Dr Laurence Couldrick (Westcountry Rivers Trust CEO) gives his thoughts on the implications of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union on the Trust and the environment.

This morning we woke up to a new Britain – a divided Britain.  The country has not voted with a resounding majority but has split down the middle with a margin of only 4%. Half of the country is ecstatic by the freedom they expect and the other half is in shock at the uncertainty that lies ahead of us. During the campaign there were a huge amount of unknowns about what would happen to the economy and society and now we get to find out if they become a reality.

Whilst the campaign focused mainly on the impacts on economic and social issues, the effect on environmental protection received less attention, but the future is just as uncertain and of deep concern to those involved. The EU has put in place many levels of protection that were designed by the whole of Europe including the UK. These have allowed the environmental movement – including public, private and charitable bodies – to hold society to account for the collective impacts we are having on our land, rivers and seas. As a result, we have seen some significant improvements over the years, however, there is still a detrimental legacy left behind from the intensification of our environment. Many of our rivers are still polluted, water floods our towns and cities, we suffer from droughts and shortages and the habitats and species that make the British landscape what it is are being marginalised. What we do know is that we have voted towards is the removal of these EU laws and what is expected to be a slower growing economy. Both of these erode significantly the ability to protect the very thing our society and economy depends on.

The Westcountry Rivers Trust is not a lobbying organisation and has always tried to be led by equal measures of science and common sense to deliver practical solutions to the problems we face. To do this we work in partnership depending on the scale of the problem: some partnerships are very local and are based on what’s happening in our towns and villages; many are at a catchment scale where we are trying to stop people getting sick when they use our rivers and beaches, reduce the treatment cost for drinking water or alleviate flooding from poor land management; but, several are at a European level dealing with issues that go beyond the Westcountry. These issues such as fish migration are not easily solved on our own and the future of these programmes took a severe dent today. As a young and dynamic organisation that works in strong partnerships with others I am not worried about the future of our organisation as we will always need to protect our environment and as the effects of climate change and un-strategic land use means everyone – whether voting leave or remain – will force the hand of what ever UK government is in place. The only question is will this government be reactive or proactive?

So no, I am not worried for the Trust, but I am worried about whether Britain can rally together to heal this huge division and proactively make the best of the situation to create a strong economy, society and environment. I for one call on the environmental supporters to pull together and provide a strong voice for our land, rivers and seas during this time of change. By linking together, we can deliver the proactive change we want to see in the world and lead the way for Britain, Europe and the World.