EU policy & law and wildlife in Sussex: Conclusions

21 June 2016 | Posted in Tony Whitbread ,
EU policy & law and wildlife in Sussex: Conclusions
Seaford Head cliffs / Tom Lee

By Tony Whitbread

Chief Executive

In May I wrote to the Chief Executives and Chairmen of ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’ and ‘Vote Leave’, to our 16 local MPs and 10 South East England MEPs, inviting them to tell me how any benefits to Sussex wildlife from current EU policy and laws would be maintained after the Referendum. Just to recap, the questions I posed were:

Under the UK’s new ‘special status’ within the EU following the Referendum, what are the guarantees that environmental benefits arising from EU membership will be maintained?


Following the UK’s withdrawal from membership of the EU, what mechanisms will be put in place to replace the environmental benefits conferred through EU membership?

Here is a roundup of the views I’ve received (up to today), you can read the full responses here.

It’s disappointing to report that no response has been received from the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign. Responses received from three MPs/MEPs aligned with the ‘leave’ campaign suggest that

  • “All EU law will get transposed into UK law” and that any repeals would be voted on;[i] and
  • Environmental protection would be promoted through increased global cooperation such as through the G7 informal bloc of industrialised countries.

In contrast, the ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’ campaign response highlighted that there is:

  • A strong environmental case to remain in the EU (with reference to the IEEP report[ii]);
  • In spite of imperfections of the EU, compelling evidence that 40 years of green directives benefit the environment;
  • No evidence that these benefits would continue if UK was to leave the EU.

Responses from three MPs/MEPs aligned with the ‘remain’ campaign consider that the UK environment has benefitted substantially from EU membership (while recognising that improvements could be made to EU structures); cross-border action on environmental matters is essential; there are signs that in the event of UK’s departure from the EU, the prominent ‘leave’ campaigners in Government will not prioritise strong environment legislation; while the UK would be free to establish stronger or weaker environmental laws, existing protections would be at risk of being scrapped; and the UK would no longer be in a position to influence more effective Europe-wide actions on the environment.

Looking at my previous summary, the responses above and the other evidence available concerning the EU, the environment and wildlife,[iii] my overall three-point summary is that:

  • Sussex wildlife has benefitted from EU environmental policy and laws, and in particular the nature directives, the Water Framework Directive and the precautionary principle;
  • EU policies which have in the past been detrimental to wildlife in Sussex are gradually being modified to be more supportive of environmental needs (but more reform is required);
  • There is no convincing evidence that, in the event of the UK leaving the EU, the benefits that EU policies and laws have brought to wildlife in Sussex would be retained under national legislation;

So overall, what do I think are the implications for Sussex wildlife and the Trust for the future either ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the European Union? EU legislation is always evolving. While it’s clear that the nature directives would be lost from our armoury if the UK leaves the EU, it’s equally clear that pressures to water down their power are likely to continue if the UK remains in. We have benefitted from other elements of environmental legislation and policy, including rights for better access to information, a more transparent and inclusive process to decision making on plans and projects likely to have a significant effect on the environment, and the application of the precautionary principle.

I am not, of course, telling anyone how to vote on Thursday; but I do want everyone in Sussex to take account of the potential consequences for our wildlife of remaining in or leaving the European Union. My view is that the benefits to Sussex wildlife and the ability of the Trust to achieve its charitable objectives are likely to be greater if the UK remains in the EU, able to take advantage of and to shape and influence EU environmental policies and laws. I recently saw a blog from the naturalist, broadcaster and writer Steve Backshall who takes readers through his approach to getting informed on the issue and arriving at a decision on how to vote. He concludes “Our membership of the EU is a huge subject, infinitely complex and potentially impacting every aspect of life. The environment is just one element, and neither I - nor any of the organisations I spoke to - believe in telling anyone how to vote. I will base my decision on what’s important to me, I believe you should do the same.”[iv] I agree wholeheartedly!

[i] The proposal that EU law can simply be transposed into national legislation appears to be flawed. This argument was presented recently by George Eustice MP ( It has been challenged by the environmental commentator Miles King (see: using as an example the 2010 Habitats Regulations implementing the Habitats Directive.


[iii] You can find a list of background references and sources information here.

