Why Policy Matters: Working across borders

RSPB's cross-border Nature Taskforce, (c) Silvio Augusto Rusmigo

Today's Why Policy Matters blog, Jeff Knott, RSPB Director of Policy and Advocacy, outlines the importance of working together across borders to protect our shared wildlife and tackle common challenges.

It’s a great truism that nature knows no borders. The artificial lines we humans draw on a map and often attach so much meaning to are utterly irrelevant to the wildlife which moves freely backwards and forwards across these imaginary divides.

And yet, borders do matter to wildlife, as almost all of the laws which impact their habitats and their protections, for good or ill, are created by the nations those borders define.

Within the UK, almost all environmental legislation is devolved, meaning Westminster generally only makes decisions for England, with actions for nature in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, being made in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast respectively. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but in the interests of this not turning into an essay on the detail of varying devolution settlements, lets accept its mostly true, most of the time and move on!

For a UK organisation like the RSPB, having four governments to influence can make things more complicated, but also gives great opportunity.

I’ve spent some time recently with our brilliant RSPB Cymru policy and advocacy team and it was an important reminder how vital it is to be working within the national context. Conversation was wide ranging, from farming to fairies, but it was very clear that while the challenges are shared, the solutions being developed were in many ways, uniquely Welsh.

Jeff Knott with the RSPB Cymru team, (c) RSPB

Every country is different. Its perhaps the only thing they all have in common. And that is why its so vital for any organisation serious about working for nature across the UK to have advocates walking the corridors of Holyrood or the Senedd or Stormont, as well as Westminster. The ecological, cultural and political landscapes vary massively and without that knowledge of the unique context and systems, its functionally impossible to bring nature’s voices into those seats of power.

Put overly simplistically, an Englishman sitting in Bedfordshire, will always struggle to know the national context and detail in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as someone living and breathing it on a day to day basis and as a result, will find it that much harder to influence.

Its why I’m so proud to work alongside RSPB advocates across all four countries of the UK. They give us the ability to shape policies and laws for nature, delivering unique solutions which address national contexts and add up to tackling the shared challenges we face across our islands.

And in truth, many of those challenges are shared well beyond our shores, which is why working together is so important too. The UK still generally operates as the UK on the international stage, like when signing up to the new Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, even if the mechanisms for delivering on those commitments in the UK are often devolved. Recently, BirdLife partners from across Europe and Central Asia got together in Scotland to discuss how we restore nature at a truly continental scale.

While the UK might no longer be part of the EU, many of our birds and the challenges they face are shared across the continent, so working together with this unique family of organisations can only help us all. What helps wildlife in Europe, helps wildlife in the UK and vice versa.

That’s why it matters that we are pushing for the delivery of an ambitious EU Nature Restoration Law. If you haven’t already, please do add your voice to the campaign, by signing here.

While countries and borders do matter, for all sorts of reasons, there are things we share across Europe, from Wales to the Wadden Sea and beyond. Our wildlife and the challenges they face are often shared. That’s why it’s more important than ever to come together to show what’s possible, and demand a better future for us all. But the shared thing which inspires me most is the passion of dedicated advocates to speak up for wildlife which doesn’t have its own voice. Whether its RSPB advocates in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, or Birdlife partners from Portugal to Poland, its that passion and willingness to do what is right and find solutions that will drive conservation successes at ever greater scale.