RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Good for wildlife to stay in Europe

To be in, or not to be in, that is the question. I imagine wildlife will vote in.

Saturday, 18th June 2016, 1:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:04 pm

Why? Because never before have our ecosystems been so carefully protected by the 1980s EU Habitats Directives.

That Boris Johnson’s father was largely responsible for them puts his son in a curious place in politics that is not yet entirely clear although one can guess what he is actually up to. I welcome this added protection.

We have to be cruel to be kind to developers, land managers, land users and the rest of the human race to keep the planet habitable, however much it hurts.

Others say our existing wildlife laws are enough and do not need further protection from Europe. We did, after all, start wildlife protection long before the rest of the world thought that was important. International protection of nature started right here in Sussex back in 1911 (see this week’s walk). They say we do not need further EU protection.

Our UK system of 2,000 SSSIs, 200 national nature reserves, copious County Wildlife Trust nature reserves (thirty of which are in Sussex alone), plus the wildlife reserves of the National Trust, RSPB and armies of volunteers, already covers us. As an example, Chichester Harbour has a total of eight wildlife protection schemes: RAMSAR, AONB, SAC, SPA, SSSI, Solent Marine, and Amenity Area.

If we left we would lose two of them: Special Protection Area and Special Area of Conservation. The first protects birds and covers the whole of the tidal harbour and also West Wittering car park. SAC also covers the tidal harbour for its plants. The UK has 252 SPAs, Spain has 567, Poland 72, as examples. All are necessary to us as birds fly all over Europe. But do they work? Not always, but we have more chance to make them work if we are in the EU.

In Malta, for example, the country has been given yet another year to control the fanatical culling of migrating birds, so that endangered species like the turtle dove are still being shot as they try to get here to breed. Ten thousand gunners on that small island cause huge losses to birds that come here to breed. In Italy, honey buzzards, skylarks and many small birds are shot on migration simply because that has always been the custom. In Portugal and Spain song thrushes and redwings are still shot for sport.

If we came out of Europe, we would have little say anymore as we have at the moment, in trying to make these countries comply with this increasingly necessary law.

But against that, we have to set the spectre of increased immigration from the EU destroying our fields and hedges, meadows and copses with the increasing need for yet more housing and roads.