Jonny Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, explains the implications of the vote to leave the European Union for Scotland’s environment.
Like many organisations and businesses across the UK, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is considering what the implications of the EU referendum vote might mean for the charity, and for Scotland's wildlife.
Building on the ‘what if’ discussions staff and trustees had prior to the vote, we have produced a draft Brexit response plan so we can mitigate against the potential negative impacts of leaving the EU on Scotland’s wildlife and natural environment. The plan will be a live document, regularly updated as the political and economic situation inevitably changes in the coming weeks, months and years.
Reassurances over funding for the environment are needed
Scotland currently receives substantial amounts of funding for environmental initiatives from the EU and we are deeply concerned about a potential sharp drop in income from this source.
We are calling on both the Scottish and UK Governments to provide assurances that the level of funding provided through mechanisms such as the environmental options under the Scottish Rural Development Programme, LEADER, Life Programme, Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention, North West Europe Programme and the European Volunteering Scheme will not be reduced below existing levels.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust will seek to work with Government to ensure the design and implementation of any future domestic environmental funding package to replace the EU package is fit for purpose, and results in better protection, restoration and sustainable management of Scotland’s natural environment.
An uncertain future for important environmental safeguards
Another major area of concern following the leave vote is the uncertain future facing the EU environmental directives.
The Nature Directives, Water Framework Directive and Marine Strategy Framework Directive are perhaps the most important tools we have for safeguarding Scotland’s natural capital against degradation and loss.
If these Directives are repealed or diluted, the health of our freshwater, our wildlife and our seas will be severely compromised.
The Trust, along with many other environmental organisations has fought for decades to help bring this body of law into being. It would be a tragedy for our environment if we now began the painful process of dismantling what we have built. We are calling on the Scottish Government to retain all those acts of the Scottish Parliament that have transposed EU environmental directives and to implement them fully, just as if we were a member of the EU.
Another uncertainly is around what happens after we exit the Common Fisheries Policy which, despite the illogicality of the failed discards policy, had recently started to make progress in recovering over-fished cod, haddock and other stocks. Post CFP, both the UK and Scottish Governments must set fishing quotas based on sound science rather than pressure from powerful fisheries lobby groups.
If fisheries policy is deregulated there is little doubt that we will see short term plunder followed by long term ecological collapse and the subsequent loss of thousands of jobs in fishing communities.
Working in partnership is key
Whatever the next decade brings, the Scottish Wildlife Trust will continue the fight to protect and restore Scotland's natural environment, in the uplands, the lowlands, in our cities and towns, and in the oceans that surround us. Now is the time for all rural sectors to come together to make the case for continued investment in Scotland's ecosystems.
Healthy ecosystems are the very foundation of our economy, intimately linked with our health and well-being. In this era of change and uncertainty, the Trust will continue to work in partnership with others to secure a bright future for nature.
Jonny Hughes is the Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust