Tag Archives: EU referendum

Looking back at 2016

I’m looking forward to shaking the dust of 2016 from my sandals. But it hasn’t all been bad. Here are my highlights and lowlights from the year.

Highlights

I find January pretty tough – I’m not a fan of cold, and the lack of light gets me down. So a fun day out at the British Wildlife Centre with my fellow members of Surrey Dormouse Group was a welcome relief.

Fluffed-up bluetit roosting in our camera nest box
Fluffed-up bluetit roosting in our camera nest box

I love spring, and seeing the bluetits start to build a nest in my camera nest box meant the return home each day was exciting – what’s happened today?!

My Wild Garden 2016 challenge kept me busy over the year, as each month I tried to make my garden better for wildlife. For the first time this year I fed live mealworms to the birds – it was great seeing how well this went down with them, and something I’ll do again in 2017. We also installed an insect house, and it was great watching the bees move in. Perhaps my favourite Wild Garden activity of the year was creating the Bog Garden – lots of digging involved, but worth it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it does this year, now the plants have had a chance to bed in and grow.

Bee on loosestrife in the bog garden

Bee on loosestrife in the bog garden

As always, it’s a delight to watch hedgehogs in the garden, and even more exciting (and entertaining) to watch their courtship.

Dr C gave me a great new toy – a macro lens, and I’ve enjoyed experimenting with that over the year. The Macrophotography course I did with Adrian Davies was particularly helpful. Some of the images I took that day even featured in my 2017 calendar!

Gatekeeper(?) butterfly on bramble flower
Butterfly on bramble flower

It’s been a good year for my dormouse site. In one box check we had 9 dormice (including 7 youngsters crammed into one box!), and we’ve now had dormouse activity in every part of the site, which is great news.

16g dormouse found in May
16g dormouse found in May

And it’s great that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change has now come into force. On a smaller scale, it’s lovely to hear that the beavers on the River Otter are breeding.

Lowlights

Work has been very tough this year (particularly in the first half of the year), so this blog has taken a bit of a back seat for a while. It’s frustrating, as I’ve loads of things I wanted to tell you about, and lots of photos and videos that need editing.

It’s not been a great year for my garden birds – the Big Garden Birdwatch in January, when we saw only one bird. The bluetits that started to build their nest in the camera nest box soon abandoned it. And when I looked at the data over the year from June 2015 to May 2016, it confirmed that we’ve had far fewer birds than normal.

The referendum result was staggering, and, to me, hugely disappointing. It’s still not clear how it will affect many things, including our laws for protecting wildlife and the environment. The whole campaign was a bit of a disaster – even those campaigning for remain failed to make a case on the positive things that EU membership has brought this country, including cleaner rivers, beaches and air, and protection for species like dormice. One thing is clear: we need make sure whatever happens next does not damage this protection.

2016 has seen a lot of beloved public figures die. Among them, perhaps the most famous tiger in the world: Machli, the lady of the lake. I was lucky enough to see her in the wild, back in 2006. She has had a long life for a tiger, and brought up many youngsters that will continue her legacy. But it’s still sad to think she is no longer ruling the temples and lakes of Ranthambore.

Bengal tiger
Machli

Let’s hope next year brings peace, reconciliation and restoration between people, and between humans and nature.

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Responding to the referendum result

Last Friday was a dark day for me, finding out the result of the referendum and trying to process the implications of that vote. I was shocked at the result – I found it hard to believe that so many people were ready to take such a big gamble. I was angry with the leaders of the Leave campaign who had deliberately and repeatedly mislead people on issues such as the cost of the EU contribution, and how that imaginary money will be spent post-Brexit. I was also angry with my fellow citizens, for falling for those lies. I was saddened and scared by what it might mean for things I value: environmental protection; workers rights among others. I was ashamed of how it must seem to my European colleagues and neighbours.

I work in London, and live in the Mole Valley, both areas where the majority of people voted to remain. Every colleague and neighbour I have spoken to about it has, like me, been saddened by result. Some have talked of their fears about what it will mean for them financially, or their work. Some have talked about leaving the country.

