Cautious Optimism for the Environment Post-Brexit

One of Scotland’s best-known naturalists and conservationists is “quietly confident” that Brexit won’t automatically lead to declining environmental standards—as long as we’re careful.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to promote his new memoirs, Sir John Lister-Kaye admitted to being worried about the situation but also thought “it might be quite healthy”.

“What’s happened in my life time is that Nature Conservation has become an industry,” Lister-Kaye explained. “You’ve got all sorts of different clubs and societies, all vying with each other for membership, producing glossy magazines, selling you dish-cloths and everything else—really competing with each other at the expense, often, of real hardcore conservation issues.

“What is already happening since we took that vote in 2016 is that many of those NGOs have got together and are beginning to lobby government to try and ensure that, at the very least, the existing protection measures and laws are carried through after Brexit, after we leave the [European] Union. So I’m quietly optimistic that it will be OK.”

His response came with an important caveat, however. “We must not take our foot of the gas,” Lister-Kaye added. “We have to keep insisting that the natural environment—I don’t mean pretty birds or wildcats, I mean the whole natural environment—continues to edge its way up the political agenda, because that’s what’s really important.

“Unless governments recognise it, and value it, it is very difficult to take conservation forward,” he said.