This August, the spotlight once again falls on the state of our hills and its wildlife: the first Hen Harrier Day event of the year took place in the Sheffield sunshine on Saturday and more events are planned this weekend (including at Rainham which is where I'll be on Saturday).  

The anger over the plight of the hen harrier, the state of our peatlands and the desire to reform grouse shooting may seem far away from the heated political debates about Brexit.  Yet, the decisions taken in Westminster and the other parliaments across the UK have a consequence on what happens in our hills.  The final Brexit deal will shape future land management incentives, will affect the laws that drive action to protect species and restore degraded habitats, and will shape the institutions that have the power to enforce the law.

That is why the RSPB is working hard to ensure that, if/when Brexit happens, it works for wildlife.

View over Geltsdale in Cumbria (

Our approach so far has been to work with partners in Greener UK try to ensure that politicians are able to look beyond the white noise of the Brexit debate and retain focus on the urgent need for action to drive nature's recovery. The Prime Minister’s recent promise of an ambitious Westminster Environment Bill, and the Scottish and Welsh Governments’ welcome pledges to maintain high environmental standards and bring forward their own proposals, give us hope this call is being heard. 

However, the significance for the future of environmental policy across the UK and the EU (including cooperation to tackle common threats or take action to recover threatened migratory species) means we must keep a close eye on the Brexit ball – particularly as it reaches a potentially pivotal moment this autumn.

Ten days ago, the UK Government published a little noticed White Paper on ‘Legislating for the Withdrawal Agreement’. It lays out in some detail the process for the UK Parliament to vote, in both Houses, on the expected agreement on withdrawal, transition and the framework for the future UK relationship with the European Union.

In advance of this important parliamentary vote, expected in October or November, the RSPB has developed an approach to help us assess, in line with our charitable objectives, the implications of this agreement for nature.  Clearly, we shall have to consider both the detail of our future relationship with the EU and associated domestic policy decisions that will need to be made by the UK and devolved governments (either separately or together). 

Specifically, we shall consider how the Brexit package might affect the UK's ability to: 

  • maintain or enhance high environmental standards in all four countries of the UK
  • secure political commitment to co-operative mechanisms including multilateral (such as the Convention on Biological Diversity) and bilateral agreements (for example to facilitate transboundary co-operation) including across the biogeographical area of Great Britain and Ireland
  • bolster the legislative base for nature protection and other mechanisms (such as strategic environmental assessment)
  • secure effective systems of enforcement of environmental law, public accountability and civil society’s ability to challenge decisions 
  • improve the environmental sustainability of land and marine management
  • provide adequate funding for nature conservation (across the UK and in the UK Overseas Territories)
  • develop trade policy that promotes high environmental standards, minimises our global environmental footprint and is open to engagement by civil society

As the Brexit negotiations reach their conclusion in the autumn, and as many of these issues are addressed in each of the UK’s jurisdictions, we will monitor how policy is progressing against these criteria. And of course, should the future UK-EU deal or any government across the UK fall short, we will speak up to make sure nature (in our hills, lowlands and seas) gets the protection it needs.

  • Well done RSPB for pursuing this vital work it is so important and something that perhaps most bird watchers don’t really appreciate. It is very necessary. Good luck in all your efforts especially when trying to deal with slippery politicians and an ever changing situation.