Things haven’t got better over the last few days. I have seen chilling reports of xenophobia surfacing. The Labour Party seems intent on self-destruction, while the candidates for next Tory leader are not reassuring. We seem no clearer on what will happen than we were on Friday. What model of Brexit will we go for? Will the United Kingdom survive Brexit? I’m deeply concerned about the direction this country is heading.

Grieving over the result is natural. But as I have worked my way through all these emotions (I’m not through them yet – they’re all still mixed up inside me), I have become convinced that’s not enough. That’s easily said, but what can or should I do? I don’t have the full answer yet, and it may take a while to work out.

Should I stay or should I go?

Leaving the country for somewhere new and more attuned to my values is tempting. I’ve considered sounding out colleagues in Africa or Canada. But I love this country (or at least bits of it) – its hills and woods and coast. I love its wildlife. Leaving would feel like washing my hands of it. A selfish act.

Staying to fight?

If I am to stay, I have to try to protect the things I love. It’s not going to be good enough to bury my head in the sand. On Friday, for the first time in my life, I joined a political party. Until now I have avoided party politics. No party completely represented my views. It seemed an ugly game. But now is the time to engage more with politics, as so much will need to be decided over the next few years. It’s no time to take a step back. Signing online petitions isn’t enough. I don’t know what will be enough, but joining a political party is a start.

Praying for peace and love

That sounds fluffy and hippyish. But it’s not. This country feels divided, with old hatreds bubbling to the surface. Lots of people are hurting, scared or angry.  There doesn’t seem to be a leader coming forward who can bring unity. I am a Christian, and I believe we need God’s grace in this situation. I will redouble my prayers for this country. And I will try to be loving in all my interactions with others.

 

I don’t have the answer. I don’t have a neat way to deal with the situation we’re in. I’m scared by what the future might hold. But I think this plan is enough for now, until it’s clearer what more is needed.

The EU referendum: a vote to ‘remain’ is a vote for the environment

If you live in the UK, you can’t have missed the fact that, on 23 June, we get to vote on whether to stay part of the EU, or leave. The standard of the debate, from both sides, has been very poor: negative, fear-mongering, continued use of misleading statistics, and focusing on just a couple of issues. It seems to have turned into a Tory leadership contest. This has put many people off engaging with the topic – I have to admit, I haven’t watched the TV debates and interviews, because I know they’re not going to address the issues I care about. And even if they did, I don’t trust the people spearheading the campaigns to tell me the truth. But deciding whether to stay in the EU or leave is a really important step, so I think we (in the UK) all have a duty to look into it, beyond the negative headlines.

There are many important implications to consider when deciding whether to stay or leave. The impact it will have on the economy, jobs, protection of workers, immigration and free movement of people, security, science, sovereignty… the list goes on and on. It’s an important and complex decision. This post will try to summarise some of the environmental issues to consider.

The first thing to acknowledge in any discussion about the EU is that it’s not perfect. While some of its laws, policies and decisions have protected the UK environment, others have had a less positive effect, creating perverse incentives (eg. the Common Agricultural Policy). That means we need to weigh  up the pros and cons. This is made harder by the uncertainty over what would happen if we did leave the EU. The Wildlife Trusts, WWF and the RSPB commissioned an independent report to look into these issues, and I’ve drawn on the summary here, together with other sources, as this issue clearly goes beyond my personal knowledge and expertise.

What has the EU done for the UK environment?

Our environment was not in a good state in the 1970s and 80s. We  had the highest acid rain-causing sulphur dioxide emissions in the EU and our seas were polluted with sewage. Many of our species had suffered huge declines due to pollution or lack of protection. Membership of the EU has led to:

  • Otter
    The come-back of the otter is thanks to improved river water quality, due to EU legislation

    Substantial improvements in air and water pollution, thanks to EU legislation – we have cleaner rivers, beaches, drinking water and air thanks to the EU. The revival of species like the otter, thanks to our cleaner rivers, is testament to this.

