Leader, John Hart and portfolio holder for the environment, Roger Croad, both spoke in favour of the motion, as did my seconder, Robert Vint – and emphasised the importance of the government retaining protections for the UK’s nature in the same way AT LEAST as EU laws provide for currently.
This motion will not only send a strong message to central government that this is absolutely vital for Devon’s landscape but will hopefully inspire other councils to do the same. We must speak with one voice on this issue because there are competing voices lobbying for the opposite to happen.
Many thanks to Devon Wildlife Trust’s Pete Burgess who I helped me with background information on how the Habitats and Birds Directive protects our wildlife.
“Devon is home to many scarce and threatened habitats such our ancient woodlands, rivers and wetlands, upland blanket bogs, lowland heaths, Culm grasslands and our stunning coast
and marine environments.
These support a myriad of species with internationally important populations of marsh fritillary butterflies, greater horseshoe bats, otters, overwintering waders and marine creatures including whales, dolphins and basking shark.
European Union Habitats Regulations protection of land and seascapes such as the pebblebed heaths in East Devon, large swathes of Dartmoor and Exmoor, the Exe and Tamar Estuaries and Lundy Island have meant that wildlife has flourished over the years and has ensured that these places remain crucial international strongholds.
The latest State of Nature report published last October found that the UK has experienced huge losses of habitat and wildlife, and 15 per cent of those studied are threatened with extinction.
Leaving the European Union puts at risk all of these protections – and the Government has not yet promised to retain the same level of protections that currently exist under EU legislation.
This Council recognises the huge importance of these rich landscapes for people and wildlife in Devon – and calls upon the Secretary of State for the Environment to support the Environmental Audit Committee, as well as the coalition of wildlife and nature organisations, asking for retention of at least the same level of protection for our wildlife and environment, as takes place currently under EU law’.”
Nature has never been more under threat.
The latest State of Nature report published last autumn reveals that the UK has experienced huge losses of habitat and wildlife.
15 per cent of species studied are threatened with EXTINCTION.
The report described the UK as being one of the most ‘nature depleted’ countries in the world with ONE IN SEVEN species facing EXTINCTION and MORE THAN HALF in decline.
Species at risk of extinction include the kingfisher, water vole, curlew, turtle dove and willow tit.
Unbelievably, the HEDGEHOG, commonly sighted in gardens just 10-20 years ago.
Broadcaster and naturalist, David Attenborough was said in the report that the UK has lost significantly more nature over the long-term than the global average. The index suggests that we are among the most nature-depleted countries in the world.”
The reasons are thought to be a combination of habitat loss due to increasing levels of development, climate change and the intensive management of agricultural land and the use of pesticides.
How does this relate to Devon?
There 122 sites covering 115,000 hectares across our county that are protected by the EU Habitats and Birds Directive. These are strong laws that are extremely helpful in sustaining many rare and declining plants and wildlife.
The laws cover ancient woodlands, rivers, wetlands, upland blanket bogs, lowland heaths, culm grasslands and our stunning coast and marine environments.
Protected species include internationally important populations of marsh fritillary butterflies, greater horseshoe bats, otters, overwintering waders, whales, dolphins and basking sharks.
The EU Habs Regs protect land and seascapes such as the pebblebed heaths in East Devon, large swathes of Dartmoor and Exmoor, the Exe and Tamar estuaries and Lundy Island.
In these places wildlife has flourished over the years and has ensured that they remain international strongholds.
In East Devon EU legislation protects the pebblebed heaths, which include Woodbury and Aylesbeare Commons and all the plants and wildlife there. Birds like the nightjar and dartford warbler are scarcely seen elsewhere.
Leaving the EU puts at risk all these protections.
A coalition of 13 major environmental groups have launched an online pledge for MPs to sign up to asking for at least the same level of protection to be transferred to UK law after Brexit.
Over 200 MPs have signed it, including Neil Parish and Ben Bradshaw in Devon.
I am disappointed to report however, that the MP for East Devon is refusing to sign it.
I very much hope other Devon MPs will also pledge their support for this absolutely vital issue.
The Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee in December has published its concerns about the impact of Brexit on EU protected landscapes, warning that leaving the EU could have potentially far-reaching negative consequences for the UK’s biodiversity.
The committee’s report added that in order for the government to meet its manifesto commitment to be the “first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it” the government MUST before triggering A50 commit to legislating for a new environmental protection act ensuring that the UK has an equivalent or better level of protection as in the EU.
This council has an excellent record of being committed to the natural world and working with other agencies to help nature flourish.
Protecting nature is important because it makes our world a more beautiful and awe inspiring place to live.
At a very basic level the survival of our own species depends on it.
Pic: Aylesbeare Common, which is highly protected under EU legislation and is home to many rare species and plants