John Craven: How will the countryside fare after Brexit?

What will the impact be on the British countryside, its people, its ways and its wildlife once we have left the European Union? Will the safeguards be stronger, weaker or much the same?

Marloes St Brides Bay Pembrokeshire Wales
Published: November 17th, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Theresa May has announced that she will trigger Article 50, the clause that begins the process of leaving the European Union, by the end of March 2017. The European Communities Act of 1972 will be revoked, with a ‘great repeal bill’ transposing all EU legislation into UK domestic law once Brexit takes effect in spring 2019. Beyond that, future governments can unpick those laws individually as desired.


Such a move ensures that all current environmental and conservation legislation remains enshrined – for the time being.

Ben Reynolds, deputy co-ordinator of Sustain, the alliance of more than 90 organisations promoting better food and farming, argues that with so many EU protections in place – on habitat, water, beach cleanliness, pesticides, consumer protection and health – revoking them en masse all would have caused chaos. “There is a strong case for government declaring by legal means that all such [EU] legislation should remain in place unless specifically revoked piece by piece. Otherwise there is a danger of ‘starting with a fresh canvas’ with important protections needing to be reinstated one by one.”

It’s along our coastline that one of the most successful European initiatives has led to spectacular transformations. Over the past 40 years, many dirty, smelly beaches and bathing waters have been cleaned up with the EU acting as independent regulator. Campaigners fear standards may slip without that international accountability and with local councils strapped for cash.

Britain’s fiscal situation should become clearer following Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s autumn budget statement to the Commons on November 23. Meanwhile, there is real concern that he might withdraw vital funding for rural communities.

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The Rural Services Network (RSN) is worried that although the Government has pledged to maintain EU-level subsidies to farmers until 2020, it has failed to make similar guarantees for other rural payments that support a huge range of projects from start-up enterprises to tourism and cultural heritage.

Cornwall, one of the most rural of counties, has estimated it could lose £350m if EU-level funding ceases. In a message to Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom, RSN’s chairman Cecilia Motley urges: “The continuation of some form of support to enable rural economies to diversify and grow must be included in the Government’s considerations over the coming months.”

It’s understandable that, while major organisations such as the NFU have met directly with senior ministers, other countryside groups feel frustrated by the lack of dialogue. They all have post-Brexit visions they want to share with those same ministers. Understandable, too, is Whitehall’s reluctance to show its hand before fully preparing for the hard negotiations ahead. But DEFRA has said it’s committed to creating a cleaner, healthier natural environment for future generations to be proud of.

We might have to wait until those crucial talks with Brussels get going before we know whether those seeking to influence the Brexit Unit have had their voices heard.


Watch John on Countryfile on Sunday evenings on BBC One.


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