over-fished and the EU fleet is double the sustainable level. But perhaps we need to be more patient? Wouldn’t things be even worse if fishermen were left to their own devices? A common policy to manage European marine life sounds like the best way to protect fish stocks – IF it worked.

In theory, a lot of the EU environmental policies sound ideal and absolutely essential to protecting wildlife and reducing the impact of climate change. In practice, some policies have been disastrous, especially to developing “partner” countries.

It seems to come down to whether or not you think the ‘failing EU project’ can be reformed, or if indeed things would be worse without a common environmental goal. Would the UK’s moral backbone suddenly collapse without the parental guidance of the EU and we forget or lose interest in protecting the environment?


‘Rewilding’ Project Could Return Lynx To The UK After 1300 years

Ambitious plans, formulated by the Lynx UK Trust, could see a return of the wild lynx, not seen in Britain for over 1300 years, to certain areas selected for the five-year trial programme. It is hoped that the once native lynx will curb deer populations and restore balance to the British countryside.

Lynx UK Trust assures us that lynx have never been known to attack humans, nor do they attack sheep or cattle, as they prefer the protection of remote woodlands, and would not naturally venture onto open pasture or farms. Farmers remain concerned for their livestock, but they will be rewarded with a compensation package. The threat posed to livestock is low, as lynx in Romania and Poland rarely prey on farm animals.

Once the Trust has gauged public opinion on the return of these extinct cats to the wild, they will launch an application to Natural England. The plan will see four to six lynx, each wearing GPS tracking collars, released into open, unfenced private areas of woodland in Norfolk, Northumberland and Scotland.

There are over 1.5 million wild deer in Britain, and they currently have no predators, so controlling their populations has been extremely difficult. The Deer Initiative believe the reintroduction of the lynx will help to solve the problem of the overpopulation of deer, which eat birds’ eggs nesting in low bushes, and they also damage woodland by overgrazing.

There have been fourteen previous reintroductions of the Eurasian lynx into the wild, which have proven to be hugely successful:

In Germany, 14 lynx were reintroduced to a site in the Harz mountains in 2000 and have since bred and colonised other areas. Another reintroduction, in Switzerland in the 1990s, has also seen animals breed and spread.

The lynx is the third most prolific predator in Europe, beaten only by the wolf and the brown bear. It hunts at night and is notoriously shy, so hopeful ramblers would be lucky to spot one if they are reintroduced. The lynx is thought to have been hunted to extinction for their fur during between 500 and 700 AD.

A representative of Defenders of Wildlife suggests that concerned farmers could take precautions to protect their livestock by getting a dog, as “Lynx have an instinctual fear of canines.” She points out that after the reintroduction of wolves to Idaho, only 30 of the 18,000 sheep in Northern Idaho have been lost to wolves in the seven years the predators have been roaming there.