Wildlife conservation is still vital to our future after Brexit

Magdalen Hill Down Reserve

Now the UK has voted to leave the EU, Butterfly Conservation along with many other wildlife charities must face the reality of a future without the cloak of EU wildlife legislation and the benefits of many EU schemes.

Although BC focusses on butterflies and moths, we cannot achieve this in isolation and have a strong interest in conserving all wildlife, especially the habitats where Lepidoptera live and breed. Wildlife is often dramatically affected by human activities but gets no vote. The nature NGOs provide a voice for wildlife and we need to work together to ensure that voice is heard at this critical time.

Across the EU, the Habitats Directive has given strong protection to top wildlife sites, including many crucial habitats of butterflies and moths. Other Directives have required us to improve water quality and a wide range of other environmental features that benefit Lepidoptera. When the UK ceases to be bound by this Directive (which may be two or more years away), site protection will revert to the (usually weaker) laws of domestic wildlife legislation and the system of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs or Areas of SSI in N Ireland). A key task of wildlife NGOs to make sure that this legislation, and the lists of threatened species, is implemented as effectively as possible.

The UK is also bound by a wide array of other conventions and directives on nature protection that are outside the EU. We are signatures to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its 20 Aichi targets, one of which (target 12) specifically states that the status of threatened species must be improved and sustained. The UK is also a signatory to the 1979 Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. Each UK country has translated these commitments into its own Biodiversity Strategies, each of which sets out targets for habitats and species. We must continue to hold the Government to account on these commitments as well.

Aside from legislation, the other immediate threat to butterflies and moths is what will happen to agri-environmental schemes that are co-funded from the EU Common Agricultural Policy. These schemes give payments to farmers to manage their land in an environmentally sensitive way and have been crucial in getting many top wildlife sites into appropriate management. Thanks to the efforts of BC, many top sites for our most threatened butterflies and moths are now covered by such schemes, which are the basis of most of our landscape conservation projects. Again, we will work with other NGOs to ensure that they are replaced, hopefully with even better schemes that combine food production with conserving nature as an irreplaceable asset that is enjoyed and valued by the British people.

Under the auspices of Butterfly Conservation Europe, we have a strong interest in conserving butterflies and moths across the continent, regardless of the political structures that are in place in each country. We now have a network of 45 Partners in 36 countries (many not in the EU), providing a unique body of expertise to tackle Lepidoptera conservation. We will continue to support this network and I have given my own personal commitment to help them when I step down as Chief Executive at the end of the year. This good work will carry on.

There is no doubt that leaving the EU will pose some risks to wildlife but there may also be opportunities. BC will be working with other NGOs to make sure we get the best possible outcomes for nature and species.

It is also important for BC members and supporters to continue to give their full support for our work. We need your help now more than ever to ensure we do not lose the hard won gains of recent years. With your support we are achieving some notable successes on the ground, reversing the decline of many threatened species. This vital effort must continue while the UK goes through the process of Brexit.

Dr Martin Warren

Chief Executive

Follow me on Twitter @martinswarren