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting
    Beach on the Cornish coast
    Our beaches are cleaner, thanks to the EU

    renewable energy

  • Protection of species and our most sensitive wild places, mainly through the Birds and Habitats Directives – according to Friends of the Earth, before the Directives we were losing 15% of our protected sites a year – that’s now down to
    Torpid dormouse in nest
    EU legislation protects species like dormice

    1%

  • Increasing recycling and improving waste management
  • Banning harmful chemicals, including some pesticides
  • Legislation to protect our seas
  • The requirement to carry out an environmental impact assessment if developers are planning a major development, or development in an environmentally sensitive area, so impact on wildlife can be taken into account in decision-making, and plans made to mitigate it, if appropriate

On the downside, the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy have created incentives for unsustainable practices which damage our environment and wildlife. And the TTIP deal currently being negotiated between the EU and USA could be very bad news for the environment.

Working together to tackle big issues

The EU brings together member states, and allows them to work together to tackle important issues. It’s particularly useful for issues

Swallow skimming the beach
We need cross-border action to protect migrating birds, like this swallow

that have cross-border implications. Many of the environmental challenges we face do have cross-border implications, for example climate change, marine pollution, fish stocks, protection of migrating birds… Nature doesn’t acknowledge national boundaries, so some issues, by their very nature, are better tackled in a united way by many nations.

Brexit uncertainty

It’s very unclear what will happen if the UK decides to leave the EU. One scenario would be that the UK leaves the EU but stays in the European Economic Area (EEA) or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and thereby retains access to the single market, following models similar to those in countries such as Norway or
Switzerland. This would mean that many EU environmental laws would still be mandatory in the UK, but there would be exceptions – particularly the Birds Directive, the Habitats Directive and the Bathing Water Quality Directive, which were responsible for several of the benefits from the EU listed above. There’s a clear risk that we would lose some of the protection for birds, special habitats, and improvements in water quality for our beaches.

Another scenario would be that the UK leaves the EU and sits as a completely independent State outside the EEA and EFTA agreements. This would mean EU environmental legislation would no longer apply. Our government would be responsible for developing legislation on all environmental issues. Given the current focus on economic growth at all costs, that prospect fills me with terror.

Over the years, a lot of the criticisms of the EU (or at least the criticisms that aren’t thinly veiled xenophobia) have been around the level of red tape the EU imposes. I’m not saying there is no unnecessary bureaucracy in the EU, but a lot of the ‘red tape’ those critics are referring to are the rules that protect our environment (or workers rights). In the current political climate, we’re unlikely to see adequate protection of the environment enshrined in any post-EU UK legislation – it will be an opportunity for the proponents of deregulation to quietly get rid of annoying rules that protect our natural world, and ourselves. Do you trust Boris Johnson, the man who buried negative findings about air pollution around hundreds of London’s primary schools breaching EU limits, to be involved in developing a newly independent UK’s environmental legislation? Or George Osborne, who has publically condemned the EU’s habitats directive?

There’s also no reason to assume that if we’re no longer part of the EU, we won’t end up with something along the lines of TTIP anyway: the UK has been one of the drivers of some of the most damaging clauses of the potential deal, and would need to look for trade deals with other partners if we were to leave the EU.

Areas for improvement

Friends of the Earth, in their position paper on the EU referendum, spell out some of the improvements they are campaigning for in how the EU operates. This includes changing priorities away from economic growth and free trade, improving their laws, and increasing democratic accountability. But despite this need for change, Friends of the Earth are still strongly advocating for the UK to remain part of the EU, as the benefits to the environment outweigh the harms.

The EU isn’t perfect, and it’s environmental record isn’t flawless. But its legislation does provide significant protection to our wildlife and natural resources. By being part of something bigger we can more effectively tackle cross-border issues, which pose some of the biggest environmental challenges we face today. And by being part of the EU we can try to influence it positively. The MEPs we vote for will have a say. If we leave the EU, we lose that voice.

This referendum is important. If you care about the issues I talk about here, please vote on 23 June.