Michael Clarke, the RSPB chief executive is warning that there are less than 12 months with which to rescue the UK’s degraded environment and save the country’s endangered birds and animals. Mr Clarke says that the parliamentary bills that are scheduled to be published over the course of the year will need to force crucial changes to the way farms and fisheries are run in the country if the flora and fauna of the nation are to be rescued. He adds that the country is on the brink and if the UK fails to decisively act now, the nation will pay the price in the years that follow.
There are three bills set to be introduced that will govern agriculture fisheries and the environment which will serve as replacements for existing EU regulations. So far, the government has not disclosed the contents of these bills however conservationists are worried that there is a real risk that the new legislation will not provide the necessary powers to restore the UK’s crisis-hit environment. According to Mr Clarke, since 1980, 420 million individual birds have disappeared as a result of modern agricultural practices. Whilst that is a staggering number, the decline in insect life over the same time frame has been even more catastrophic.
Common Agricultural Policy
The main reason behind the declines is proliferation and intensification of agriculture and changes in land use. The Common Agricultural Policy of the EU has been perhaps the most destructive. The CAP emphasises the importance of agricultural output above all else and if what Mr Clarke says is correct this has resulted in the destruction of homes and food sources of an immeasurable number of birds, animals and insects.
Once in a generation opportunity
Brexit presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to correct the damage. Currently about £3 billion a year is spent on agriculture in the UK as a result of the CAP. The money is used to boost output at great cost to the surrounding countryside. The new legislation needs to ensure that some money is provided for the maintenance of the environment and if it fails to do so, the consequences will be appalling, wiping out dozens of critically endangered bird species in the country. Mr Clarke says the UK is one of the world’s most depleted countries when it comes to biodiversity ranking 29th worst out of 218.
The last chance to make things right
Mr Clarke concludes by saying the new legislation could well be the last opportunity to end the degradation and correct the course of the country. The UK needs to establish strong targets for improving the quality of water, air and soil in the country. The bills should ensure there is a watchdog that enforces the standards and protects UK wildlife and fisheries. It is by no means clear whether the legislation will do all of that but Mr Clarke warns that if it doesn’t, there will be trouble.