Ecological consultancy Baker Consultants recently announced the award of its latest significant European contract for Iberdrola on the Wikinger offshore wind farm.
Here Managing Director Andrew Baker – one of the UK’s experts in nature conservation law – discusses the UK membership of the EU and the possible threat that the UK leaving the EU might bring for the renewable energy sector.
By ANDREW BAKER
I strongly believe that the UK must remain within the European Union. Not only is our membership of the EU good for business, it also benefits the environment.
As a company, we trade internationally with companies based in other EU countries. In particular, the marine side of our business is very active in German waters both in the North Sea and the Baltic.
Our latest project will see us providing an underwater noise and marine mammal activity monitoring service during the construction phase of the Wikinger offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea. We will also monitor underwater noise emissions as well as the activity of harbour porpoises that may be present within and around the wind farm during piling operations.
As contracts such as this typically account for up to half of our group’s turnover, a figure that is expected to increase in the future, the UK’s membership of the EU is extremely important to our business.
While at present we have a very good working relationship with our EU customers, this would clearly be threatened if the UK were to leave the EU, as we would no longer have the level playing field that the EU enshrines in law.
In addition, the benefits of EU membership for the environment must not be underestimated. The environmental profession is now starting to contemplate the implications of a potential UK exit from the EU.
A British ‘yes’ to quit the EU is likely to have a disproportionate impact upon the ecology profession, not only because of the likely economic turmoil that would ensue, but also the considerable impact that it would have on the regulatory framework.
Much of the law that protects wildlife in the UK has its origin in European directives, such as the Habitats and Birds Directives (collectively known as the ‘Nature Directives’), Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
If the UK were to leave the EU, this would throw our environmental legislation into disarray, potentially leading to years of legal wrangling while the UK decides what legislation should be reinvented and what should be dropped.
The Nature Directives have recently been the subject of an EU Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT) process, a rolling programme to keep the entire stock of EU legislation under review. They were given an overwhelming clean bill of health. The public consultation received over half a million responses, more than any other consultation, of which the vast majority were supportive.
Rory Stewart (DEFRA Parliamentary Under-Secretary) was very supportive of the Directives, stating, “The UK, like other Member States, does not want to renegotiate the Nature Directives”
However, as someone who is familiar with the practical side of implementing EU Directives, I have often been critical of the UK’s approach. The law is never perfect, but I am of the opinion that the majority of the problems we have with the Nature Directives are as a result of domestic implementation, rather than a fault of the Directives per se.
I am active in the campaign to stay in the EU. As a member of the UK Environmental Law Association’s nature conservation working group, I have been involved in assessing the potential impact on nature conservation of the UK leaving the EU. I represented the ecology profession at a recent All Party Parliamentary Group on Biodiversity meeting to discuss the review of the Habitat and Birds Directives.
During this meeting, I stressed my views of the importance of retaining both these directives as well as continuing the UK’s membership of the EU.
We are very proud that Baker Consultants is an exporter to our EU partners, however I am very concerned that if the UK were to leave the EU this would be a serious threat to this aspect of our business.
If this does happen, we would have no choice but to move our business to a country that remains in the EU, whether it be on the continent or another country within a devolved United Kingdom.
We are already looking into contingency plans.
ANDREW BAKER was recently awarded a fellowship by his professional body – the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management. He is also an active member of the UK Environmental Law Association.
British Energy Secretary Amber Rudd (left) has also come out in favour of remaining within the European Union, and has warned that voting to leave in the upcoming referendum would plunge the energy market into uncertainty.
Rudd said she supports Prime Minister David Cameron’s efforts to negotiate a favourable reform of the UK’s relationship with the EU, and warned that the UK risks losing influence over the outcome of energy market talks if the country opts out.
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