[iv] Steve Backshall (10 May 2016) Blog: ‘Conservation and Brexit.’


  • John Bridger:

    21 Jun 2016 15:17:32

    You say that “nature directives would be lost from our armoury if the UK leaves the EU.” This is not true. These directives are already transposed and embedded in UK law, regulations etc.

    I refer you to the government’s “Transposition Guidance: How to implement European Directives effectively.”

    This also says “In practice, most Directives leave no discretion as to whether to implement by way of legislation or other binding provision.” So they are all embedded.

    It would take numerous decisions in parliament and much work to reverse them out of our legislation.

    You also say “pressures to water down their power are likely to continue if the UK remains in.”

    So if we are out we can resist our own internal UK pressures to water them down or reverse them via the ballot box and not be subject to pan EU pressures to water them down and over which we have no control.

  • Pearl Carter:

    21 Jun 2016 19:00:23

    I am still one of the undecided regarding which way to vote on Thursday. One of my main concerns is protecting our wildlife in this country but also across Europe especially the migration routes. I would think that remaining in the EU would be better for wildlife but how can we protect species such as the Turtle Dove when they are shot down in places like Malta and other parts of southern Europe. We cannot prevent them being killed when they reach their destination in Africa, drought, loss of habitat etc however when the Maltese are allowed to still shoot 5,000, instead of the 10,000 they would like to shoot, it seems totally against everything we as a nation believe in. The EU countries that still shoot birds on migration despite all evidence pointing to extinction, in the case of the Turtle Dove and a great reduction of numbers of other threatened bird species. I know we have a problem in this country of Hen Harrier and other birds of prey being persecuted, which needs addressing. We are definitely not perfect. It would be lovely to think by voting in on Thursday we would have more say in cross country protection of birds but sadly I don’t think this will happen.

  • 22 Jun 2016 08:58:06

    Reply to John Bridger > These claims have been made elsewhere; I’m afraid they are inaccurate. The 2010 Conservation of Habitats & Species Regulations (for England) include 33 direct references to the EU law (the directives which they transpose). EU laws will no longer apply to the UK, and even if we were to affiliate to the EU for trade purposes the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement, Annex XX, March 2016, contains a clause which specifically excludes the nature directives. So the existing Regulations would have to be substantially re-written if they are to make any sense in the English courts. See Miles King’s blog ( for a longer commentary on this, and also Section 5 (pp. 49-60) in the IEEP report ( commissioned by RSBP, The Wildlife Trusts and WWF-UK. The easy route would be simply to remove the redundant implementing regulations from the UK statute books.

    If we are no longer part of the EU, then the level of protection afforded to wildlife sites, species and habitats through the nature directives will disappear. It’s not just the content of the legislation, it’s the implementation and enforcement that is vitally important. The evidence points to this being far more effective for of wildlife in the UK as an EU member state. The environmental NGOs ( campaigned recently to prevent the EU from opening up the core texts of nature directives to a major review. So far it has been successful. But the environmental NGOs remain alert to the fact that this issue has not gone away. We recognise there are risks that EU environmental policy and laws could be changed; we know for certain that key EU legislation that has been vitally important to Sussex Wildlife Trust and many others fighting to prevent the attrition of our wildlife, their habitats and key sites will go if the UK leaves the EU.

  • John Bridger:

    22 Jun 2016 15:40:36

    So you are saying that the folowing will be torn up? Where is the evidence for that? There is none.

    Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981(as amended)
    Environmental Protection Act 1990
    UK Biodiversity Action Plan 1994
    Environment Act 1995
    Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) 1999.
    Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003
    Environmental Liability Directive (2004)
    Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 NERC
    Planning Act (2008)
    The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 2010 (Schedule 2)
    The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000
    The Bern Convention
    The Bonn Convention
    The Agreement on the Conservation of Bats in Europe
    Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996

    And that’s just some of it of the top of my head. I think the JNCC and others might have something to say about your supposition.

