• My email urging Hugo Swire to retain protections for nature in Repeal Bill vote

    10th September 2017 | News | Claire
  • Dear Hugo

    I am writing to urge you to amend (or support amendments) relating to protecting nature, during tomorrow’s Brexit House of Commons debate.

    You will have already seen the tweets I have directed towards you on the subject, many times over the past few months.

    You will remember that in April Devon County Council (virtually unanimously) supported my motion to urge the government to retain all nature laws during the Repeal Bill process with AT LEAST the same level of protection.

    You will also be aware of the latest State of Nature report which shows that the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world.

    Across Devon there are 122 sites covering 115,000 hectares 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.

    Devon Wildlife Trust is asking MPs to ensure the following:

    1. All current EU wildlife and environment laws brought across in to UK law

    2. Any future potential changes to these laws checked and debated by Parliament
    • Clauses 7-9 and 17 of the Repeal Bill give the Government lots of powers to legislate or de-legislate by Statutory Instrument
    • According to the Repeal Bill, they could justify this on the grounds of a “failure to operate effectively” or “any other deficiency” “arising from withdrawal”. But these terms are not defined.
    • This could mean that Ministers or civil servants weaken those wildlife laws we do retain without involving Parliament: a Minister under pressure from a developer could unilaterally remove vital wildlife protections, which we have spent decades securing.

    3. Wildlife and environment laws must be enforced and upheld
    • Currently the European Commission keeps an eye on the UK Government to check it is implementing and enforcing environmental law.
    • Although the Bill gives the Government the power to pass these functions to new or existing public bodies (clause 7(5)), it is not obliged to do so.
    • We think that all the functions carried out by EU institutions in relation to environmental protection should be passed to well-funded public bodies after Brexit.

    4. All EU environmental principles transferred to UK law

    It is not clear that key environmental principles will be carried over in any form through the Bill. This would greatly weaken wildlife protection.
    The three big EU environmental principles are:
    – Those who pollute the environment pay for repairing the damage (the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle)
    – Economic development happens in a way that looks after our natural resources for future generations (the ‘Sustainable Development’ principle)
    – When an activity puts the health of humans or the environment at risk, action must be taken to deal with this, even if the science is not 100% clear (the ‘Precautionary Principle’)
    This is also what a coalition of environmental charities have been asking for, for a very long time.  Many MPs have already signed up to support this position, including Neil Parish (copied in).

    Given all the unprecedented pressures facing the UK’s (and Devon’s) wildlife currently, it is absolutely vital that Devon Wildlife Trust’s points above are addressed and the resulting policy made watertight.

    Your constituents are relying on your support over this.

    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Best wishes

    Pic: Dartmoor, much of which is currently protected under EU legislation.