RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Brexit's impact on wildlife

What will happen to UK wildlife laws when we come out of Europe? For many years, birds, flowers, butterflies and all living creatures have enjoyed widespread protection under EU Habitat Directives (Natura 2000) which have been methodically worked out by teams of scientists over a score of years.

Saturday, 12th August 2017, 11:00 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:25 pm

European wildlife has been protected as a single unit when in the past it was protected only country by country. Thus if a particular habitat occurred in only one place in Europe its value has been highlighted as important to the whole continent, so it gains even more status.

A case in point is the West Sussex South Downs which with their Atlantic climate are different to the East Sussex South Downs which have a continental climate and therefore a different flora. Thus, the north-facing scarp of Heyshott Downs was considered by Dr.Francis Rose to have the finest moss and fern flora in Europe. Another example is in North Norfolk which has the finest sea lavender marsh in Europe with four miles of that special salting between Wells-on-sea and Blakeney. East Head in Chichester Harbour has its EU status too. It has international status as a Ramsar site, UK status as an AONB, SSSI and Amenity Area, but in addition European protection with SPA, SAC, and BAP laws. Special Protection Areas give European birds freeways for migration to us and beyond. The whole of Chichester Harbour is covered by this law with 48,000 wetland birds protected.

Go there now and you will see all the hundreds of curlew returned from Lapland where they bred, or the terns which bred in the harbour and are now looking for safe passage south to Africa. 8,000 brent geese are covered by EU law as far north as the Russian border. They have their own laws up there.

The Special Area of Protection in EU law looks after all the plants of Europe. Thus the Solent Maritime complex has a large chunk of Europe’s Atlantic salt meadows, and is the second largest in South and South-West England. This area includes Snow Creek and Crab Pool: two well-loved beauty spots along the footpath next to the car-park. Here you can see thrift, sea purslane, and the sea lavenders I mentioned in this week’s walk. All these different communities have their own special numbered classifications, known as National Vegetation Classifications (NVCs).

East Head has elements of eight: SM 11-18. So what will become of the Grand Plan when we leave? Pundits have two opinions just as in any political thought. One is that we are perfectly able to look after our own wildlife, thank you. Others say: we shall be losing European money to protect the best of the best and that these will no longer be important to the total of the whole European continent. But it could be years before we actually know what we’ve done to our wildlife. I wonder if Messrs. Farage and Cameron ever considered this.