  • Dr Carles Carboneras:

    22 Jun 2016 15:59:52

    I cannot (and will not) advise anyone how they should vote in the EU referendum but, as manager of the RSPB International Migrants Programme, I can probably contribute to this debate with an informed opinion on spring hunting of migratory species of birds. This practice used to be common and widespread in the past but was significantly reduced after it was made illegal by the 1979 EU Birds Directive. In most countries, illegal killing of birds during their ‘return’ migration has been completely eradicated despite attempts by several national authorities to seek justification for the continuation of so-called traditional practices. This is the case of, for example, Spain and France, where the BirdLife partner organisations (LPO and SEO/BirdLife, respectively) have successfully won cases in the European Court of Justice, forcing the Governments to take measures and guarantee the full implementation of the legislation. In Malta, this process is still ongoing, because the Maltese Government introduced a derogation based on the supposed sustainability of the hunting of small numbers of migratory turtle doves and quail. National and international conservation organisations, led by BirdLife Malta, continue to campaign to stop this harmful practice. The European Commission has formally requested the Maltese Government to provide full justification on the opening of a spring hunting season in 2016 for the hunting of a globally-threatened species that is undergoing serious decline. This led to the proposal of a voluntary moratorium by the Maltese hunters.
    The end of spring hunting of turtle dove in Malta is probably near through the combined effort of dedicated conservationists and campaigners, who use scientific evidence and the EU nature conservation legislation to make change happen.

  • 23 Jun 2016 15:24:05

    Reply to John Bridger > We would, of course, welcome the views from any of the Government agencies or indeed Defra on the likely course of action to adjust our legislation in the event of a vote to exit the EU. In your mixed list of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs, and related agreements), EU laws, UK domestic laws and UK policy you raise an interesting point that people will inevitably be confused over what wildlife protection legislation will remain and what will go.

    The elements that will go (and there is clear evidence for this, which you’ll find in the IEEP report to which I referred you previously) are those which are derived from EU law. International (i.e. global) treaties and domestic legislation will remain. The point we have made consistently is that EU nature protection legislation and standards to assess developments, etc. have been shown to be more effective in safeguarding wildlife than domestic law.

    So, addressing the policies and laws you mention specifically, by broad group:

    1. MEAs.
    You mention the Bern Convention and Bonn Convention (and The Agreement on the conservation of bats in Europe, established under the Bonn Convention). These are not derived from the EU law and policy making process. So they will, of course, not be ‘torn up’. The UK is independent of the EU a signatory to the Bern and the Bonn conventions. There is no indication that this position will change.

    2. EU legislation.
    Birds Directive; Habitats Directive (=the ‘nature directives’); Water Framework Directive (WFD) implemented through); Environmental Liability Directive (ELD).
    All of these EU laws will remain unchanged as far as the 27 EU Member States are concerned. The nature directives will not apply to the UK, and hence the relevant implementing regulations (the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010) will no longer be functional as far as UK courts are concerned. Whether the WFD (implemented by the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive)(England & Wales) Regulations 2003) and ELD will apply depends on the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU as part of the European Economic Area.

    3. Domestic law and policies.
    a) The following are derived from EU law and would no longer apply in UK courts:
    Town & Country Planning (Environmental Impact Regulations) 2011 (derived from EU Council Directive 83/335/EEC, as amended in 1997, 2003 and 2009). I’ve already covered the Habitats Regulations above.
    b) The following are not derived from EU law and will remain on the statute books (subject to any changes promoted by the recent Law Commission review):
    The Environment Act 1975; Wild Mammals Protection Act 1996 (which deals only with protection from cruelty); Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000; Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and Planning Act 2008 (the first is the main planning legislation; the second covers mainly large infrastructure projects; neither is derived from EU law); the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
    c) The Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 could be subject to some amendment (Section 3, for example, gives effect to Special Protection Areas under the EU Birds Directive, which would no longer apply to the UK), but much of it is concerned with amending/re-enacting previous domestic laws on the protection of birds and the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975 so it’s likely to remain with some modifications. Similarly the Environmental Protection Act 1990 is derived part from implementation of EU law (in particular the Waste Framework Directive 1975, as amended), in part updates domestic law on managing waste and emissions and sets up devolved nature conservation agencies in England, Scotland and Wales.
    d) The ‘UK Biodiversity Action Plan’ has already been abandoned (by the Coalition Government) in favour of ‘Biodiversity 2020’ (to meet the Aichi Targets agreed in 2010 under the Convention on Biological Diversity). This demonstrates how fickle nature conservation policy can be, at the mercy of the government of the day.

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