A number of laws which provide protection for some of our most beautiful places - including Rathlin Island - as well as many of our threatened species, will need to be changed to reflect our withdrawal from the EU.
Today marks five months since the Assembly elections in March and RSPB NI has expressed concern that nature in Northern Ireland could be under threat. The absence of a fully-functioning Executive and Assembly at Stormont could mean that Northern Ireland is not in control of its own destiny as the UK embarks on the process of withdrawing from the EU.
The UK government is about to begin converting decades of EU law into UK law and changing thousands of pieces of legislation to reflect Brexit.
However, environmentalists fear that Northern Ireland’s voice is not being heard in this process and this could lead to decisions being made by politicians who may not be acting in the best interests of Northern Ireland.
Emily Hunter, RSPB NI Nature Protection Policy Officer, said: “Essentially, the Withdrawal Bill will convert all existing EU law into UK law to ensure there is not a huge gap in UK legislation when we leave the EU in March 2019.
“This is a massive task and will require significant input and negotiation between Westminster and the Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations.
“A number of laws which provide protection for some of our most beautiful places - including Rathlin Island, as well as many of our threatened species such as hen harriers, redshanks or white-clawed crayfish - will need to be changed to reflect our exit from the EU.
“If there’s no Executive in place, it’s not clear who will have responsibility for making these changes or what opportunity people in Northern Ireland will have to scrutinise them.
“It may be that the government in Westminster imposes changes that would mean less protection for nature in Northern Ireland.”
Up to now, EU law has ensured minimum environmental standards are met across Europe. RSPB NI agrees that a similar framework will be needed for the UK to ensure that all four countries maintain high environmental standards and don’t use Brexit as an opportunity to water down protection for nature.
“We believe this should be drawn up and agreed by all the devolved administrations working with the UK government, rather than being imposed centrally,” added Emily.
Last Updated: Thursday 3 August 2017